Ask LH: How Much Baggage Can I Get Away With On A Flight?

Ask LH: How Much Baggage Can I Get Away With On A Flight?

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

Dear BB,

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I’ve also found that airlines tend to exclude any camera hanging around your neck from carry-on weight, and when you’re lugging around a DSLR and zoom lens like me, that’s an easy 1.5KG of extra luggage to fit in.

    Some airlines are lax with ladies’ purses and handbags as well, if I recall correctly, so that might be another avenue to explore.

    • Having a child increases your baggage allowance significantly. His ticket cost less than the excess baggage fees too.

      One time traveling with heaps of extra luggage, it got lost so we got skip out on the $100+ fee. Picked it up next day from the airport.

    • Every airline my wife has flown on has been lax about her handbag and boy does she exploit it! That thing usually weighs more than my seemingly larger carry-on which they always check.

  • For domestic restrictions, web check-in to avoid the counter. Make sure your luggage does not LOOK heavy. It’s best to have a bag that is minimal (ie. one big pocket, not lots of small pockets), and fill it as much as you can without it looking stuffed to the gills. You are often allowed a laptop bag, so bring a big one. Often you’re allowed a suit bag too – pro-tip: hang all your shirts and trousers in the suit bag. When you walk through the gate, hold your suit-bag and laptop bag in the same hand, so you don’t look overloaded.

    If you’re not traveling with children, there’s no need for check-in luggage for up to about a week. If you’re game, you’ll easily fit more than 20kg of luggage into a laptop bag, suit bag and backpack.

    Now, if you’re going to do the above, it does help if you’re flying on a fare with luggage included so you don’t get an $80 fee if you get caught. (Why would you? Getting out of the airport is much faster if you don’t have to wait 1/2 an hour for your bags)

    International is a whole other ball game. Everything gets scanned and checked at the counter. Security screening and customs means you’re carrying everything you carry-on for a lot longer, and if you get pinged at the gate, lord knows when your luggage will get to you.

    That said, there’s nothing stopping you having someone accompany you to the airport, and having them hold your carry-on luggage while you check-in. That way it won’t get weighed or checked at the counter, and as long as it doesn’t look over-size or over-weight, nobody from there to the gate is going to care enough to weigh it.

    Finally, only your luggage gets weighed (ie. not your person), If you fly a lot and live in a cooler climate, maybe you want one of these:

    • That said, there’s nothing stopping you having someone accompany you to the airport, and having them hold your carry-on luggage while you check-in. That way it won’t get weighed or checked at the counter, and as long as it doesn’t look over-size or over-weight, nobody from there to the gate is going to care enough to weigh it.
      Be aware that this won’t always work. Some airlines have recently started tagging your weighed carry-on with “Approved Carry-On” tags. So if your bag doesn’t have that, you might struggle to get the bag through at the gate.

  • I got stopped and had my carry-ons weighed at Heathrow once and got told they were overweight. Fortunately they were just stuffed with extra clothing, so I went to the bathroom, pulled on 4 jumpers and a jacket, stuffed a crap load of stuff in my pockets and managed to get under.

    I still ended up taking the same amount of weight on the plane. Morons.

    • You realise that the carry on bag weight restriction is so the overhead baggage stowage stays within weight limits don’t you? And that your seat can handle a far greater weight than the baggage stowage? So the airline doesn’t really give a shit about the weight of your 4 jumpers if you’re wearing them.

      • Except that doesn’t take into account the number of bags in a single overhead locker. It all works on averages.

        Also, doesn’t explain how ezjet can have a policy of limited size, but unlimited weight carry-on.

  • Also, PLEASE be considerate for other passengers. I always try to be one of the first to board these days so I can get to my seat before all the rude people fill up the overhead lockers with their huge collection of carry-on luggage. It is just (un)common courtesy to only take up your share of the available space and leave enough room for others to use their share.

    • Agreed.

      I wish airlines would start charging people extra for carry-on. This has only become an issue since everybody had a $10 per-person per-flight incentive to maximize their carry-on.

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