Travelling with baggage has become increasingly complicated as airlines address continuously evolving security concerns, and work every angle to eke out revenue. While it might not be a big deal for a business traveller making a quick trip to New York to comply with the stringent requirements, those of us with more complex travel plans- like all inclusive vacations, often have a lot to contend with. Here are some tips to help you navigate the rules and restrictions.
1. Pick the right airline for your needs
If you will be travelling with lots of luggage, or even just a few unusual items, it’s worthwhile to investigate the policies of the airlines you’re considering booking before you book your flights. Baggage allowances and policies vary widely from one carrier to another. Not only can the fees add up quickly for excess and oversize baggage, each airline has its own rules about what is and is not allowed on the plane. Knowing ahead of time which carrier has the lowest fee for transporting your golf clubs, or will let you bring your surfboard, guitar, sled dogs, wedding cake, oxygen canisters, or rifle, will make it easier to choose the best deal on airline tickets that fit your needs.
2. Read the rules carefully, at least the ones that apply to you
Travel is supposed to be fun and spontaneous, right? Throw the guidebook out the window and explore! These are marvellous tenets to live by, but it can also rapidly ruin your carefree vibe if you have your expensive ice axes or other belongings confiscated at the airport, or have to publicly repack your luggage on the floor of the departures hall to make it comply with the rules. No one relishes spending time poring over the minutiae of airline baggage policies, but a little effort at the outset can make the trip go smoothly. In particular, take note of size and weight limits, prohibited items, as well as notification/documentation requirements and instructions for packing any unusual items. Oh yeah, and don’t make the assumption that the same rules apply as last time you travelled on a given airline. Policies are often changed quietly and with very little notice.
3. Pack for the most restrictive airline on your itinerary
It’s a simple thing that’s easy to overlook. When you have an itinerary involving flights on different airlines, you need to pack your luggage to comply with the most restrictive baggage allowance of all the airlines you’re flying on. It’s a detail that can get lost among the myriad of others and lead to surprises en route. If you don’t take this into account you may find that your luggage is accepted without incident on the first flight of your journey, but then encounter hassles on subsequent flights.
4. Some airports also have their own limits and restrictions
While airlines decide what they allow in their planes, governments and airports control security screening and sometimes they have their own policies apart from those of the airlines. The earlier example of publicly repacking bags in the departures hall was me at Heathrow in when I learned at the check-in counter for my flight home that only one carry-on item could be inspected and allowed on the flight. A quick check of the airport’s website in advance can avoid such headaches and humiliation.
5. Book excess baggage in advance
Now that paying to check bags has become the norm, many airlines not only allow you to book your checked bags in advance but actively encourage you to do so. The most common form of encouragement is discounts on the fees for checked baggage and you can often save a few bucks by taking care of this detail ahead of time. Even if you don’t know how many bags you’ll be checking when you book your tickets, many airlines still give discounts for bags reserved online up to a day or two ahead of departure.
6. Only take as much as you can carry
Its funny how something can be deemed essential when you’re at home enthusiastically packing for a trip, only to be viewed as a burdensome trifle once on the road. No matter how generous the baggage allowance is for your flight, remember that you have to lug the stuff around during your trip. This is particularly important for solo travellers. Having found myself in awkward situations on a few occasions with overpacked luggage, I am now a fervent advocate of packing as lightly as possible. And don’t forget to distribute the weight evenly among your pieces of luggage. It might seem very compact and efficient to have one suitcase for clothes and another for books when you’re packing, but try lifting that.
Also consider the logistics of carrying your belongings. It might feel silly, but practice managing all of it at once and make adjustments as necessary before you leave. Trust me, you’ll feel much less silly doing this than if you find yourself thwarted by an unavoidable escalator or flight of stairs, or exhausted and grouchy from being your own pack-mule.
Unless you live a truly spartan, monastic existence while travelling, or are going to the remotest corners of the earth, you’re probably going to acquire some stuff along the way. Aside from shipping things home, or buying another bag in transit and paying for excess baggage, it helps to take this into account when packing your bags and leave some room for expansion. For myself, I’ve learned to pack fewer tops because I nearly always buy at least one or two along the way and can incorporate them into my travel wardrobe.
Baggage may not be the sexiest aspect of travel planning, but a little legwork preparing for your journey can lay the groundwork for an outstanding trip that is memorable for all the right reasons.