Your very HANDY guide to hand luggage: Planning to travel light this summer? How to avoid paying sky-high excess baggage fees
- Airlines make up their own rules regarding hand luggage with some drastically reducing their free allowance
- Ryanair and Wizz Air are most strict: both allow passengers to carry one small bag that must fit under the seat
- British Airways offers the most generous free allowance: one piece of hand luggage and one small item
Planning to travel light this summer? You’d better double-check your airline’s luggage rules so you don’t end up paying sky-high excess baggage fees.
The problem is that airlines make up their own rules, and some budget airlines have drastically reduced their free allowance in recent years. Escape investigated ten airlines, and every single one imposes different size and weight restrictions on hand luggage.
Ryanair and Wizz Air are the most strict: both allow passengers to carry only one small bag that must fit under the seat in front.
A graphic showing the hand luggage allowance of 10 major airlines used by British travellers
If Ryanair customers want to put a small suitcase in the overhead lockers, they must fork out £10 to £12 per journey, or pay extra for a Priority, Flexi Plus or Plus ticket.
Even then, their case must be slimmer than many standard ones (including handles and wheels) and under 10kg.
Easyjet and Tui allow slightly bigger suitcases, but passengers cannot take an additional handbag or laptop bag on board.
‘We’ve seen budget airlines become increasingly strict on baggage allowances,’ says Steve Nowottny, of Money Saving Expert.
‘They often say it’s to speed up boarding — but many suspect it’s more about increasing revenue.’
Travellers are often tripped up by the small print. For example, Flybe allows one piece of hand luggage plus a small bag, but the combined weight must not exceed 10kg.
British Airways offers the most generous free allowance: one piece of hand luggage and one small item, which can reach a combined weight of 23kg.
When passengers arrive at the gate with a bag that’s too big or too heavy, they face hefty fines to put it in the hold. Thomas Cook’s excess baggage fee is £65 for short-haul flights, while budget carrier Norwegian charges a whopping £80.
Even if your cabin bag is regulation size and weight, you’ll need to arrive at the boarding gate in plenty of time to hang onto it
To avoid being caught out, you need to do your homework.
‘Work out in advance how much you’ll need to take and factor any fees into the overall cost of the flight,’ says Nowottny. ‘Some comparison sites like Kayak let you factor in baggage costs, too. It can be cheaper to pay for bags when you book, so planning ahead is essential.
‘If you’re travelling in a group, consider distributing your belongings to make the most of your allowance. Children may often get the same cabin baggage allowance as their parents and may not need it all.’
Even if your cabin bag is regulation size and weight, you’ll need to arrive at the boarding gate in plenty of time to hang onto it.
Passengers at the back of the queue often have their hand luggage placed in the hold free-of-charge because there isn’t enough space on board for everybody’s cases.
So, there you have it — at least until the rules change again.