Hand luggage only: how to pack for any trip
Beat the queues and the airline charges: travel writer Tim Richards shows you his carry-on bag packing secrets.
It's one of the major irritants of flying. The passenger boarding in front of you staggers down the aisle toting a loaded backpack plus a wheelie bag and creates a logjam as they heft their obviously overweight chattels into the overhead bin, most of which is now occupied by their bags alone.
It's extreme but most of us push the carry-on limits, and there are good reasons why we do it. If we can get away with just a carry-on bag we'll save the check-in baggage fee (if we're flying with a low cost carrier or on a supercheap ticket), and there's no hanging around the baggage carousel at the far end. Then again, if you're travelling with fragile and valuable electronics that you really don't want in your checked baggage – a laptop, a tablet, expensive camera or video gear - what choice have you got?
There's a common thread running through most airlines carry-on limits. If you're flying economy or premium economy the general limit is one bag with a maximum weight of 7kg plus one small personal item, which might be a handbag or a small briefcase or laptop bag. Air New Zealand is a notable exception in the case of its premium economy passengers, bumping their carry-on allowance to the same level as business flyers. Aboard a low cost carrier that 7kg total is likely to include whatever small personal item you might be toting as well as your cabin bag.
Air China and China Southern, based in the Peoples Republic of China, both apply a frugal 5kg carry-on limit to their economy flyers. China Airlines, headquartered in Taiwan, applies a more conventional 7kg limit.
Curiously, American Airlines and United do not specify a weight limit for carry-ons on their website although according to British Airways, the maximum weight for carry-ons aboard American Airlines, its oneworld alliance partner, is a whopping 23kg.
In business class the default carry-on limit is 12 to 14kg, with some airlines allowing two decent size bags. However if you're fronting up to the business class check in you'd have to be in gross violation of the size or weight limits before most airlines would even dream of asking for a weight check of your carry-on items.
Some airlines are more rigorous in enforcing their carry-on limits, and it should come as no surprise that the low-cost carriers are the most likely to play hardball.
Jetstar is known for its random spot checks. At the gate, passengers' carry-ons might be weighed. Any economy flyers boarding an international Jetstar flight with more than allocated 7kg of carry-ons risks a $160 on-the-spot penalty.
See also: How to travel with only carry-on luggage
US Low cost carrier Spirit Airlines, the undisputed queen of mean, charges for carry-ons as well as checked luggage. One personal item is included in the Spirit ticket price, but from April 4 the airline is tightening the dimensions, allowing passengers 5cm more length but reducing depth by 10cm.
Spirit passengers can pay for a carry-on bag when they make their booking but if they show up with a carry-on without pre-payment, the charge is $US100. These charges are part of the reason Spirit is the flag bearer for ancillary fees, with more than 40 per cent of its revenue coming from non-ticket charges.
Carry-on limits: Airlines operating within and out of Australia
One piece that must not exceed 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, plus one small bag that must not exceed 40cm x 30cm x 10cm, total combined maximum weight 7kg.
Economy one piece maximum dimensions 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, maximum weight 5kg
Business/First Class two pieces maximum dimensions 55cm x 40cm x 20cm each, maximum total combined weight 8kg
Air New Zealand
Economy one bag maximum total dimensions 118cm, maximum weight 7kg plus one small item
Premium Economy and Business two bags maximum total dimensions 118cm, maximum combined total weight 14kg, plus one small item
Basic Economy one personal item, dimensions should not exceed 45 x 35 x 20cm
Other classes one bag maximum dimensions 56cm x 36cm x 23cm plus one personal item
Economy/Premium Economy One bag, maximum dimensions 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, maximum 7kg, plus one small bag maximum dimensions 5cm x 30cm x 40cm
Business One bag, maximum dimensions 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, maximum 10kg, plus one small bag
First Class One bag, maximum dimensions 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, maximum 15kg, plus one small bag
Economy/Premium Economy one bag maximum dimensions 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, maximum weight 7kg
Business one bag maximum dimensions 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, maximum weight 7kg plus one travel garment bag
China Southern Airlines
Economy/Premium Economy/Business one piece maximum combined dimensions 115cm, maximum weight 5kg
First Class two pieces maximum dimensions 115cm each, maximum total combined weight 10kg
Economy one piece maximum dimensions 55cm x 38cm x 20cm, maximum weight 7kg
Business/First Class two pieces, one briefcase maximum dimensions 45cm x 35cm x 20cm plus either one handbag 55cm x 38cm x 20cm or one garment bag no more than 20cm when folded, maximum weight 7kg per piece
Economy one bag, total maximum dimensions 40cm x 50cm x 25cm, up to 7kg
Business/First Class two bags, total maximum dimensions 40cm x 50cm x 25cm, up to 12kg total for both
One piece 56cm x 36 cm x 23cm, maximum weight 7kg
Economy one bag plus one personal item maximum total combined weight 12kg
Business/Prestige two bags maximum total combined weight 18kg
Economy one piece 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, maximum weight 7kg plus one personal item
Business/First Class two pieces 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, maximum total combined weight 14kg plus one personal item
Economy 1 bag no bigger than 56cm x 36cm x 23cm or one x 185cm total maximum dimensions non rigid garment bag, maximum weight 7kg plus one small personal item
First/Business/Premium Economy two bags no bigger than 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, maximum weight 7kg each, or one that size plus one x 185cm total maximum dimensions non rigid garment bag, plus one small personal item
All classes two bags maximum linear dimensions 105cm or one bag total maximum dimensions 105cm plus one non rigid garment bag total maximum dimensions 185cm or one bag total maximum dimensions 115cm maximum 7kg per piece
Economy one piece maximum dimensions 50cm x 37cm x 25cm, maximum weight 7kg plus personal items
Business/First Class two pieces maximum dimensions 50cm x 37cm x 25cm, maximum total combined weight 15kg plus personal items
Economy one piece up to 10kg, or two pieces including a laptop or handbag with combined weight not exceeding 10kg, maximum dimensions 54cm x 38cm x 23cm
Scoot Biz two pieces, combined weight not exceeding 15kg, maximum dimensions 54cm x 38cm x 23cm
Economy/Premium Economy one piece, maximum 7kg, total maximum dimensions 115cm, plus one small item
Suites/First Class/Business Class two pieces, maximum 7kg each, total maximum dimensions 115cm, plus one small item
One bag 54cm x 38cm x 23cm plus one small item, maximum total combined weight 7kg
Tigerair's Cabin+ option gives a passenger a 12kg carry-on allowance, starting from $15.
Basic Economy one personal item, maximum dimensions 22cm x 25cm x 43cm
Other classes one bag 22cm x 35cm x 56cm, plus one personal item, dimensions as for Basic Economy passengers
Virgin Australia International Long Haul
Economy and Premium Economy one piece up to 7kg plus one personal item, maximum total dimensions per piece 115cm
Business two pieces up to 7 kg each plus one personal item, maximum total dimensions per piece 115cm
One piece total maximum dimensions 115cm plus one small bag or briefcase total maximum weight 7kg
Or suit pack or garment bag maximum dimensions 114cm x 60cm x 11cm plus one small bag 48cm x 34cm x 23cm total maximum weight 7kg
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