Travelling with only hand luggage, or a small cabin bag, can be a great way to cut down on travel expenses. However, this advantage can quickly disappear if you find yourself unexpectedly burdened with extra baggage fees at the airport.
Here’s how to limit the chances of being charged and avoid hand luggage fees – even when your bag is slightly too big!
Double Check Your Airline’s Baggage Policy Before You Leave
Each airline will have slightly different baggage allowance measurements. So it’s always handy to double check your airline’s baggage policy in advance, so you can avoid hand luggage fees.
Want more info on baggage policies for hand luggage? Check out our baggage allowance article below:
Choose From The Best Small Cabin Bags
You can avoid hand luggage fees by choosing the best hand luggage for the allowance. Don’t worry, we’ve done a deep dive on our favourite small cabin bags that fit the dimensions for Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air.
If You Need a Suitcase - Make Sure It Fits!
Whether it’s for basic desire or necessity, we do realise that there are some circumstances where’ll want to take a suitcase instead of a soft bag. Whilst in general, a suitcase is a red flag to airline staff, there are some that do just about fit the dimensions.
Check the Dimensions After You’ve Packed
Make sure you measure the dimensions of your luggage after you’ve packed. Don’t just believe the dimensions advertised as often you can push the limits. You also don’t want any sneaky surprises at the airport!
Risk it With a Bag That is Slightly Too Big
You didn’t hear it from me but it’s very possible to travel with luggage that is slightly bigger than the airline baggage allowance for one simple reason. They don’t always check! In fact, I’ve travelled on over 30 flights with a 45L bag (that’s a good 20L over what should fit!). However, I’ve never been charged a penny extra.
If you do want to try your luck, there are a few tips that will help you do so.
1. Always Choose a Soft Fabric Bag or Bag Over Hard Suitcase
A common mistake made by travellers hoping to travel on hand luggage only is opting for a hard case suitcase over a soft fabric bag. You see, hard case luggage tends to stand out as being potentially oversized. Meaning they’re also more likely to be spotted by airline staff. Moreover, if you’re asked to put your hard suitcase in the baggage sizer, you won’t be able to shift and squeeze it in.
On the other hand, a soft fabric bag is not as easily detectable as being oversized. It’s able to be squished into the baggage sizer much easier. This comes in handy if you’re ever asked to prove that it fits the airline size requirements.
2. If Available, Check in Online Rather Than at The Airport
If you check in at the airline desk at the airport, you may be asked about your luggage or staff may spot a bag that’s too big and ask you to put it on the scale or in the baggage sizer.
So, to avoid being caught out, check in online and download your boarding pass before; then once you arrive at the airport you can head straight to security and to your terminal.
Chelsea's Top Tip!
“Some airlines like Ryanair may insist that you need to get a boarding pass from check in staff if you check in on a desktop computer and don’t have a printer. You can get around this by downloading the Ryanair app and downloading your boarding pass on your mobile instead”
3. Join The Boarding Queue When it’s Busy and Towards The End Of Boarding
While it’s not an exact science, joining the boarding queue at a busy point or towards the end when staff are rushing to get everyone on the flight might take some heat off you and your oversized bag. Instead, the focus will be on getting you on the flight and having it leave on time.
However, don’t leave it too late as there’s a chance this could backfire on you if you wait until the end of boarding when there are only a few people left. That, and if they’ve noticed it’s a flight with lots of hand luggage on, they may be on the lookout for luggage to check into the hold instead.
4. Wear Your Luggage on Your Back While Checking In and Queueing to Board the Plane
Another key to avoiding hand luggage fees is to opt for a backpack. This is more discreet since the main bulk is hidden on your back.
Wearing your bag on your back as opposed to having it on the floor or carrying it with your hand, will draw less attention to it. Making it less likely to be picked out by airline staff and seen as oversized. Just make sure you keep facing forward and don’t give them a chance to spot that it’s oversized!
5. Have All Documents and Your Boarding Pass Ready
Causing as little fuss as possible at the boarding gate is vital to avoid having your bag singled out as oversized. Make sure you have all your documents and boarding pass readily available. This will allow you to swiftly glide through the boarding gate and onto the flight.
The goal is to avoid drawing any extra attention that may get your luggage noticed.
6. Be Prepared to Remove Some Clothes From Your Bag And Wear Them
If you find yourself struggling for space while packing or toeing the oversized line, it may be handy to wear your bulky items, like hoodies and jackets, to the airport. However, if you decide to pack those items in your bag, be ready to take them out and wear them if the airline asks you to pop your luggage in their baggage sizer. Removing a few items may help your bag fit.
The key is to take these items out of the bag before you place your bag in the baggage sizer. Don’t ask if you can and don’t give them a chance to spot that your bag doesn’t fit!
7. Be Extra Nice and Charming
In any circumstance, it’s a good idea to be mindful of how you react to people; no matter how annoyed you may be!
If an airline staff member asks you to put your bag in the baggage sizer, it’s essential to keep everything lighthearted. Crack a couple jokes and just be generally pleasant and compliant. After all, they are just doing their job!
How you engage with staff may be the difference between a fine and being let off the hook.
8. Accept That You’ve Taken a Risk
If you’ve tried all these tactics and still found yourself slapped with a fine, take it in your stride!
It is always a risk when you take a bag that’s slightly too big and ultimately, this is a numbers game. I’m at the stage now where if I was fined, I’d pay up happy in the knowledge that it would have cost me a lot more to pay for extra luggage for all the times I have got away with it!
That, and with large cabin bags costing up to £40 each way to take on board, you may find that the fine doesn’t cost you much more than paying up front.