The bags you use for travel, your knowledge of airline and security rules, and how you pack your belongings in your bags can have a major impact on your trip.
When making packing decisions, you need to consider airline luggage limitations and liability limits, governmental airport security prohibitions and regulations, and your travel health needs.
When you don’t pack with those considerations in mind, you can lose precious valuables, arrive at your destination with broken essentials, incur increased costs, lose counted-on access to belongings while inflight, waste time at airport security, and squander precious moments at your destination.
Don’t ignore airline baggage size limitations
Many airlines formerly relied on linear baggage limits (length+width+depth), but now impose individual limits on length, width and depth. That surprises unknowing air travelers like a fellow passenger on an American Airlines flight not long ago. The gate agent required her to check her carry-on bag when it didn’t fit in the sizer. Its dimensions were satisfactory under the old rules, but too wide under the new ones. When we arrived in New Orleans, she complained bitterly that American broke her camera that was packed in her carry-on, which she was required to check.
Don’t ignore airline baggage weight limitations
In the U.S., airlines rarely, if ever, impose a weight limit on carry-on bags. Outside the U.S., many airlines have a carry-on weight limit and enforce it. Well before your flights, make sure your bags meet the most restrictive baggage rules of all the airlines you’re flying on your trip. If a carry-on bag is too heavy, you’ll have to lighten it or check it. On most airlines, if you have to check an overweight carry-on, you’ll likely be required to pay a baggage fee.
Checked luggage weight limits haven’t changed much in a long time, but the penalties have risen sharply in recent years. On American Airlines, for example, an overweight bag will cost $100 to $200 in fees.
Don’t ignore airline liability rules
If it’s fragile, valuable, electronic, medicine, photographic equipment, perishable, jewelry, cash, unique or irreplaceable, the airlines won’t accept liability for its loss or damage. In addition to these liability exemptions, the airlines have low liability limits for lost or damaged baggage and belongings. For U.S. domestic flights, the limit is $3,500 per passenger.
The woman on my American Airlines flight to New Orleans, mentioned above, was likely livid when she found out American wouldn’t accept liability for her damaged camera.
It’s important to me that my belongings arrive with me, in good condition and working order, so I pack all my camera and computer gear, medications, toilet articles, important papers and anything essential or irreplaceable in my carry-on or personal bag, never in my checked luggage.
Don’t ignore government airport security regulations
Government security regulations control what you may bring and how you can take it aboard your flights. Like other governments’ security agencies, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) publishes a prohibited items list. Some items on the list are banned from checked bags, others from carry-ons, and still others are totally banned. Special liquid/gel limitations continue to be enforced.
Some travelers try to sneak things past security agents. The problem with doing that or ignoring the regulations is that you could be detained long enough to miss your flight, lose your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry privileges, or worse, according to how severe your violation is considered. Always obey the rules.
Don’t ignore the difficulty which airport security personnel have examining your luggage
Despite advances in x-ray scanning technology hardware and software, including automatic color coding to aid bag content recognition, the way air travelers pack their bags can make it harder or easier for security personnel to determine what’s in them.
When it’s difficult to judge what’s in your bags, security personnel will require them to be hand-checked. When checked luggage is opened, your belongings can be repacked poorly, and some items can be lost. For carry-ons, if your time is tight, the delay from hand-checking your bags could mean that you’ll miss your flight.
When luggage is packed with high density objects, such as wires, electronics, small tools, batteries, etc., placed on top of each other, security personnel can’t identify them on their x-ray monitor. Those bags will require hand-checking. To avoid this, pack your belongings layered, in organizers to prevent them from shifting in your luggage. Spread your high-density belongings across each bag, at the bottom. This aids their recognition and helps you avoid the need to have your bags hand-checked.
Don’t ignore your health needs when traveling
I know travelers who unfortunately packed their medications in their checked bag, which then never made it to their destination. Replacing missing prescription medications can be difficult and expensive when traveling internationally. It can waste precious time better spent vacationing or making a business deal. Pack them in your carry-on.
The two most important takeaways? Use the most restrictive size limitations from among the airlines on which you think you might fly to guide future luggage purchases. And when packing for a trip by air, if you have to have it when you arrive or if it’s irreplaceable, always pack it in your carry-on.