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International Airline Carry On Luggage Allowances

The carry on bags of yester-year
were small and light, weighing
only a few pounds.

Today's wheeled monsters can
sometimes weigh more, empty,
than the total carry-on weight
allowance of some international
airlines!

If you're traveling internationally in coach class, you can find yourself confronted with cripplingly restrictive carry-on baggage policies.

As the table below shows, some airlines limit the weight of your carry-on to as little as 11 lbs. A modern wheeled carry-on suitcase can weigh as much as 12-14lbs - empty!

Enforcement of such policies is uneven, but it is a major potential problem and a factor to consider when choosing which carrier to fly with.

General Luggage Policies

Note that when maximum size measurements are shown as a total number of inches (eg 45") this is the total of the length, width and height of the piece. There are standard sets of dimensions that go to make up these totals (for example, 22 x 14 x 9 is the standard for 45") and if you have a bag that is an unusual shape but still within the total number of inches, you may find it being rejected.

Is Your Carry-On Bag Legal?

Many luggage stores sell suitcases described as 'carry-on', but these suitcases are sometimes larger than the size most airlines will accept.

The safe maximum size is 45", in the form of a 22" x 14" x 9" bag.  Some airlines allow up to as much as 55", but most do not.

Not only do luggage stores and manufacturers not always tell you if their bag is legally sized or not, but they also frequently mis-measure their bag.  Their measurements generally are for the inside of the main compartment, and assume that any external pockets are of zero thickness, rather than stuffed full of things (which can easily add another inch or more) and ignore any external framing such as wheels and carry handle (which can also add another couple of inches).

If you should be very unlucky and find yourself forced to try and squeeze your carry-on into an unforgiving luggage template by the gate, even one extra inch - if your bag is already at the maximum - will be enough to mean it doesn't fit and you have to check the bag.

More Size Problems

So you get on board with your large but legal sized carry on item.  However, what happens if there is no space remaining in any of the overhead bins, and you're forced to place it under the seat in front of you?

Guess what?

Although your carry on item might be within the size guidelines issued by the airline, that does not guarantee it will fit under the seat in front of you!  It seems that the space under the seat in front of you is getting smaller and smaller, particularly with some airlines (most notably on international flights) adding bulky electronic boxes under each seat to control the at-seat video entertainment systems, and with more closely spaced seats that are, themselves, thinner than before.

Even if there isn't a blocking box, due to the design of the seat frame and supports, you'll find there might be the least amount of space under the aisle seat, a bit more space under the wing seat, and most space underneath the center seat.  At last - something good to say about getting stuck in a middle seat!

Even if, in theory, your bag could fit under the seat in front, you might find the geometry of the space and angles is such that you can't manage to fit the bag into the space (unless you add a hinge to the middle of the bag - a feature not yet offered!).

For many reasons - your own convenience, and courtesy to fellow passengers, we recommend you focus more on bringing the smallest carry-on you truly need rather than the largest carry-on with you!

Personal Items

The standard allowance typically provides for a bag of up to a certain size plus one or more 'personal items'.

What is a personal item?  Some airlines give examples, and suggest that a personal item may be :

  • Briefcase
  • Camera
  • Handbag/Purse
  • Laptop (in carry bag)
  • Other items not exceeding 36" in total dimension
  • Reading Matter
  • Small book-bag style backpack
  • Umbrella

Still More Exemptions

In addition to generally allowing you to carry on one bag plus one personal item, many airlines may also allow you to carry on other items such as coats, hats and other 'outer clothing' items, 'assistive devices' such as crutches/canes and wheelchairs, diaper bags and approved child safety seats.

Unlike checked luggage, where you can pay extra to carry heavier or bigger or more items, with carry on, there are no extra charges.  If the airline enforces its carry-on rules, then your only option is to have the disallowed items checked.

Domestic and International Carryon Luggage Policy variations

International flights often have much stricter carry-on policies, particularly with regard to the weight of carry-on bags.

Although most domestic airlines have no limit on carry-on bag weight, internationally, you will find that some airlines set such ridiculously low carry-on weight limits (sometimes as little as 11 lbs) that the weight of an empty carry-on bag is more than the total weight you're allowed to take with you!

You need to be aware of these rules, or else the next time you see someone desperately unpacking and repacking their luggage on the floor by the checkin counter, that person might be you!

International airlines may have smaller size limits on your carry on bags, too.  If you want a bag that is always accepted on both domestic and international flights, you'll need to choose a size or two smaller than the maximum allowable domestic sizes.

If your flight is on a really small plane, you might find that your luggage allowances for both checked and carry-on items are substantially reduced.  For example, some light aircraft operators limit passengers to 20lbs of luggage (both carry on and checked).

Quick Note about International Checked Baggage Policies

There are two major systems for checked baggage allowances.

For flights to/from the US, most airlines operate on a 'two piece' system - you can have two pieces of luggage checked, each weighing up to about 70lbs.

For flights in the rest of the world, most airlines operate on a weight system.  Coach class passengers are limited to a maximum weight of 20kg/44lbs in total.  Business class passengers get 30kg/66lbs and first class passengers get 40kg/88lbs.

Some airlines make it even worse by adding the weight of your carry-on luggage to the weight of your checked bags for determining the total weight of your baggage.

This weight based system is massively more restrictive than the piece system.  Be sure to check your international tickets to see which system applies for your travels.

General Notes about the Luggage Information Below

This information has been taken from the various airline websites.

Policies do change.  The information in the table below is shown as of 3/25/09.

Baggage rules can be complicated, and what is shown is a simplification and may not apply to your particular flight.  For the absolutely most accurate information, you should phone the airline and get exact confirmation of your luggage entitlements before your flight.

The airlines are also moderately free to vary their carry-on rules as it suits them, and they sometimes do this, particularly on full flights.  One reader told a story of being on an American Airlines flight where the gate agent announced that absolutely no wheeled items of any kind would be allowed on the flight!

This information primarily applies to coach class international travel.  More generous allowances usually exist for business/first class travel, and different policies often apply with a foreign airline's domestic flights in its home country.

The appropriate page of each airline website is linked to the airline name in the tables below to make it easy for you to conveniently check the current accuracy of the information shown here.  If you should find something out of date, please let us know so we can correct and update this information.

International Airline/Flight Policies - Carry On Luggage

Airline

Allowance

Max wt per piece

Max size per piece

Aer Lingus

One plus small personal items

6kg/13lbs

22" x 18" x 10"

Aeroflot

One plus small personal items

10kg/22lbs

115cm/45"

Air Canada

One piece plus one personal item

10kg/22lbs each

21.5" x 15.5" x 9"

personal item 17" x 13" x 6"

Air France

One plus one accessory

12kg/26.4lbs for both

18kg/39.6lbs in business class

115cm/45"

Air New Zealand

One plus personal items

7kg/15lbs

115cm/45"

Alitalia

One

5kg/11lbs

55cm x 35cm x 25cm (22" x 14" x 10")

All Nippon Airways

One plus personal items

10kg/22lbs

115cm/45" but max dimensions 22" x 16" x 9"

Asiana

One plus personal items

Two plus personal items for first/business class

10kg/22lbs

55cm x 40cm x 23cm

Austrian Airlines

One

8kg/18lbs

115cm/45"

BMI British Midland

One plus one personal item

'You must be able to lift it yourself'

55cm x 40cm x 23cm

British Airways

One plus one personal item

not specified (was formerly 23kg/51lbs)

56cm x 45cm x 25cm

Cathay Pacific

One plus one personal item

J/P pax can also bring 1 garment or soft bag

7/10/15kg (15/22/33lbs) for coach/bus/first

115cm/45"

easyJet

One

no weight limit specified

55cm x 40cm x 20cm

El Al

One

8kg/17.6lb

22" x 18" x 10"

Emirates

One for coach

Two for J/P pax

7kg/15lbs
12kg/26lbs total for J/P pax

22" x 15" x 8"

EVA Air

One plus a laptop

7kg/15lbs

56cm x 36cm x 23cm

Finnair

One plus personal items

Two for Business Class plus personal items

8kg/18lb coach
10kg/22lb combined for Business Class

22" x 18" x 10"

Garuda

One plus personal items

7kg/15lbs

56cm x 36cm x 32cm

Iberia

One plus personal items

10kg/22lbs

115cm/45"

Icelandair

One plus personal items

6kg/13lbs

115cm/45"

Japan Airlines

One plus one personal item

10kg/22lbs

115cm/45"

KLM

One plus one personal item

12kg/26lbs

55cm x 35cm x 25cm (115cm total/45")

Korean Air

One plus one personal item

12kg/25lbs

55cm x 40cm x 20cm (21" x 16" x 8" in) = 115cm/45"

LanChile

One piece plus one personal item

8kg/18lbs

16kg/35lbs for first/business class

55cm x 25cm x 35cm = 115cm

Lufthansa

One piece plus personal items

8kg/18lbs

55cm x 40cm x 20cm

Malaysia Airlines

One piece plus one personal item

5kg/11lbs

115cm/45" on widebody, 40" on single aisle planes

Mexicana

One piece

10kg

115cm/45"

Olympic Airlines

One piece

8kg

56cm x 36cm x 23cm

OpenSkies

One piece plus a laptop or briefcase

23kg/51lbs - must be able to lift into overhead unaided

56cm x 45cm x 25cm

Qantas

One plus personal items
2 pieces for J/P travel except to/from the US when only 1

7kg/15lbs

115cm/45"

Ryanair

One

10kg/22lbs

55cm x 40cm x 20cm

SAS

One

8kg/18lbs

115cm/45"

Singapore Airlines

One plus personal items

7kg/15lbs

115cm/45"

South African Airways

One

8kg

115cm/45"

Swiss

One plus personal items

Two for J/P pax

8kg

115cm/45"

Thai Airways

One

7kg/15lbs

115cm/45"

Virgin Atlantic

One plus personal items

Two for Upper Class

6kg/13lbs

16kg total, no more than 12kg each for Upper Class

115cm/45"

WestJet

Two

10kg each

First 21.5" x 15.5" x 9"; second 16.5" x 13" x 6"

Originally published 2 July 2004, last update 15 May 2010
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer
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