I bought the husband a beautiful 28-inch Travelpro suitcase for Christmas, took one look at it and sent it back. I realized, on inspection, that there was no way to fill the thing and keep the total weight under 50 pounds.
And on almost any airline these days, a suitcase that weighs over 50 pounds will mean extra charges.
This many not seem of great importance to most leisure travelers. I rarely fly with more than a carry-on these days, myself. But the husband and I have a three-week vacation involving a cruise — which tends to demand a substantial wardrobe — and at least two different airlines coming up later this year. And I know we’ll have to be aware of luggage restrictions for that trip.
Airlines have been lowering weight limits on luggage for years now, so that the maximum has dropped from 70 pounds per suitcase to 50 pounds across the board on all the major U.S. carriers. And that now applies to both domestic and international flights.
While most U.S. airlines allow two pieces of checked luggage at 50 pounds each, United recently reduced that to one bag for most passengers on domestic flights. And some low-cost carriers, such as Spirit and Skybus, charge for every piece of checked luggage.
In Europe, many domestic and regional carriers allow only one checked bag with weight limits as low as 40 pounds.
There are lots of exceptions and nuances. Size restrictions also apply, although weight is usually the limiting factor. First-class passengers, members of the military and elite members of airlines’ mileage programs often get increased luggage allowances. And for passengers who exceed the restrictions, excess luggage charges vary widely from one airline to another.
The net effect, in any event, has certainly been more restrictive. That’s why we don’t see as many very large suitcases as we used to, even on international flights. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the 28-inch bag that I bought was on sale.
I exchanged that suitcase for a 25-inch model, but I think we’re going to have to be careful with that one, too. My sister, who works and travels extensively outside the United States, said she has difficulty packing her 26-inch bag to come in under the weight limits.
So here are a few tips I’ve worked out on dealing with luggage weight restrictions:
• Check your airline’s Web site for details of the baggage policy, for both checked and carry-on bags, before you pack.
• Weigh your bag before you leave. You can get a special luggage scale – or just step on a bathroom scale with the luggage and then without it. Then do the math. (The downside is that you’ll have to find out your own weight. So you might make someone else do it.)
• Weight distribution is key. Spread out the heavy stuff among your bags, if you can. Remember that carry-on bags usually are not weighed, although I hear that it’s starting to happen, especially in Europe. (And I do believe that we have a moral obligation not to carry on bags we can’t handle, and that we should keep really heavy bags out of the overhead bins because they would really hurt if they fell on someone’s head.)
• Think about laundry when you pack. If you can wash your clothes on the go, you can save yourself from hauling so much luggage around. (Read about my wash-and-wear travel strategy.)
• If you’re running close to the limits, keep in mind the weight of the suitcase itself. Duffel bags and lightweight rolling luggage will allow you to pack more stuff.