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How big is hand luggage?

Updated on July 6, 2013

Colourful children's hand luggage

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Check the rules for your airline and airport when travelling

When making your plans for a flying trip, you should make a number of checks on the rules set by the airline, airport and country for what you are allowed to take with you, or you could end up with unexpected costs at the check-in or worse, embarrassing confrontations with the Customs and Passport Departments.


Security arrangements in place at airports are constantly reviewed and you should also check before travelling what the latest advice is. There are strict requirements as to what will be allowed to be taken into the cabin in hand-luggage.

You should always make sure that you pack your own bag and that you know what is in it as you may be stopped and asked to describe the contents. Never leave your bag unattended and if you see a suspicious looking unattended bag, you should immediately report this to airport or security staff. Never offer to take anything through the customs department on behalf of anyone, no matter how convincing their story might seem.

Generally, airlines and airports will not allow the following items: scissors, razor blades, knives with blades more than 6cm, lighters or gas refills,tools, hammers, nails, and screwdrivers, hypodermic needles (unless required for medical reasons), toy/replica guns (metal or plastic), catapults and slingshots, umbrellas (if not foldable), sporting bats, acid, explosives, billiard, snooker or pool cues, darts, paint, mercury.

The rules on the limits of liquids that can be taken on board are subject to change and should be checked before you travel.

Liquids include:

  • all drinks, including water, soup and syrups
  • cosmetics and toiletries, including creams, lotions, oils, perfumes, mascara and lipsticks
  • sprays, including shaving foam, hairspray and spray deodorants
  • pastes, including toothpaste
  • gels, including hair and shower gel
  • contact lens solution
  • any other solutions and items of similar consistency

You are allowed to take a restricted amount of liquid into the cabin in the UK, provided that:

  • containers must hold no more than 100ml
  • containers should be in a single, transparent, resealable plastic bag, which holds no more than a litre and measures approximately 20cm x 20cm
  • contents must fit comfortably inside the bag so it can be sealed
  • the bag must not be knotted or tied at the top
  • it is limited to 1 plastic bag per person

You are only allowed to take one cigarette lighter, which you should put in the plastic bag for liquids.

Different customs rules apply for different countries and you should check these before you travel. Generally, there will be rules governing bringing in animals, foods, plants, counterfeit goods and dangerous weapons.

You will need to check the baggage size requirements for hand luggage. Airlines do not have standard sizes for carry on luggage that is allowed in the cabin, in terms of its dimensions and weight. If you are planning to take your luggage as cabin bags, you will usually be allowed one carry on luggage bag and this must meet the airline's baggage allowance or you may be charged extra at the check-in point to have the baggage put in the hold of the aircraft. You can either check online with the airline's website, which will usually have up-to-date information on the size and weight restrictions. If you are unable to find the information online, you can call or contact the airline in advance of your journey.

If you find that when you get to the airport you have not checked the size requirements, there are often containers or cardboard cages that you can slip your hand luggage into to see whether it exceeds the size allowance per passenger.

It's worth checking this information before you book your flight. You may find that time and money spent preparing your journey can save expensive unexpected surcharges for extra luggage.

If you are planning to travel with a budget airline, you can make good savings on taking hand luggage only. If you are only planning a short stay, you will only need a small amount of luggage. If you are travelling to a hot climate, simple light cotton clothes can be rinsed out in a basin and left to dry to save packing too many changes of clothes. You might also try packing travel towels or silk sleeping bag liners rather than bulkier items which will quickly take up the luggage allowance.

If you need to buy cabin bags, you should consider the travel plans that you have. You might find that small backpacks are more convenient if you have to spend time when you leave the airport getting to your accommodation using busy public transport and lots of stairs, where small hand-held suitcases or pull-alongs can be more problematic. If you are making a short business trip, you will probably prefer a smart wheeled case, which will leave your clothes looking smart and possibly your laptop or other expensive gadgets that need a case with a padded or hard shell to protect from damage. Handheld bags can be uncomfortable after a while if they are too heavy and will put a strain on your fingers, wrists, shoulders, neck and back. Take the strain of the weight either by using a wheeled luggage bag or one that has straps for your shoulders and ideally one for your waist too, to distribute the weight more evenly.

If you need to travel light there are some carry on bags available that have a generous capacity and the lightweight material makes them very light. The problem with these bags is that although they are light, you might find that the material is too flimsy and the bag rips easily.

If you are travelling with young children, there are lots of bright sturdy hand luggage bags that are easy to pull on castors or wheels and have playful stylish designs.

When buying hand luggage, check that straps, handles, zips, clasps and wheels are sturdy. Broken parts of a bag can make your journey very difficult. You might want to pack extra security measures such as a strong webbed luggage strap or a small padlock to secure your luggage more carefully.

You should attach clearly written luggage labels to your bag, as you may find in the overhead lockers that someone has an identical bags and it is easy to get them mixed up.

Try to keep important documents such as your passport, ticket, and boarding card in a safe but easily accessible pocket of the bag, so that you can find it easily when needed.

If you have a long journey, you 'll need some entertainment items in your bag, such as a book, magazine, hand-held games console (remember to listen for advice as to whether you can use your mobile on the aeroplane or not, some airlines allow them, but not during landing or take-off). Try not to take too many bulky items as your bag will be too heavy - if you buy newspapers and magazines at the airport, these will not hinder your baggage allowance.


Travel Tips - carry on luggage

What to pack in a carry on

An airline employee shows you how to pack your carry on

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