/ Travel & Leisure

Luggage allowance – have you been caught out at check-in?

Woman sitting on overstuffed bag

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound of suitcases being packed as the summer exodus begins. But will travellers be stung for extra fees when they get to the airport and discover they’ve packed too much?

All across the land, people are heading to UK airports to catch flights abroad.

Fast forward a few hours to airport check in and we’ll be hearing more than a few grumbles from those who are forced to pay extra charges because they hadn’t realised their bags are either over size or over weight.

While airlines have to include all non-optional fees in their headline price, over the years, baggage has somehow become ‘optional’ and the costs and measurements allowed can stay firmly in the small print.

Different rules for different airlines

Without any statutory regulation on the minimum size or weight of bags, airlines all have their own policies. We’re getting used to the idea of paying for checking in bags, and the airlines are using their policies for competitive advantage – a cheaper headline price may work out far dearer if you need to take luggage.

Working out what you can take on board with you also needs consideration. Ryanair, for example, only allows one item on board and it must be no bigger than 55x40x20cm and weigh no more than 10kg. If you get a carrier bag with purchases in the departure lounge, that would count as two items and make you liable for a £40 charge.

EasyJet and BA allow 56x45x25cm and, as long as you can lift it above your head in the overhead bin, any weight is allowed (start weight training now!). If you have more than your allocation, however, expect to pay. Other airlines are even more miserly – both Thomson and Thomas Cook only allow 5kg hand luggage.

In theory, if the airlines wanted to, they could do away with any free hand luggage at all, making us stuff our pockets with everything dear to us for the flight.

If this was the case, there would be bound to be uproar – if not from the airline’s insurers who would be forced to pay out more for damaged items in the hold, then at least from the fashion conscious – have you seen how unflattering those travel jackets are?!

How do you beat the system?

Stuffing a travel jacket’s multiple pockets full of your belongings is only way to beat the system. We put it to our Twitter followers this morning and we received some amusing responses.

‘I sneak my extra items into hubby’s case,’ said Heather (@fevsb). Phil (@BCC_SmartMeters) goes one step further, though: ‘I find not taking the wife or children helps with the luggage allowance,’ he jested.

Peter (@JunkkMale) saves on weight thanks to his two sons who pack light. ‘Last holiday they packed an iPod, swim cozzy & one pair of extra undies each. Seemed fine.’

What are your top tips for getting more onto the plane? Do you find the weight allowances generous enough, or have you been caught out by extra fees at the check-in desk?

BooDeLaHoo says:
20 July 2011

The airlines are really taking the mickey with “Ski Carriage” these days too.

A couple of years ago, taking skis or a snowboard bag on holiday cost about £18 return and there was no official weight limit. You could put all your gear – boards, bindings, boots, helmet, pads, goggles, pants and jacket, for two people – in one bag.

This year, with Thomas Cook and Neilson the charge was £35 per bag and there was a 10kg limit. To put that into perspective, my snowboard bag empty weighs 4kg. All I could put in the bag was the board itself. We had to buy a second bag for my girlfriend’s board – and both bags looked ridiculous as they were designed to carry more stuff.

Our regular cabin baggage allowance was made up mostly of all the other necessary safety gear. Hardly any room for clothes and other normal holiday items.

So we paid £70 instead of £18 and had much less allowance and an extra bag to carry. To say I was annoyed doesn’t come close.

Although we’re very sorry to read of your frustrating experiences (seems they aren’t uncommon), we have made your comment our Comment of the Week! You’ll be featured on our homepage for a full seven days. Congrats! =)

Paul Fisher says:
26 February 2012

As a light carrying passenger flying all over the world, I find people’s gripes about what they take and the charges redicuous.

The rates are the rates and if you want to take the kitchen sink then you have to pay, Simples.

Sophie Gilbert says:
20 July 2011

The travel jacket may look rubbish, but the idea is fab. I wish it were available in the UK. It would be useful to go to the pub as well, so as not to take a handbag with me. I got my handbag stolen in a pub sometime ago and since then I have appreciated inside pockets and outside zipped ones very much as I don’t take a handbag with me anymore when I go to the pub. It is unfortunately very difficult to find women’s jackets that look good and are functional at the same time.

As far as luggage allowance is concerned, things seemed to be streamlined before the advent of the “no-frills” airlines. I can’t help thinking that this is just another sting on their part, having a varying allowance between airlines, in order to charge us more, confuse us, make it easy for us to make mistakes, and make us pay for them.

I also can’t help thinking that some people always will take more than they really need on holiday, especially women, it seems. We don’t need to take four pairs of shoes, tons of make up and twenty different outfits with us to look good throughout a one-week holiday, but some women aren’t aware of that.

Finally, I will be interested to see what the reaction is if one day airlines decide to charge according to the weight of luggage added to the weight of the passenger…

BooDeLaHoo says:
20 July 2011

Now there’s an idea!

Hi Sophie
I think they are available in the UK too – we just linked to the one above as it illustrated the concept well. I’m sure if you google ‘Travel jacket’ you’ll find some.

Some of the examples here are hilarious – basically jackets with bags sewn on to them!

Totally agree that the weight of the person should be taken into account; not least in the seat allocation. I am more than a little fed up of being squashed for a few hours, and now always request an aisle seat.

Alex says:
27 July 2011

I was at an aeroplane museum recently and was shocked and so pleased to see a huge set of scales in the mock up of the check-in area, when i enquired i was told that it was a common policy to weigh both passenger and luggage together, if it was done then why not now????

I was also recently caught at the check-in desk for a bag a few kg’s over the limit and my response was simple “Its all going on the plane if i have to wear it or if its in the bag its going on” and when i started to put on extra clothes the check-in staff lost interest and looked for an easier target !!
So my advice is simple stand up to them as they are only interested in easy targets.

sheila says:
17 June 2015

i aainstgree i think everyone should be weighed with there suitcases and added in total weight i weigh 8 stone payed at airport for 2 kilos extra which i accepted when a lady who sat next to me on the plane was so big she could not move her arms to eat with her knife and fork at meal time now i am sure if each of us got on the scales with our suitcases which one of us would be overweight it wouldnot be me so the 18 stone lady should pay for extra weight why should i be discriminated and pay her extra weight for her

Lion says:
20 July 2011

On my return journey from Skiathos with Thomson Airways I was charged an extra 48 euros at the check-in for excess baggage.
However once you have gone through passport control into the waiting area there is a shop there where you can buy bottles of drink,perfume, sweets and other goods which could easily make your hand luggage exceed the 5Kg allowance but there is no excess baggage charge for that.
I also agree with Sophie Gilbert who suggested that passengers should be weighed and charged accordingly as there were many, shall we say ‘large’ people on the flight but they are not charged extra. I tried to explain this to the foregn check-in lady but it is funny how they suddenly can’t understand English when they choose not to.

A word of warning to anyone flying with Ryanair from Stansted airport: my friend and I were recently stung with an £80 excess baggage penalty as we were both (marginally, I might add!) over the 10kg limit. We were caught out by staff sneakily equipped with luggage weights at the actual airport gate itself, right before we were due to get on the plane!

It was our own fault for packing too much, or for not opting to check them in when we initially booked, I suppose. But as I don’t have one of those luggage weighing scales at home it’s difficult to estimate. Needless to say it wasn’t a great start to our holiday…

I got stung by Ryanair last time I went home to Norway when I was told that I was only allowed my handbag and not the two duty free carrier bags onto the plane. They gave me the following options;

1. Putting all the duty free booze and chocolates into my tiny handbag of which I said that is completely bonkers.


2. Putting the handbag into the carrier bags, none of which would fit and this is when I really regretted not packing my packable shoppers bag from Marks & Spencer.

So, I ended up paying £40 to have my two carrier bags put in the luggage haul, but when I got onboard the plane, one of the luggage handlers came into the plane and shouted; ‘who does these two bags belong to?’ and I ended up having them in the overhead locker after all, so £40 totally wasted. Surely the staff should know that you can put duty free carrier bags in the haul?

The last holiday that my wife and I took which involved a long haul flight was a Saga holiday to Costa Rica. On the return flight with Iberia one case was overweight and the other under. Then total was just under, but the airline insisted that we pay the the access, about £40, or else repack the bags. The checkin area was littered with people trying to repack their bags beforebrejoining the end of the queue to try again. We opted to pay,but this still meant going off to pay and then rejoining the queue.the cost of the holiday was about £5000. Since then we have stuck to no-fly cruises,because they are much less stressful. We have spent about £25000 in total during this time.None of it with Saga.

Here’s a slightly different one. Just been on a New York / Boston two-centre holiday booked through Virgin Holidays, including all hotels and transfers – not cheap. Got to New York for the internal Delta flight to Boston and find our tickets have zero luggage allowance, so we have to pay $50 to put any baggage in the hold. Virgin are contesting this is in their small print and will not refund. Is it not possible for them to book tickets with luggage allowance, or are they just being stingy?

Alan says:
22 July 2011

I have been charged for over weight cases even though 3 different measurements done before and after showed them to be 1 kg under their limit. Spain both occasions. What can you do? Their equipment is what counts.

I think it’s safe to say that the days of taking 4 pairs of shoes, a different dress for every day, a raincoat – just incase, full sized shower gel/shampoo/cleanser etc., etc., are well and truly over. Ryanair might have started it, charging for anything and everything, but all of the other airlines have swiftly jumped on the bandwagon, realising there’s lots of money to be made. It’s extended to the Med, too, and they never used to weigh anything! Again, the days of bringing back loads of extras are over. Any money you might have saved on your purchase is soon wiped out by the excess luggage charge.

I Smantra says:
23 July 2011

Has any one ever boaded from Uganda’s Entebbe Airport? Oh boy!!!! I do not think the scares there are caliberated at all. The airport staff can make you way your bags on different scales but each will give a different reading. Surprisingly the staff are not ashamed to demand cash to let the bags through. I was once told my exess Kgs would cost me 114 dollars. I did not have the cash so opted to call some one to come and take the excess kgs back with them. At that point the woman asked me how much I had. I only had a 10 pound note which she said I should put in the passport. Whan I did, the scale showed the exact 23kgs like magic. At Entebbe it is a money scam only the cash goes to the individual pockets and not the airport authority or air line.

Baggage allowances are getting increasingly niggardly and the excesses charged increasingly disproportionate to the true cost of transporting the extra weight. Since the aircraft are loaded up with weighty volumes of duty-free booze and perfume, inedible food, and other trash it is disgusting that some well-known travel companies – not the “no frills” cowboys – will only allow 15 kilos hold baggage plus 5 kilos hand luggage and charge £15 per 5 kilos for excess baggage. These operators have a virtual duopoly on European holiday flights and also carry passengers for cruise lines still sticking rigidly to their ludicrous limits making a mockery of one of the pleasures of a two or three week cruise [where there are formal dress two or three times a week]. With all due respect to previous conversationalists, it is extremely hard to fit enough kit for a decent holiday within the mean allowances. I was struck on a recent holiday in Cyprus by how smart the German holidaymakers looked in the evenings with their substantial outfits, proper shoes, and changes of dress; by contrast the British contingent looked distinctly down-at-heel with thin casual clothing worn again and again and trainers worn 24/7. Why do we have to endure this shabby treatment from our travel operators and airlines; its pure exploitation for profit.

Barbara says:
24 July 2011

Just booked 2 domestic flights with flybe. I had to decide how much to pay for our baggage (i.e. guess the potential weight), but nowhere was it made clear whether the payment was only for baggage which went in the hold, or whether it also was needed for cabin luggage. It was clear that paying at the airport, if I got it wrong, would be massively more expensive, so I just had to hedge my bets and pay for our bags. I’ll not be impressed if I discover cabin luggage is free, as we could probably squash everything into cabin sized cases if necessary.

I checked all the policy statements and FAQs that were on offer on the website, but the question was not addressed. Airlines should make things more clear, but of course they don’t need to. Flybe is the only airline which flies between my local airport and my destination, so they are in a monopoly position. I might consider the train next time. At least they don’t charge extra for your luggage!!

David says:
25 July 2011

We just got stung coming back from our Honeymoon with Tomson in Turkey. We flew via Dalaman airport and had to pay extra on the return as they said we were 2kg over our limit and that we didn’t have enough extra hand luggage allowance to allow us to transfer anything.

We offered Turkish Lira or credit card but were told we had to pay in Euros or Sterling in cash. Eventually we had to go back out of the airport to withdraw 50 euros (minimum withdrawal) from a cash point and go back through security, which is part of the main entrance.

To add insult to injury we’ve realised since returning home we’ve realised that our package included premium hand luggage allowance and we were several kg under so should have been allowed to move items to our hand luggage.

Tomson blamed the local check in agents who they subcontract to both for being so strict and for refusing to accept the local currency or cards.

Ann says:
25 July 2011

Beware of booking BMI internal Uk flights on route to somewhere else. We were flying out to Canada with Air Canada and booked shuttle flights Manchester to Heathrow. In the weeks prior to travelling I phoned customer service at BMI and Virgin Holidays who the holiday was with to confirm that our luggage allowance with Air Canada applied for the whole journey because we were taking skis. I asked about pre-booking ski carriage and was assured I didn’t need to. At the airport we were charged £250 excess baggage for 2 sets of skis because our tickets had not been issued as through tickets. BMI refused to do anything other than charge the full amount despite the person at Manchester admitting he could see what the problem was. We won’t ever travel with BMI again!

Paul says:
27 July 2011

I was flying Cathy Pathetic and was 5Kg overweight. They asked me to chuck stuff out of my case at Tokyo. I said I would pay the extra. The bill came to more than my Flight cost and it would have been cheaper to go first class and carry as much luggage on as I liked.
However, they reduced the charge to 2Kg and so I just paid up.

Mark says:
18 August 2011

I too have some stories of the ridiculousness of luggage rules now; it’s clearly being mis-used by some airlines to get additional revenue. We need some standardisation; surely something the CAA can intervene on? Ryanair may be a well known culprit but my examples are FlyBe, EasyJet and Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus: flying home this week from a family holiday from Spain, we had paid for 40kg of hold baggage (2 bags) and were allowed up to 50kg of cabin baggage (10kg x 5 people), a total of 90kg Mainly due to holiday gifts we had purchased, our checked in bags weighed about 8kg too much but our handluggage was well below 50kg (about 25kg in total). The check in staff told us we either had pay for a 3rd checked in bag for about £20 or pay excess fees of about 100 Euros. I refused and pointed out that our overall weight was well within our limit of 90kg. They wouldn’t budge so they actually made us repack our bags, taking out the various gifts and things like shoes, to put them in our hand luggage. End result: everything we had went on the plane, all that happened was that we had to carry more of it onto the plane rather than check it in. Result: one very irrritated customer and a delay for other travellers waiting to check in.

FlyBe: they claim to have a flexible baggage policy but the policy is not flexible enough to enable a traveller to only pay for checked in luggage one way online. I flew FlyBe to visit my sister for her birthday and flew with only handluggage. Her birthday gift was a painting – too large for hand luggage so I needed it to go in the hold. When I tried to book it online, the system assumed I would be returning with the same item so charged £24 return instead of £12 one way. When I phoned up to find out why, they said I could book the item one way if I did so via the the customer services centre but the fee for booking by telephone was £18 one way. I said that was hardly a flexible baggage policy as I was more than willing to book it online if only I could so for £12. Result: one irritated customer but there is a happy ending. When I wrote to complain at this ridiculous situation, to their credit, FlyBe apologised and let me take my sister’s birthday present free of charge ONE WAY!

EasyJet: last time I flew EasyJet, one of the cabin crew was stopping women with a carry on suitcase and a handbag and getting them to stuff the handbag in their suitcase telling them ‘you can only take one item of hand luggage on board’. Completely mad when some of the handbags were actually quite small Result: a lot of irritated customers.

Do these so called low cost airlines actually know what customer service is?

Sadly you can have either low prices OR customer service. Even with the more expensive airlines there can be surprises because of difference in policies. Perhaps it is best to expect poor treatment so that anything else is a happy surprise.

Flying from London – Going on a cruise from Venice – docking again in Savona, returning to London via Genoa(?)
I need suggestions iro airlines and specifically ‘baggage fees’
Should I go for budget lines or other airlines?Any other suggestions?

Many thanks!!

willie078 says:
22 November 2011

On a recent trip to Belfast [George Best Airport], My wife checked in at LHR no problem with the suitcase,but on the return journey, same suitcase,same weight she was told she was overweight and had to pay £200. Because it was the last flight out she had no choice but pay up.

Returning from America recently, the check in agent said my bag was 2.5kg over weight, this was my 6th and final flight on this trip and had no check in problems other flights, I had been very slightly under my allowance when leaving the uk. I had bought no presents or any extras, I had disposed of three books, all of my full size toiletries, sun lotions and a pair of shoes I had broken a strap on so challenged the agent he just said thats what the scales say so I could either take 2.5kg of stuff out or pay up. On asking how much per kg was told $200 set fee or I could put $20 in my passport and he would put it through. I had been travelling all day and was tired so did as he asked, but on returning home weighed my bag on same scales as had weighed before leaving and surprise surprise it was 3kg lighter.

Deborah says:
26 February 2012

An update on Flybe hand luggage permitted size is 50cm x 35cm x 23cm. I was about to buy myself a new light weight case to take with me but it measured 55cm so no good. Seems like the airlines should try to work with manufacturers of these items as they are making their goods unsaleable.