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Carry-on Luggage

carry-on baggage nightmare

Photo: The New York Times

The carry-on luggage phenomenon really went haywire when airlines began charging air passengers for checked bags.

What is it with air passengers bringing carry-on luggage aboard that they might have checked in the past? It’s not just suitcases, either. Are people really so cheap or unaware about baggage allowance nowadays? These dullards tell themselves all sorts of things are carry-on items. Boarding slows to a halt as they divest themselves of everything, shoving it into overhead compartments (sometimes far away from their actual seat), struggling and fussing with belongings as they get situated. Grrrrr.

When challenged about their carry-on luggage, these apparently clueless fliers will assert some sort of entitlement-based reasoning for going over the baggage allowance. All of this hassle with carry-on luggage is maddening to common sense air passengers who stay abreast of size requirements, pack efficiently and lightly, find their seats and stow belongings quickly. When did it become okay to push baggage allowance rules so that everyone is inconvenienced and then object when they are enforced?

We recently experienced a variety of carry-on luggage and allowance scenarios, having just returned from more than a month of international travel, where we flew with five very different airlines. Our so-called carry-on suitcases failed the on-board requirements with one of the airlines we flew, too. While this wasn’t unexpected, it was just another inconvenience air passengers are getting all too used to.

Here’s what we took away from it all. Your carry-on luggage may not really be a carry-on:

1. When you’re flying discount or smaller airlines in Europe. With these outfits, it’s all about the fee. Your reservation, like ours with Air Moldova, may have been made without any add-on charge for your luggage. Some carriers will charge incrementally by the size of your carry-on suitcases as well, within their limitations. Additionally, their airplanes are small. Your Americano-sized carry-on is more than likely going to be too large for their baggage allowance parameters. Then it’ll be another 20 Euro or more to check your bag.

2. On United Airlines, who recently made strict new changes in their size policy. United’s got brand new sizers and it’s possible your suitcases aren’t going to fit. From The Points Guy: “…they have deployed new carry-on baggage sizers at all of their gates, and even at many of the check-in areas. This is in conjunction with a new policy that was implemented systemwide on Saturday, March 1.” Insiders speculate this is primarily a fee-collection move on United’s part.

3. When you have too many items. Yes, you with the roller bag, briefcase, huge shopping bag full of excess items you’re bringing from home AND backpack. You may have slipped past the reservations and gate agents, but it will be the stink-eye you get from your fellow passengers. If that doesn’t bother you, schlep away! You’re probably the person who reclines your seat all the way back into the lap of the person behind you, too.

carry-on baggage overheadluggage1-consumertraveler

Someone could get hurt!

4. When you cannot lift your carry-on into the overhead compartment. Not only do you risk injury to yourself, but you are a danger to others. Sorry if you don’t feel like checking those suitcases with the heavy gold bars with baggage handling. Wake up, you’re going to hurt someone! Don’t just leave your oversized suitcases in the aisle for someone else to take care of either! We saw this on Aeroflot. Rude!

5. If it’s an allowed extra item. This could be a jacket, umbrella, reading material, pet carrier, child seat, diaper bag, food and merchandise purchased in the airport, or assistive devices. These are all allowed to all air passengers on top of your one bag and one personal item.

Photo: Travel-tips

Photo: Travel-tips

6. When you’ve crammed so much into your carry-on luggage, its expandable feature has exceeded the size limitation. The suitcases we took on our trip had this leeway zipper that expanded their capacity. Unfortunately, I took carte blanche with what I was bringing and we could barely squeeze it into the overhead. The rest of the trip, I was constantly rearranging items to compensate, and wound up leaving winter clothes in Russia, attempting to jettison my load.

One way luggage manufacturers are addressing size issues is through expansion and compression features that let travelers squeeze more into a bag. For instance, Briggs & Riley’s Baseline collection includes plastic brackets inside the bag that you can pull up before you start packing, expanding its height. After you’ve filled the bag, you press the top down and the brackets close, returning the bag to its original size. The Baseline collection features various bag sizes, including a 7.7-inch by 14-inch by 21-inch Expandable Upright Carry On for $469. – from The New York Times

7. If it contains prohibited items. Seriously, people. The rules about liquids and baggies have been around for a while. Guns, knives, box cutters, hello? You can bring some of this stuff along, but you’ll have to check it. There’s an entire list on the Transportation Security Administration site, here. We can tell you that European security is not lax. Instead, you and your suitcases will likely pass through multiple security checkpoints.

8. When you just don’t feel like schlepping. We checked our carry-on bags airline by airline over our three days of flying home from Russia to Kauai. This meant $40 in transit visas at the Istanbul airport to collect our luggage from Air Moldova and transfer it to British Airways, where it connected with our arrival in Dublin after a change at Heathrow. The following morning, we checked the bags through from Dublin to Los Angeles, where we were overnighting after a stop in Newark. My bag was on the carousel at LAX; Pete’s was not. It arrived several hours later in the evening and was delivered to our hotel. The following morning, we checked bags from LAX to Lihue. Our home airport is so small it’s easy to claim your bag and walk to your transportation.

People freak when they consider the possibility that the airlines could lose or mishandle their luggage. It happens and we have very little control over that. What we can control is what we bring along, though, and in many cases, we can get by with a lot less than we think we need. What if, the next time you traveled, you challenged yourself to bring less on board the airplane, and maybe even less altogether?

Just for fun, here are carry-on luggage highlights from Amazon. If you click using our link and then make any purchase from Amazon, we’ll earn a commission!

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Wednesday 10th of February 2016

When I went on my first international trip I packed a nail care kit in my backpack. In the US those are fine and nobody cares, but in Singapore they tore my entire bag apart looking for it. It was a long process of her asking what was behind the ipad (i don't have one), taking stuff out of my bag and running it through the xray machine repeatedly before we figured out she wanted my nail kit. She took the cuticle scissors away and said I was good to go.

It was so embarrassing having everyone glare at me over all that, but it taught me to check what's okay to pack in a carry-on in different countries before going.

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 15th of February 2016

Hi Erin - I feel your pain. I had a pair of nail scissors confiscated one time. I should have known better. :)


Sunday 16th of March 2014

Lol. I have often taken just a carry on instead of checking a suitcase to save money and time. But it is a pita. Some airlines won't even allow you a small handbag so you have to put all your stuff in that small carry on, which is a nuisance if you need to get things out while you're flying.

So I just used checked bags for Vienna and Marrakech meaning I only needed to take a handbag on the plane. It worked out better and I didn't have to wait too long for my checked bag - except in the UK. I would do this again except next time I would try to get front seats on the flights. On the way out to Marrakech I didn't and I had to wait while people retrieved their luggage from the overhead lockers - and as you mentioned, some go way over the allowed size limits.

Betsy Wuebker

Tuesday 18th of March 2014

Hi Cath - Yes, the carry-on experience has so quickly devolved, we're being channeled back into checking bags. There's all sorts of rudeness on airplanes now. I think it comes from being packed in like sardines. Not only fliers, but imagine having to work in that environment.

We were happy to check bags on the return portion of the trip, not caring if there'd be a mishap. And there was with Pete's bag, but the airline delivered it within hours. We were so ratty from all the air travel by then it didn't matter if we had the luggage or not. :)

Peggy Collins

Sunday 16th of March 2014

I wonder why it's such a challenge to us to cut back on our baggage? It's like a security blanket to us. I live on a peninsula where I have the choice of flying in a small plane to a major airport for long-distance travel (which is a 20-minute trip), or driving and taking a ferry (a three-hour trip), then paying to leave my car parked at the airport. So I usually choose flying in the small plane. But that means facing very strict baggage regulations on the small plane. So I'm into the carry-on bag scenario too and I usually stuff all my camera gear into a knapsack. I still flirt around the edges of being charged for overweight though. It's not easy, is it?

Betsy Wuebker

Sunday 16th of March 2014

Hi Peggy - yes, our stuff is totally our security blanket. I put in a few things for backup at the last minute that I never wore. Grrrr!

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