How Every Australian Airline Is Cracking Down On Hand Luggage

Travelling only with hand luggage saves you valuable time, but domestic airlines in Australia are getting much stricter about enforcing their baggage limits. Here's the current state of play for Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tigerair, and the best tactics to use to avoid unwanted hassles or excess luggage fees.

Being forced to check luggage you were hoping to take on board can be an expensive exercise, as our round-up of baggage fees shows. Charges are generally much higher if you have to pay at the airport than if you've paid in advance. So it pays to familiarise yourself with the limits that apply before you start packing and head to the airport.

The basic rule of thumb is that you can take on up to 7kg in carry-on in a bag whose dimension (length plus width plus depth) add up to less than 105cm. You're also sometimes allowed to take one additional small item such as a jacket, handbag or computer, though this is less common on bargain airlines (Jetstar and Tigerair). If you require items for medical purposes or extra equipment for babies, you can usually take them as well.

Even with that common ground, the details and the enforcement differ significantly between each of the four major Australian domestic airlines. Here's what you need to know. We're sticking to the rules for economy class here; in business class you can generally get away with a little more.

One other thing: we're not arguing at all that it's a terrible thing that these limits are enforced. When everyone on a plane tries to bring multiple bags on board, it slows down boarding, delays flights and makes everyone cranky — especially people who do bother to observe the rules. Flying in the US in the 1990s and early 2000s was horrific for just this reason. (It's now horrific because the airlines are so cheap and nasty, but that's a different story.)

Qantas

Qantas has the most generous general carry-on allowances: you can take on up to two bags, each of which weighs 7kg. The one exception is QantasLink regional flights, where the limit is a single bag weighing up to 7kg.

Qantas doesn't generally check the weight and size of bags, unless you're trying to board with something obviously oversized. On busy flights, however, staff will pull up passengers carrying two bags during boarding, and tag the smaller bag with a label indicating it must go under the seat in front of the passenger, not in the overhead bin. If you have more than the two bags, you'll be asked to check the extras (and you won't be promised it will be on the same flight).

This doesn't happen every single flight, but you can't assume it won't happen to you. It's also not unreasonable: if you want the convenience of not collecting checked baggage, the trade-off is using the room under the seat in front of you.

Virgin Australia

Virgin lets you take up to two bags on board, but the total weight combined must be less than 7kg. We've not noticed any specific enforcement policies in place, beyond trying to board with something obviously oversized or overweight. Picture: Getty Images

Jetstar

Jetstar has become much narkier about carry-on items in the past year. As well as dropping the allowance for your single carry-on bag from 10kg to 7kg, it now has staff checking to make sure you're not trying to exceed those limits — an unsurprising tactic given that you can check in online and never see any staff until you reach the gate.

Tigerair

Tigerair has followed the same approach as Jetstar: it has chopped its overall limit from 10kg to 7kg, and it checks at the gate to make sure you're not exceeding weight or item count limits. It will optionally let you pay an extra fee, known as Cabin+, to increase the total weight of your carry-on items from 7kg to $12. This costs $18 for shorter flights and $23 for longer flights when purchased in advance; at the airport, that cost goes up to $36 and $46. With all those fees in place, don't expect to get away with an overweight bag!

How To Stay Under The Limits

Especially if you're travelling with a cut-price airline, you'll need to pack carefully to avoid exceeding that weight limit. We have a detailed guide on how to make the most of your available space and weight.

The most important principle is not to pack anything you're not absolutely sure you'll need. Your suitcase or bag doesn't need to be filled to the brim, you don't need five outfits every day, and you don't need to travel with 10 gadgets if your phone can do the job of most of them. I've travelled for a week and done my job with no luggage whatsoever on more than one occasion — you don't have to be that extreme, but it shows that you don't need multiple bags all the time.

The other key tactic is to make good use of available coat and suit pockets, especially in winter. Items that are heavy but compact (like computer chargers) might be better off in your pockets than in your bag.


Comments

    In the Tigerair paragraph, don't you mean "from 7Kg to 12Kg"?

    Travel with a kid. It's insane how much you are allowed to take with you. Four suitcases plus heaps of carry on.

      But then you have to put up with a kid.

        Leave them at the terminal when you board.

      Depends on the airline. If your kid is over 2, you will have paid for a whole second fare, so, you know, buy a second ticket then you not only get a free seat to spread out into, but you get twice the carry-on. If your kid is under 2, yes you get a free allowance. However, if you've ever flown near a kid under 2, be happy the parent has that extra allowance. (That second bag is generally full of food and nappies for said kid. Kids get noisier and smellier if parents are forced to leave that under the plane).

      And when you're getting all antsy about the inequity of a parent being given all this stuff for free, consider this 1.) As correctly pointed out below/above, they have to put up with the kid. Most parents who fly with a 0 - 2 year old would much prefer NOT TO BE. and 2.) (and this is why kids are still allowed in business class) People who have kids under 2 that are still jet-setting around the country with them on planes, are exactly the customers airlines want to keep. Statistically speaking, they are the frequent flyers, who will be making the decision about which airline they want to buy multiple tickets from every time they fly in years to come. Their kids will grow up and most likely fly with the same airline that their parents did. If you're sitting next to them in economy, they're getting free stuff and you're not because they're more valuable to the airline than you. If you want to change that reality, fly business.

    What I'd like to know is whether the cheaper airlines consider handbags an extra piece of luggage. I've never seen anyone with a handbag and small bag pulled up. And then following on from that, shouldn't a small backpack be given the same consideration as a handbag?

    Well maybe if they didn't charge so much for checked luggage people would be more inclined to check it!

      Or if they improved the whole process of delivering checked luggage at the end of a flight. I'm still staggered at how often there's confusion over which carousel to go to on arrival.

        @memeweaver. Easy mistake to make. Simply look above the carousel and you will see an illuminated sign with the flight number and departure point.

          Quite frequently wrong, or not updated until the last possible minute. Queue 300 people rushing across a baggage area to a different carousel.

    Now if only the US domestic airlines would go this route...

    Stop being cheap asses and pay for checked luggage! I hate the fact that embarking and disembarking takes twice as long because no-one will pony up for luggage fees.

    The restrictions are not airline based, they're aircraft manufacturer based. Weight and balance is extremely important for aircraft to ensure that the aircraft is within trim, ensure the performance to stay airborne if an engine fails, and to ensure that the overhead compartments don't fall onto your heads due to being overloaded. Airbus, I think it was, recently cracked down on airlines for allowing their overhead compartment weight limits to be exceeded.

    Check your luggage. It's quicker to board, more comfortable in the flight, and reduces the chance of yet another missile taking your head off if the aircraft were to suffer a forced landing.

    /rant

      I think they should charge for carry on. Checked luggage is a pain. It means at least an extra 10 minutes in the bag drop line, (sometimes half an hour that I could be spending in the lounge with a beer) and 20 minutes at the carousel at the other end.

      I would pay extra to have 15 kilos of carry on with a size limitation.

      The base fare should be for you, and what you can fit in your pockets.

      Gotta disagree with this. If weight and balance were the main issues then there'd be much more attention paid to the bodyweight of the individual checking in. The difference between handluggage being 7kg or 11kg is nothing compared to a 55kg person vs a 130kg person.
      These rules are a combination of physical space available in the overhead bins, and the airlines making money.

        They use standard weights for passengers. It tends to average out, however as the comment below states there can sometimes be problems with that too.

        The main weight limit is the overhead compartment. As an example, the aircraft I work in has a limit of 22.5 kg for each overhead compartment, yet the size of the compartment is large enough for at least 3 carry on bags.

    There was a near disaster years ago when a plane was mis-balanced due to the fact that 3/4 of the passengers were primary school students and booked the front section of the aircraft, meaning the adults in the tail section made the aircraft tail-heavy.

    What about DSLR Cameras? My D800 + 24-70 Lens weights almost 4 kg in itself, so is there an ability to have these excluded from the weight of the on-board 7kg?

      Yes, use the strap and wear it around your neck during check in. Put in bag afterwards. They may make you board like that, but then you can put it away.

    GOOD. It's about bloody time. I'm sick to death of trying to do the right thing and minimise my luggage, and bring on a tiny backpack, only to see someone (generally old white guys in suits) trying to cram a bag that is bigger than my checked-in luggage into the overhead compartment.

    I love it when I check my bags except for a little backpack with some essentials and I get to my seat after waiting for a bunch of people to store their giant suitcase sized "carry on" bags which they can barely lift into the overhead lockers and then I find that there's no room for my tiny backpack because the smug selfish pr*ck sitting 5 rows up put his giant bag in the first available locker. Then I sit patiently while the flight is delayed for an hour as flight staff try to find lockers for all the other giant bags, all because some people didn't want to pay a few bucks and wait at the carrousel for a few minutes.

    The main reason I avoid checked baggage other than cost is the time saved having to get to the airport to check it in as well as time and bunfight as a small person getting it off the carousel. My bags dimensions are correct and I check the weight before leaving home having no problem with 6 day away stay. Last year I had a bit of a spending splurge in Melbourne and found it far cheaper to post it home than pay and cart around checked baggage.

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