There’s always one – that passenger at airport security with two bags, looking vexed because a member of staff has just told him that he can’t go through to the gate because he has too much hand luggage.
The man now has three options. First, he can repack his belongings so that the smaller bag fits into the larger one – and making sure that it isn’t too heavy. Not going to happen.
Second, he can leave some of his belongings behind at the airport. Out of the question.
The third option is to check in the larger backpack. But this could be very expensive if he has booked a ticket with only hand luggage included. EasyJet, for instance, charges up to €60 (RM293) for last-minute hold luggage, and other airlines also charge similar prices.
Budget airlines have always charged for checked in luggage. But premium airlines are now also offering cheaper tariffs with only hand luggage included. On many routes in Europe, air travel with hand luggage only tends to be the rule rather than the exception.
On Ryanair, Europe’s biggest airline, more than 80% of passengers fly with hand luggage only. On easyJet, it’s every second passenger. And many airlines are less flexible than they used to be.
Usually, one piece of hand luggage and a mini bag are allowed. Each airline will have its own restrictions on size and weight, and not sticking to them can lead to delays.
Sometimes there is not enough room for all of the passengers’ hand luggage in the cabin, so several items have to be placed in the hold. This takes time, and air traffic is on a tight schedule. In the worst case, the flight is delayed.
For a long time, Ryanair and similar airlines were content with the fact that ever fewer people were checking in luggage. This is because airlines have to pay fees for the luggage at the airport, and loading and unloading it takes time.
But gone are the days when airlines took a more relaxed approach to hand luggage. Bringing a massive bag onto the plane is no longer tolerated, says Cord Schellenberg from the Luftfahrt Presse Club (Aviation Press Club) in Germany.
Luggage items are often measured now, too – or weighed at the check-in desk. But even if they are not, blatant violations are no longer possible. Often, there is not enough space in the cabin even if all of the passengers do stick to the rules.
To prevent this from happening, some airlines count the number of hand luggage items during boarding. If the maximum capacity of the cabin has been reached, staff ask individual guests to hand in their cabin baggage.
The extra bags are then placed in the hold free of charge. Important items like cameras and medication can be removed first.
Icelandic budget airline Wow Air is an example of the way things could be going. In its new basic tariff, only a “personal item” measuring 42cm x 32cm x 25cm is allowed for free. That’s no bigger than a small handbag.
So what can passengers do? First, book your hold luggage online as early as possible.
Anyone who doesn’t want to risk their hand luggage having to be placed in the hold should get in the queue for boarding early.
And the dimensions and weight limits should not be exceeded. Otherwise, there is often no option but to whip out your credit card.
“Or you will have to do without a few books for your vacation,” says Cord Schellenberg.