Packing can be one of the most challenging parts of preparing for your trip. Deciding what’s a must-bring and what can stay at home, fretting over baggage allowances, remembering security rules about nail clippers and just plain trying to make it all fit are enough to stress you out. While we can’t tell you how many pairs of socks to pack, we can give you some helpful tips and the low-down on baggage sizes and fees by airline.
Is carry-on or checked baggage better?
For many of us, the answer is “both!” Depending on the luggage allowance your airline provides, you may want to take advantage of every square inch. If you’re just going for a weekend, or if you generally like to travel light, the advantages of having less to lug may win out. Even with a single bag, whether you decide to check or carry-on can depend on factors such as:
Convenience of checked and carry on baggage
A carry-on bag lets you access your belongings in-flight, you can keep any valuables within eyeline, and there’s no waiting around by the baggage claim after you land. On the other hand, checking your luggage means that you can just hand it over and not worry about dragging it through security and the rest of the airport. Just be sure to arrive in plenty of time to check your bags: a minimum of 30-40 minutes before your flight is recommended, but check with your airline, especially for international flights.
The items you’re planning to bring
The contents of all baggage are subject to rules and regulations enforced by the Travel Safety Authority (TSA), but carry-on luggage has to meet a more stringent set of restrictions. While we all know better than to bring the obvious contraband (explosives spring to mind), some prohibitions are not so predictable. The guidelines change from time to time, so it makes sense to review the rules before you fly. This official TSA list is clear on what you can carry on and what needs to be checked.
Understand Airline Restrictions for Carry on and Checked Baggage Sizes
Airlines are very strict about the size of carry-on luggage. For safety reasons, it must be able to fit in overhead bins or under the seat in front of you. If it’s too big, it will have to be checked. Depending on the airline, gate-checking an oversized bag can be subject to unpleasant fees. Planning ahead will spare you any awkward surprises.
Traveling With Larger Items (Including Tips to Save on Extra Baggage Fees)
The easiest way to save on baggage fees is to pack less, but sadly that’s not always an option, especially if you are traveling with large items including sports equipment, medical equipment, or even child’s items. Here are some tips to make it easier, and help reduce fees.
For Sports Equipment
- Check with the airline: Do they charge by object (ie: per surfboard) or by bag. If it’s by bag, you’ll have an easier time transporting multiple items and be able to save yourself some money.
- Make it look as normal as possible: While there is no disguising a surf board, some bigger items, such as a bicycle, can be broken down into the frame and wheels. If you are able to pack them separately into normal looking suitcases, you will save yourself by not paying the fees for a ‘special item’.
- Reconsider:Is your own personal sporting equipment really necessary? It may be much more budget friendly to just rent what you need at your end destination.
For Medical Equipment
- Contact Local Hotels: For wheelchair users, especially those who need lifts, the first thing you should do is get in touch with local hotels to see if they have their own lifts or ceiling hoists. That way you don’t need to bring your own lift.
- Bring a Portable Shower Chair: While a collapsible shower chair may not be ideal for everyday use, they are definitely handy when travelling. Plus, some models can be folded up to fit in a suitcase, waving any extra ‘special items’ fees.
- Get in Touch with Your Airline: Most airlines will stow wheelchairs and scooters free of charge in the hold, but it’s best to reach out to them ahead of time to confirm this, especially as preparations will need to be made. If you have an electric wheelchair, be sure to notify them as the battery may need special storage during the flight.
- CPAP Machines: Travelers requiring CPAP machines should also get in touch with the airlines ahead of time. While they are considered to be carry-on items, there may be rules about using the machine during the flight.
- Oxygen Tanks: It is important to note that if you plan on traveling with oxygen, you will need to visit your doctor ahead of time to get the necessary paperwork. Your own Oxygen tanks are not allowed as check-in luggage, however empty FAA approved tanks can be checked. If you need something on board, talk to your doctor about Department of Transportation Approved battery-powered oxygen concentrators which are permitted on flights.
For Children’s Items (Carseats and Strollers)
Carseats and strollers are common items for families traveling with young children, and airlines are pretty good with accepting them at no additional fee. However, this is not always the case and some airlines do have restrictions so call ahead and ask.
- Strollers can be either checked in when you check in, or checked in at the gate. Given the size, they are rarely allowed as carry-on luggage.
- Car seats can often be carried on board, but they do need to be FAA approved. If you don’t want to carry on the carseat, it’s recommended to store it in a duffel bag so it doesn’t get dirty.
With both car seats and strollers, smaller is always better.