The new, downsized limits for carry-on luggage

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The new, downsized limits for carry-on luggage

With many airlines now charging fees for checked luggage, only taking a carry-on bag seems like a great way to save some money on your next flight. However, having the wrong sized carry-on can result in having to check your bag and being on the receiving end of additional fees.

Having to check a carry-on bag is an unwanted hassle for many travellers.

Possible reasons for the changes in regulations

It's difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why airlines have begun decreasing their carry-on limits and increasing the associated fees with having too many bags or bags that are too big. According to Virgin Australia, taxes are a large contributing factor to the cost of your flighti. Another significant cost to airlines is fuel. An Airbus A380 uses 2.9 litres of fuel per passenger, per 100km travelled and the aircraft can hold up to 555 passengersii. For example, a full Airbus A380 travelling the 12,075km from Sydney to Los Angeles would use around 194,347.12 litres of fuel, not accounting for crew members. With the price for jet fuel sitting at AU$3.08 per litre in June 2014iii, the full flight to Los Angeles would use $598,589.12 in fuel.

The Wall Street Journal and US Airways have published a handy infographic showing how the money from ticket sales is used. According to the graphic, the majority of ticket sales go into paying for fuel, salaries, and ownership costs resulting in only a very small profit from the entire flightiv.

Oversized or too many carry-on bags can also delay the boarding process, as passengers try to squeeze their luggage into the overhead lockers or under their seatv. While some travellers may be annoyed by the newly introduced fees for oversized carry-on luggage, this may just be what others have been waiting for. The travel editor for The San Francisco Chronicle could be one of the latter. Frustrated by "over-packers" trying to jam oversized bags into the overhead lockers, he started a social media photo campaign which is about sharing photos of fellow travellers' excess luggage online, tagged with #CarryonShamev.

Regardless of the reasons behind the changes in carry-on luggage regulations, knowing the size and weight restrictions for each airline you choose to fly with is the best way to avoid the shock of having to pay more for your carry-on.

Rules for your international carry-on

If you are overseas, the last thing you want to have to worry about is checking your carry-on bag at the last minute because it exceeds the size or weight restrictions of your airline. Every airline will have different allowances and they can often change without notice. Three of the major international airlines American Airlines, Delta, and United all impose similar size restrictions for carry-on bags, with American Airlines being the most generous with a total bag size of 115cm (56cm long x 36cm wide x 23cm tall)vi. Delta allows bags up to a total size of 114cmvii and United allows bags up to 113cmviii. These variations may seem small, but they could mean the difference between boarding without any hiccups and having to deal with the frustration of checking your carry-on.

Low cost US-based airlines, Frontier and Spirit, have started charging passengers for bringing their carry-on bags in the cabin with themix. Frontier charge an additional $25 per carry-on when you initially purchase your ticket and $30 if you wait to pay for your bag at the time of check-inxi. Spirit charges between $26 and $35 at the time of ticket purchase and between $36 and $45 during check-in . While none of the Australian-based airlines have followed in the footsteps of their American counterparts, this highlights the need to thoroughly understand the luggage rules wherever you happen to be flying.

Australian guidelines

Each of the major Australian airlines have their own size and weight restrictions when it comes to carry-on bags. The table below briefly lists the size and weight allowances, and whether or not there is an additional fee to check any carry-on bags that exceed the limitations.

  No. of carry-on bags allowed Total weight allowed Total size allowed Extra fee to check oversize or overweight carry-on
Qantas (all domestic flights excluding Dash 8 and Olympic Dam)xii No more than two bags per person 7kg per piece 2 x 105cm bags; or 1 x 105cm bag plus 1 x 185cm garment bag or 1 x 115cm bag Minimum of AU$40xiii
Jetstarxiv One carry-on bag plus one small personal item Combined weight of no more than 10kg 56cm tall x 36cm wide x 23 cm deep or 114cm tall x 60cm wide x 11cm deep AU$70 for domestic and NZ flights for bags up to 15kgxv; fees for international flights vary by destination
Virgin Australiaxvi One carry-on bag plus one small personal item Combined weight of 7kg Total dimension of 105cm Minimum of AU$70xvii
Tigerxviii Two pieces of carry-on luggage Combined weight of no more than 10kg Each bag cannot exceed 54cm tall x 38cm wide x 23cm deep AU$70 - $85 up to 15kg, depending on the flight time to your destinationxix
Planning ahead can help you avoid extra baggage fees on your next trip.

It's always a good idea to double-check your airline's website prior to each flight to avoid any nasty surprises. The definition of a 'small personal item' can vary from airline to airline as well. As a general rule, personal items usually include a handbag, briefcase, laptop bag, or garment bag that can easily fit under the seatxx.

Tips for hassle-free travel

One of the easiest ways to avoid being caught out having an oversize carry-on is to downsize your bag altogether. There are a number of bags on the market that meet the various limitations imposed by both international and domestic carriers, and a quick online search brings up a range of options to choose from.

With a little bit of prior planning and clever packing, you can avoid the delays and frustrations of having to check your carry-on luggage.

iVirgin Australia, "Fees for Optional Services", viewed 16 July 2014,

iVirgin Australia2014, "Fees for optional services", viewed 16 July 2014,

iiLovgren, Stefan 2005, "Airbus unveils A380 'Superjumbo' jet", viewed on 16 July 2014,

iiiIndex Munid 2014, "Jet fuel monthly price - Australian dollar per gallon", viewed 16 July 2014,¤cy=aud

ivUS Airways Group Inc. & The Wall Street Journal, 2012, "Decoding a flight", viewed 16 July 2014,

vPolland, Jennifer 2014, "Airline passengers who pack too much are being publically shamed", viewed 29 July 2014,

viAmerican Airlines 2014, "Carry-on allowance", viewed on 16 July 2014,

viiDelta 2014, "Keep calm and carry-on", viewed 16 July 2014,

viiiUnited 2014, 'Carry-on luggage", viewed 16 July 2014,

ixCripps, Karla 2013, "How to avoid luggage fees: Wear your luggage", viewed 16 July 2014,

xFrontier Airlines 2014, "Optional service fees", viewed 17 July 2014,

xiSpirit 2014, "Options and extras", viewed 17 July 2014,

xiiQANTAS 2014, "Carry-on luggage-general", viewed 16 July 2014,

xiiiQANTAS 2014, "Additional baggage", viewed 29 July 2014,

xivJetstar 2014, "Carry-on bag size", viewed 16 July 2014,

xvJetstar 2014, "Checked baggage", viewed 29 July 2014,

xviVirgin Australia 2014, "Carry-on luggage", viewed 16 July 2014,

xviiVirgin Australia 2014, "Checked baggage", viewed 29 July 2014,

xviiiTigerair 2014, "Luggage", viewed 16 July 2014,

xixTigerair 2014, "Fees & charges", viewed 29 July 2014,

xxFlight Centre 2014, "Luggage allowance guide", viewed on 17 July 2014,