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Baggage Regulations


The following advice should help you avoid many of the common problems that passengers have with carry-on or checked luggage.

  • Travel with only carry-on luggage if possible. : By using only carry-on luggage, you do not risk having checked luggage lost or stolen. Also some airlines offer special rates for carry on luggage only. The rates may increase dramatically if you have checked in luggage.
  • Do not put heavy items in the overhead storage bins : While the weight limit for carry-on items is generally about 40 lbs. (18.2 kg.), even a much lighter bag may cause severe injury if it falls out of the bin.
  • Put your contact information inside and outside every bag : In addition to this information, you should also put a copy of your itinerary inside every bag to make it easier for the airline to reunite you if you are separated from your luggage. Do this with your carry-on bag in case you are forced to check that bag at the last minute. For personal security reasons, you may want to use an address other than your home address.
  • Customize the look of your bag to make it easy to identify : Many bags on a flight may have a similar design, so customize the bag to make it easy to spot on a baggage carousel. This will keep other passengers from picking it up by mistake.
  • Keep valuable items with you : Money, laptop computers, electronic files, and other items of high value or importance should be kept in a carry-on bag, preferably one that is small enough to stow under a seat. The airline may insist on checking larger carry-on bags if the overhead bins become filled. Also, keep in mind that fors ome large and valuable items like a wedding dress, you may only be able to carry it in a checked bag.
  • Make sure that the airline tag on your checked luggage is for the correct destination : Every piece of checked luggage should have a three-letter airport identifier that matches your destination airport. If you are unsure of the code, ask the ticket agent or skycap.
  • Make sure that you keep the stub from your checked luggage : This stub is a critical document that will be needed if your luggage is lost by the airline or if you are trying to prove that you own a piece of luggage.
  • Immediately report the loss of checked luggage : If your checked bag does not arrive at your destination, immediately report this problem to the baggage agent on duty or to any other available representative from your airline.
  • Prepare to deal with a lost bag : Pack key items in your carryon bag like extra underwear or essential items for a business meeting so you can continue your trip if your checked bags are lost or delayed.
  • Don't pack hazardous goods : There are quite a number of items or materials, some of them not so obvious, that may pose a risk if taken on an aircraft.

Common Airline Baggage Fees

Baggage fees for checked luggage items are a reality for just about all air travelers. This overview will answer some of the common questions passengers have about fees, and will provide an overview of how to avoid or reduce baggage fees.

A brief review of airline baggage fee rules
The general baggage fee rules for most airlines can be summed up in a few sentences:

  • If the only bag you bring on board is small enough to fit under your seat, you will not be charged a fee.
  • You will not be charged for a carry-on bag that can fit in the overhead luggage bin and that is under that airline's size and weight limit.
  • Most airlines charge a fee for each checked bag.
  • Fees are higher for each additional checked bag, and for any luggage item that is larger or heavier than some limit set by the airline
  • Airlines may waive checked bag fees depending on the item, the flight, or the kind of ticket purchased by the passenger.
  • Every airline has different rules on baggage fees.

Bags that fly for free on most airlines

Most airlines allow you to take one carry-on bag and a smaller carry-on item without charge. The carry-on bag has to be small enough to fit into a standard overhead bin and the smaller item has to be able to fit under the seat. The size and weight limits for carry-on bags varies by airline.

Your second carry-on item, sometimes called a personal item, has to be small enough to fit under a seat. Typical personal items include purses, small backpacks, laptop bags, or tote bags. The maximum size of this second item is typically as large as 36 linear inches (91 cm), but the real limitation is the amount of area under the seat in front of you.

In addition to the two carry-on items that almost all airlines allow, there are a number of categories of extra carry-on items that airlines will allow you to take on board without getting charged. These items include umbrellas, medical equipment (for example crutches or canes), portable oxygen concentrators, infant car seats, and strollers.

Common baggage fees and luggage limitations

Most airlines charge a fee for each checked bag. The amount of that fee will depend on the airline, but most airlines have the following general rules for checked bag fees:

  • There will be a fee for each checked baggage item
  • Fees are higher for each additional bag.
  • There are size and weight limits for each luggage item.
  • Airlines charge fees for each direction of a trip (each time you check your bags for a flight).
  • Checked items that exceed the weight or size limit may be charged extra fees, or may not be allowed to be checked.
  • There is a maximum number of items that each passenger can check.

Common exceptions to baggage fees

Most airlines reduce or eliminate baggage fees for some situations:

  • You will not be charged if your carry-on bag has to be checked because there is no room left in the overhead bins.
  • Passengers who purchase a full fare economy ticket, a business or first class ticket, or who have an elite or premier status in that airline's frequent flyer program can check the first and sometimes the second bag for free.
  • Passengers flying with a passenger who has an elite or premier status in that airline's frequent flyer program will also get the same checked bag privileges.
  • Medically necessary items such as wheelchairs can be checked for free.
  • Passengers traveling with a child can check a car seat or stroller without charge.
  • Some airlines and credit card companies have deals that give passengers one or more free checked bags when the ticket is purchased with that credit card.
  • On most US airlines, active duty military personnel or their family members who are either traveling with the active duty military member or who are on official travel orders can often check several bags without charge.

Common baggage fee surprises

Baggage fee rules are not that complicated, but each airline can have very different fees and baggage limits, and those fees may change at any time. Most surprises can be avoided by going to your airline's web site and reading the rules. If you don't take the time to review the rules, you may face unexpected fees, especially in one of the following situations:

  • Trips involving different airlines: On a round trip ticket, you will be subject to baggage fees for both the outbound and inbound portions of your trip, so if you are using different airlines for each direction, you will be flying under different baggage fee rules.
  • Trips involving international travel: Baggage fee rules and even baggage size and weight limits may be very different in different countries, even for the same airline. This means that your total fees for the outbound flight may be very different than the total fees on the return flight.
  • Travel with a lap child: With the exceptions of a car seat or a stroller, lap children (children under the age of two who can travel for free on the lap of a paying adult) do not have any free carry-on items.
  • Different fees for some domestic destinations: Some airlines charge different fees (often higher fees) for some destinations, even for a domestic flight.
  • Flight cancellations and rebookings: If your flight is cancelled and you have to be booked with another airline, you will be traveling under that other airline's rules and may face additional baggage fees.
  • Changing ticket status after check in: If you check in with a ticket that requires a checked bag fee, but you later upgrade your ticket to one that does not require a fee, some airlines may not refund that fee.
  • Sports equipment and oddly shaped items: Large sports equipment items such as skis and surfboards, as well as oddly shaped baggage items, may have higher fees than regular luggage.
  • Paying higher fees at the airport: Often airlines charge lower checked bag fees if they are paid in advance online.

Avoiding baggage fees and baggage fee surprises

Avoiding baggage fee surprises is very easy. Review your airline policy before you buy your ticket to see what the rules are or what rules may have been changed. The best way to do this is to check the airline's web site and not to rely on outside sources such as travel information web sites or airline ticket booking web sites. To reduce or eliminate baggage fees, passengers can do one or more of the following:

  • Fly on airlines that don't charge fees for carry-on items or for one or more checked items.
  • Avoid flying with checked bags.
  • If you have to fly with checked bags, use as few checked bags as possible.
  • Make sure that any baggage item, even carry-on bags, are within your airline's size and weight limits. If you have any doubts about the size or weight of a bag, find rulers, tape measures, bathroom scales, or any other appropriate tool to measure the bag's size and weight.
  • Take advantage of any special status you may have as a member of your airline's frequent flyer program. That includes programs that waives checked baggage fees for the high status program members, and sometimes for others who are traveling with that high status member.
  • Take advantage of any available bonus program (such as credit card programs) that provides you with free checked bags.
  • When traveling in a group, distribute your luggage items to reduce the number of bags you have to check.
  • If you buy your ticket well in advance of your flight, check the airline's baggage rules shortly before the flight to see if there have been any changes.
  • Pay for checked bag fees online before the flight if the online price is lower than the airport price.
  • If you plan to pay for the fees at the airport, make sure that the airline will accept your form of payment.
  • If you have checked bags but will not be charged by your airline, be prepared to pay baggage fees if your flight is cancelled and you have to continue your flight with a different airline.