Dear Lifehacker, Can I take a decent-sized overnight bag AND a decent-sized laptop bag as carry-on luggage for domestic and international flights? If so, how big can each bag be before I have to check it in and/or pay? Thanks, Big Bags
Baggage picture from Shutterstock
There is no absolute outright answer to this question. How flexible your airline will be about its stated baggage policy will depend on the airline itself, how full the flight is, where you're going, your own reserves of personal charm and your willingness to not have much leg room on your flight.
The first rule is: find out what the policy is. If your chosen airline has a clearly stated policy that your carry-on bags can't weigh more than 10kg, then you haven't got any grounds for complaint if you try and sneak on board a 20kg bag. Depending on the airline, that could be a very expensive decision — checked baggage fees at the airport are much higher than when booked in advance. Also pay attention to the dimensions allowed: small planes flying to regional locations have less physical space and hence less tolerance for excess baggage. If you pack with those guidelines in mind, you'll be OK.
The second rule is: the cheaper the airline and the seat, the tighter the restrictions. Qantas, for instance, allows all passengers to take two bags on board domestic flights. In theory, neither can weigh more than 7kg. In practice, as long as they're not visibly oversized, you'll get away with more. Business class passengers generally have more generous allowances and more luggage space, regardless of the airline.
Budget airlines are generally fussier, and may weigh your carry-on when you check in. Even if you use web check-in to dodge that, staff may confront you at the gate if you're carrying more than one bag — particularly if it's large.
For domestic flights, we recently rounded up the baggage policies for all the major airlines. Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger all allow 2 pieces, but have restrictions: only Qantas allows more than 10kg in total. In reality, we've found a standard carry-on suitcase and a small laptop bag wouldn't cause major dramas on most domestic flights. Make sure you board early though — the later you board, the less space and the greater the likelihood you'll be fingered for ignoring policy.
For international flights, your chances are much lower if you're flying outside of business or first class. Online check-in won't allow you to dodge the check-in counter, and anyone flying without trying to check baggage is very likely to be quizzed and their luggage weighed. (Your toiletries options will also be restricted in this case since you can't take liquids bigger than 100ml on board.) I've successfully travelled with only carry-on for international trips, but I would not have gotten away with having more than the on-board allowance for the airlines in question.
The bottom line? Work within the rules and you can usually manage two pieces domestically. For international trips of any length, it's unlikely to be a goer. That's our experience — we welcome other insights in the comments.
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