February 22, 2020
(Updated September 4, 2020)
Short-haul holiday? Chances are you’ll leave the checked baggage at home and travel with hand luggage only. But before you fly, it's important to make sure you know the hand luggage sizes and weight restrictions for your airline as they can vary – and going over them, even slightly, can result in a hefty fine.
Even if you've travelled recently, double check the hand luggage allowances as they’re known to change. For example, Ryanair’s hand luggage size has changed a number of times in the last couple of years – you can now take one personal bag no larger than 40cm x 20cm x 25cm on a basic fare.
Still unsure about hand luggage? From airline-specific restrictions to top tips on packing, our comprehensive guide to hand luggage tells you everything you need to know.
Free hand luggage weight allowance
Hand luggage size
Up to 10kg in one bag, plus a small personal item if it can fit under the seat in front of you.
56 x 45 x 25cm, including any wheels and handles.
One personal bag, such as a handbag, laptop bag or small backpack, which must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.
40 x 20 x 25cm
One bag. No weight limit but must be able to lift into the overhead locker unaided.
56 x 45 x 25cm, including any wheels and handles.
Up to 10kg in one bag, which must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.
40 x 30 x 20cm
Up to 23kg in one bag, plus one personal bag or laptop bag up to 23kg.
Cabin bag: 56 x 45 x 25cm
Personal item: 40 x 30 x 15cm
Up to 10kg in one bag, plus a personal item, such as a handbag or small backpack.
56 x 36 x 23cm
LowFare: Up to 10kg in one bag, which must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.
LowFare+: Up to 10kg combined weight in one small bag, which must be able to fit under the seat in front of you, and one cabin bag.
Small bag: 30 x 20 x 38cm
Cabin bag: 55 x 40 x 23cm
Aer Lingus (smaller limits apply on Aer Lingus Regional Flights)
Up to 10kg in one bag, plus a personal item, such as small handbag, laptop bag, baby changing bag.
Cabin bag: 55 x 40 x 24cm
Personal item: 25 x 33 x 20cm
TUI – Flight only
Up to 10kg in one bag.
55 x 40 x 20cm
Up to 12kg combined weight in one cabin bag and one personal
Cabin bag: 55 x 35 x25cm
Personal item: 40 x 30 x 15cm
* The allowances above are generally for passengers travelling on the lowest fare types – higher fare types and frequent flyers may be granted higher allowances. Please consult your airline for further details.
Some airlines allow you to take a handbag or ‘personal item’ as well as your hand luggage on board. Jet2, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic welcome you to take both on their economy fares, as do certain Norwegian Air and Aer Lingus routes and fares.
If you have hand luggage that is over the limit, be prepared to have the bag placed in the hold and an excess baggage fee charged. To avoid this, always pre-book an extra bag online rather than risk being charged at the gate, which will cost you more.
Also, make sure you know the hand luggage restrictions for the airline or airlines you’re travelling with, especially if you are connecting from one to another or if you are returning on a different carrier. These can vary and will affect bag size, number of bags allowed and whether there is any weight limit.
In general, choose a soft bag for carry-on luggage, if you can – it will be easier to cram into overhead bins and is likely to be lighter, giving you more weight for your items.
Most airlines will not allow you to pool your hand luggage allowance across a party of people, so ensure that each bag is not over the limits where a weight limit applies.
When it comes to deciding what to pack in your hand luggage, you’ll need to be ruthless. The aim is to carry as little as possible and buy items you can find locally when you can. And while clothing and toiletries are obviously necessary, there are a few ways to streamline your packing list.
First, stick to the concept of the capsule wardrobe – essentially, a small number of pieces that co-ordinate to produce multiple outfits by all working together. Second, keep your bag light by wearing any heavy items you need such as coats, jeans, hoodies, boots, shoes and belts. Aside from your heaviest items, all other clothes should be lightweight, easy-care and wrinkle-resistant.
You can also use the pockets of your clothes to take heavier items on board, then transfer to your bag (for example, your phone charger, camera and book) later. As notebooks and laptops add a lot of weight, especially if you have multiple items and multiple chargers, be smart about what you take. Could you download all your guidebooks, reading material and other entertainment on to one device? If you are travelling for only a few days then you may not even need the larger items.
Pockets are also handy for storing travel documents such as your passport, tickets, travel insurance, driving licence and money, and keeps them safely on you.
Of course, the longer the trip, the more creative you need to be, but make sure you are going to need everything you pack – if not, don’t pack it in the first place. In most places, you can buy something easily and quickly if you really need something you left behind.
You can take many toiletries in your hand luggage, as long as they are no larger than 100ml and can all fit within the airport security plastic zip bag. Toothpastes, shampoos and conditioners, moisturisers and balms, and soaps are all allowed, as are deodorants, make-up, suncream and perfume.
To save some cash, you can decant your at-home products into smaller containers, but you’ll also find that most toiletries now come in travel-size bottles. If you want to do away with the hassle of decanting or need more than the 100ml limit, you can always buy items airside or on arrival. Alternatively, you can find sustainable items to pack, such as shampoo and soap bars.
And remember, most hotels will give you soap and 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner.
There are myriad benefits of travelling with hand luggage only, from skipping bag-drop queues to saving money on checked baggage fees. Not sold? Think about the following.
Travelling with hand luggage only can save you plenty of time: there’s no need to join a check-in or bag-drop queue on departure and no need to wait for bags at the luggage carousel on arrival. Plus, you get to the taxi queue or car hire rental desks before the rest of the passengers you have travelled with.
Ditching the checked bag means you get to keep your belongings with you at all times, so there’s no need to worry about your luggage turning up in Tenerife while you’re in Lanzarote. You can also forget about your bag being damaged in the cargo hold – you know your bag is safely stowed in the cabin above your head or under the seat in front of you.
Remember that some airlines now have a cut-off on hand luggage items into the cabin. EasyJet, for example, gives overhead locker space on a first-come-first-served basis. All other bags at the correct size could end up in the hold, free of charge. And Ryanair will now only allow passengers who have paid for priority boarding to take a larger bag into the cabin.
Taking hand luggage instead of checked baggage on holiday generally allows you to avoid checked-in baggage charges. However, you must always check the weights and costs of individual airlines before you fly. For example, if you don’t pre-book your hold baggage with Ryanair, you’re looking at up to £40 for a 20kg case one way (depending on your journey length) or up to £50 if you arrange this at the airport.
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The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides valuable up-to-date travel advice for British citizens abroad. It is the best resource for reliable safety and security information. You can also find other important details, such as local laws, passport information and visa requirements. Stay safe abroad – check the FCDO before you travel.