The Trouble with Free Cabin Baggage Allowance

Not all hand luggage was created equal and not all cabin baggage is free – your next flight may be more expensive than you think.

Is Free Cabin Baggage Always Free?

While most airlines still allow for a small piece of hand luggage to be taken on board without extra charges, it’s best to always check with your airline before you travel.

Are the days of free cabin baggage allowance over? The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) wanted to standardise the hand baggage allowance across airlines, but this has proved to be a challenge and each airline will differ from the next (source: Skyscanner).

The first major difference to notice between airlines is the maximum weight of the hand luggage.

With 23kg per bag and a total of two bags per person allowed in the cabin, British Airways is the most generous. The two bags include one laptop bag (measuring 45cm x 36cm x 20cm). Will this change in the future?

Let’s talk about laptops: some models are considerably bulkier than others, so you will need to check with the airline. A 15inch screen laptop measures 35cm x 25cm x 1.5cm, therefore it may not fit into a “personal item bag”. For example, a MacBook Pro or Retina will exceed the size of a personal item. Luggage manufactures like Eastpack and Samsonite have some useful guidelines. Eastpack will suggest a bag model based on the measurements and Samsonite will also match the measurements to each airline indicating the maximum weight allowance. For example, a 55cm x 35cm x 25cm bag could be taken into the cabin on Air France (maximum weight 12kg), KLM (12kg) or Alitalia (8kg).

  • For example, Ryanair introduced a new rule in 2018 whereby, although it allows two pieces of hand luggage, the larger one will be taken from your when you are boarding to be put in the hold (free of charge). If you don’t pay extra (“Priority & 2 cabin bags” costing an additional 5 or a Plus/Flexi ticket) for the second piece of luggage you won’t be able to take it with you in the cabin. The allowance for a personal item/smaller bag is 35cm x 20cm x 20cm. A bag with these measurements will allocate personal items such as phone, tablet, books but not likely to accommodate laptops. Oversized cabin baggage will be charged 50.

  • Compare this with KLM and Air France, which allow two pieces of hand luggage of which one is a personal item bag, measuring 40cm x 30cm x 15cm. A laptop would fit there easily.

  • Norwegian allows one carry-on bag measuring 55cm x 40cm x 23cm plus a bag for personal items, including laptop bags, measuring 33cm x 25cm x 20cm, with a total weight of 10kg. The weight allowance rises to 15kg collectively if you purchase a Flex or Premium Flex fare. If the overhead compartments are full your cabin bag may still be put in the hold.

  • Vueling allows two pieces of luggage in the cabin, of which one for personal items measuring 35cm x 20cm x 20cm plus an additional bag for any purchases made at the airport’s duty free.

  • easyJet and Lufthansa only allow one cabin bag per person, however easyJet does not currently have weight restrictions. Please notice that Lufthansa’s measurements are slightly smaller at 55cm x 40cm x 23cm, compared to easyJet’s 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.

While a flexible bag will likely be suitable for most flights, it may not give enough protection for valuables such as cameras and laptops. Hard shell cabin bags will need to be slightly smaller as their measurements must also include wheels and handles.

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