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Travelling with new lower check-in and carry-on hand baggage allowances

by Devesh Agarwal

Last month, I flew more than 50,000 miles across many nations, and airlines, and in the process experienced the carry on hand baggage and check-in baggage rules of different airlines, countries, and airports and to a chance try out new lightweight luggage. [Disclaimer: I have not received any benefit, in any form, from any of the airlines or luggage companies I have referred to in this article.]

Hopefully the tips below will help dealing with the reduction of checked-in baggage allowances in India to 15 kgs and the hand carry on baggage limits of Europe and Asia of 22″size and 7 kgs weight.

1. Check with your airline

Checked baggage weight allowances vary from country to country and airline to airline. In India, some airlines like Jet and Air India have reduced it to 15 kgs, while SpiceJet and GoAir still offer the traditional 20 kgs. Across the world, legacy carriers still offer the standard 20 kgs. To, from and within the US, the piece concept applies and the weight limit is 50 lbs or 23 kgs per bag.

However. you may have a domestic connecting leg on a local carrier in Europe or the US which may have lower baggage allowances than your international carrier. So you can carry one or two pieces free of charge to the US, just to have American, Delta, or United charge you checked bag fees for that leg from New York to Boston. Check with your airline or travel agent about the baggage allowances right till the very end of your trip. Try to get the information in writing. 

2. Carry less

We Indians love to carry stuff. Do you really need to carry so many things? One pair of pants and may be a pair of jeans will last for a whole week. Most hotels in the US and Europe have washing machines, and irons and ironing boards. Carry fewer clothes and use the facilities. Innocuous items like books, paper, food are actually quite heavy. Do you really need to carry the whole business file of the customer?

The airlines have reduced allowance by 25% (from 20kg to 15kg). Reduce what you are packing by the same 25%. Use intelligent packing solutions like Pack-It™ folders which compact your clothes and keep them crease-free.

3. Lightweight luggage

Time to trade in the old war horse but heavy suitcase for the new crop of lightweight bags. Till last month I was using my long trusted TravelPro Platinum series bags which have lasted me at least 500,000 miles. But each bag weighed about 9 kgs when empty. The new lightweight bags weigh as little at 4kgs for a 29 inch four wheel spinner. In India I recommend Samsonite which offers light series like BLight, Lift, and Optimum. American Tourister does not have light enough luggage.

In the US, after trying many a bag, I opted for the TravelPro MaxLite 2 29″ spinners. Ultra-light. Strong. Competitively priced. I bought mine from eBags and WayFair. Unfortunately TravelPro is not sold in India.

In the UK, and soon to be launched in India, there is a brand called IT Luggage which deserves a look. The company offers a series of luggage called “world’s lightest”. I bought a 22″ upright which weighs a lean 3.5 lbs (1.58 kgs). Even full, the bag still passed the 7kg test.

And if you are buying a new bag, get away from the traditional black and red. Try getting, blue or charcoal or some other colour that will differentiate your bag.

4. Smaller carry on hand baggage

While some US airlines permit 24″ (60 cm) bags, the global standard is now 22″ (55 cm) and in the case of no-frill carriers like RyanAir and EasyJet the size is being pushed down to 20″ (50 cm).

In India many airlines are opting for small turbo-props like the Q400 or the ATR72, while in Europe and the US, may routes are on RJs (Regional Jets). These aircraft have very small overhead bins and the carry-on bag which fits in an A320 or 737 jet, has no chance in these smaller aircraft.

On long distance flights, carry-on luggage space is getting used for other frills. Like your in-seat video and fancy on-demand in-flight entertainment system? The control box now sits underneath your seat, where your bag used to go.

My camera bag with its big telephoto lenses frequently weighs more than the 7kg limit. I normally do not face a problem as most airlines recognise the fragile nature of the equipment, with the exception of London Heathrow airport.

From extensive personal experience, I advise travellers to avoid London Heathrow airport, which forces all airlines to stringently implement the 7kg hand baggage weight limit, even in business class. I have not experienced any other airport in Europe or North America imposing this.

Based on reports from family members, friends, and personal observation, Emirates airline actively enforces the 7kg hand baggage weight limit on economy class, by weighing hand bags at almost all stations. The airline is especially vigilant on flights to and from the Indian sub-continent. If you are a premium passenger, don’t worry, you are forgiven all sins.

5. Expandable carry on hand bags

Fast becoming a no-no. Expansion sections require additional zips and material, and that adds weight. Also, when we expand the bag, it becomes bigger and can no longer be carried on board. You will need to check it in, and wait for it after landing losing the advantage of carry-on “get-up and go” speed.

6. Use the overhead bins properly

One of the things that makes my blood boil is the casual manner in which most Indians, just toss their bag in to the overhead compartment. All to often we find an oversize bag or a small valise in the bin put sideways, eating up the space for two bags. I also loathe those bin hoarders who will put their bag in the overhead bin above your seat and then go and sit few rows back.

Its time to give such inconsiderate cabin mates dirty looks, if needed a talking to, and for you to stand-up for your rights. But then, we must practice what we preach.

7. Get Status

Become an elite customer of the airline. Either by flying with them, or getting a co-branded airline platinum credit card. Elite customers are given additional baggage allowances and priority boarding which allows you to get to that precious overhead bin space ahead of the others.

Photo courtesy of Jaktogo

8. Wear your luggage

If you are flying the ultra-cheapo RyanAir or Spirit Air who charge for carry on baggage, consider the new fad of ‘wearable luggage’ or ‘luggage jackets’. These allow you to pack almost the equivalent of a carry on bag worth of stuff. In fact in some cases, the jacket turns in to a bag and vice-versa. Check in wearing the jacket, board and convert it to a bag and put it in the overhead bin.

Yes who may look odd wearing this huge jacket, but who cares. With the money you save on baggage fees, go have a party, or buy a new outfit. Relish the fact that you, the customer, had the last laugh, not the airline.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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