Ask LH: How Stringent Are Virgin’s Hand Luggage Rules For International Flights?

Ask LH: How Stringent Are Virgin’s Hand Luggage Rules For International Flights?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m from the US and will be visiting Australia in November for business. I have 4 domestic flights on Virgin Australia and I plan to travel light (backpack + 1 personal item). I’ve spent lots of time trying to find a carry-on bag that meets VA’s size guidelines. The bag I’m looking at is slightly over their size requirements. So I’m wondering: how strictly do they enforce them? Should I try my luck or look for a smaller bag? Thanks, Sara

Dear Sara,

Australian airlines are in the midst of a crackdown when it comes to hand luggage. Unlike some nations’ airlines, our baggage size policies are exact. For economy flights, Virgin allows either one or two pieces that do not exceed total linear dimensions of 115cm with a total weight of 7kg.

With that said, I’ve rarely bothered to check the size or weight of my carry on luggage for international flights and have never run into any problems. (With all the tech I travel with, I’m certain my main bag regularly exceeds 7kg.) Provided your bag’s dimensions aren’t too far over the limit, you may be able to pass through the gates unmolested.

Your chance of success will depend on a range of factors, including how full the flight is, the affability of the staff members at the gate and your own personal charm (or lack thereof.) If you do get through, just be prepared for some dirty looks from the passengers seated next to you; especially if your bag takes up most of their allotted space.

In any event, if your bag does get refused by staff you can simply check it at the gate. As you’re not taking any other luggage, you won’t be slugged with excess baggage fees — although you may need to pay an unrelated handling fee for failing to check in your luggage at the right time.

Alternatively, you could check the bag in on arrival and take nothing on the plane (provided it’s reasonably sturdy, that is). Stopping by the baggage carousel should only add around ten or 15 minutes to your overall journey — and you’ll make up most of that time during your bag-free security screening.

We also want to hear from readers on this. Have you ever attempted to travel with carry on luggage that was slightly too big? What happened? Share your stories in the comments.


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  • M experience is – it depends on the person checking you in and the hostie when you’re walking on board. I’ve been forced to purchase extra baggage before because I had too much carry-on, but the person boarding in front of me was permitted 5 bags of carry-on. Smile, be nice – who knows what you can get away with!

  • It also depends a little on the airport and the staff on shift, and whether the staff member picks you as a frequent flier who is courteous and friendly, or someone just trying to avoid checking their bag.

    But I think though we all want to avoid the situation in the US and parts of asia where people travel with as much and as large carry on as they think they can argue onto the plane because they bought a slightly cheaper ticket which doesn’t have checked bags included.

    Airlines in Australia don’t lose bags anywhere near as much as other countries so just check your bag and travel light in the cabin. Most Australian ports are pretty quick to offload and provide bags to the pick up belts, and if you make sure you can tell your bag apart from everyone else’s easily then you won’t have any problems. It’s a good idea to take a photo of your bag if you do think you’ll lose it so you can clearly and accurately show airline staff what your bag looks like.

    Secondly, if you’re traveling for work ditch the backpack and buy a cabin sized rollaboard which fits correctly into the overhead lockers. Backpacks 40l+ (ie, pretty much any backpack which is too large for the VA allowance) are the wrong shape for overhead bins. In turn this:

    a. slows down the onboarding and offboarding of the plane, impacting leaving and arrival times and inconveniencing every passenger seated behind you
    b. wastes space in the overhead bins annoying other passengers
    c. backpacks constantly catch on stuff going down the aisle (other people, seats, etc) annoying everyone
    d. make you look like you’re on holidays or a backpacker, so when you check in and staff see you have a backpack they aren’t as likely to put you towards the front of the plane or on an aisle

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