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Is it high time we had a standard size for hand luggage when flying?

Let’s face it – flying with hand luggage isn’t as straight forward as it could be. Sure, if you’re familiar with the airline’s hand luggage size restrictions, that goes a long way. But when those restrictions vary slightly from one airline to another – or indeed within one airline, depending on the bag type (think Lufthansa) – it isn’t always quite as trouble-free as you might like. Hand luggage Get it wrong and you could face punitive costs in order to take your luggage with you. And even if you do comply with the regulations and avoid the fees, you can still face situations where your hand luggage ends up being put in the main hold (for example, if all passengers take their maximum allowance, resulting in overfilled overhead lockers). On the upside, travelling with only hand luggage can result in an altogether much more pleasant flying experience, with a simpler checking-in and no waiting around at baggage carousels at the final destination. So the idea of a globally standard hand luggage size seems an attractive one, and is one that IATA are looking to push forward. They are recommending an optimum size for cabin luggage of 55 x 35 x 20 cm (21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches) and the thinking behind this is that it should allow everyone to store their carry-on bags on board the aircraft so long as it has 120 seats or more (so it’d be good for standard Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s). One of the downsides is that this is smaller than many of the airlines already permit, albeit not my much in many cases.
Maximum free cabin luggage dimensions for standard passengers
IATA recommendation 55 x 35 x 20cm
BA 56 x 45 x 25cm
Easyjet 56 x 45 x 25cm
Ryanair 55 x 40 x 20cm
Thomas Cook 55 x 40 x 20cm
Virgin Atlantic 56 x 36 x 23cm
Lufthansa 55 x 40 x 23cm (57 x 54 x 15cm for foldable garment bags)
American Airlines 56 x 36 x 23cm
United Airlines 56 x 35 x 22cm
Delta Airlines 56 x 35 x 23cm
Air France 55 x 35 x 25cm
Emirates 55 x 38 x 20cm
Wizz Air 42 x 32 x 25cm
Germanwings 55 x 40 x 23cm
Flybe 55 x 40 x 23cm
US Federal Aviation Authority “standard” bag 55.8 x 36.8 x 22.9cm
The other drawback is that this is an entirely voluntary stipulation on the part of IATA. The airlines do not have to comply with this recommendation, and it remains to be seen whether they do. Do you always travel with hand luggage only? Have you ever been faced with excessive hand luggage charges? Or had your hand luggage moved to the main hold? Would you be in favour of internationally standard dimensions for all hand luggage, even if meant fractionally smaller sizes than you are currently allowed? Please tell us your thoughts below! Image: Shutterstock

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Absolutely valid idea. Airports like Jammu & Kashmir where we have to throw in our hand luggage as well into the check in baggage standardization of hand luggage can help.
    But the question in India is also of the weight. I am talking about domestic flights here and when in transit from international to Domestic this can become a big hurdle. How do we address that problem with the size standardization then?

  2. A brilliant idea, but would that afford airlines the opportunity to refuse all non-conforming baggage? I suppose one difficulty might concern the difference between a solid wheeled piece of hand luggage when compared to my small backpack and camera. While they may be of similar mass, their dimensions and construction make them hard to compare fairly. I suppose if expectations were standardised and airlines remained consistent on their rulings it couldn’t be the end of the world.

  3. It is certainly necessary to curb the people who lug several large bags and packages into the plane
    If I am making a short 4-5 day trip in summer, I put all my luggage in a legitimate cabin suitable case
    My problem is when I travel with my photographic equipment in a legitimate size bag but the airline also limits the weight of the bag and is notorious for losing baggage. Lenses etc are heavy, fragile and expensive so not suitable for sending to the hold ( especially in ORTambo and other African airports and airlines) where they will likely be damaged or stolen!

  4. I think the airlines are their own worst enemies. The problem is not the size of the carry on luggage, the problem is most airlines charge to check the first bag.

    They have also jammed so many seats into their planes that not only are your knees around your ears – But guess what there is no room for everycone’s “free” carry-on bags. Unless you fly first class.

    The ridiculous policy of charging for a single checked bag is the reason for the chaos with checked baggage. To avoid fees, to speed up the time to get through the airport, and not have to deal with lost or pilfered baggage – airline passengers are doing exactly what the airlines are incentivizing them to do – carry as much stuff onto the plane as possible.

    The answer is not standardizing the carry on size (nobody enforces that anyway nor do they currently enforce the the number of carry on items).

    The answer is simple – let me fly with one bag checked in for free – and maybe even give me a bag of peanuts or cookies to munch and a glass of water (mine was confiscated by security!)

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