Luggage Salesman: Have you thought much about luggage Mr. Banks?
Joe Banks: No.
Luggage Salesman: Luggage is the central preoccupation of my life.
– Joe Versus the Volcano
In this installment of the Sir-Trips-A Lot Blog we take on the topic of airline baggage. If you think that this is a fairly straight-forward and simple topic, you will probably be surprised how complicated it can be. The airlines love to make everything as complicated as possible because it affords them more opportunities to charge extra fees or to provide you with poor service and to fall back on their terms of service as an excuse.
Pieces vs. Weight. All airlines are not created equal. You already instinctively if not experientially know this, but it comes more clearly into focus when talking about airline baggage policies. There are no standards for checked and hand luggage and the rules vary greatly from carrier to carrier. What might be true for one carrier is often not true for the next. Here is a basic difference that is common among carriers; most follow either a piece concept or weight concept for checked baggage. The piece concept is fairly common in the United States and Europe; in the middle east, and particualy
among Asian carriers, the weight concept is more common. The difference is that the limit for checked baggage is based on the number of pieces, or the total weight. With the weight concept, a passenger can have as many bags as they want so long as the total weight does not exceed the weight limit. So when you fly with Turkish Airlines between Europe and Turkey, you are allowed 20kg (44lbs) of luggage. Technically, this means you could have 20 bags weighing 1kg each if you wanted. According to the piece concept, the passenger is limited by the number of pieces. The number of pieces is determined by the route, and the cabin class, or fare that the customer has purchased. So, an international flight from the US to Europe would have a baggage allowance of one piece for economy class, two pieces for premium economy and business class, and four ( or more) pieces for first class. The confusing part about the piece concept is that there is also a weight limit involved. The maximum weight for a normal bag is 23kg (50lbs); however, it is possible to have “overweight” bags which weigh more than 23kg.
The absolute maximum weight for any one piece of luggage is 32kg (70lbs). The reason for this upper limit is because the baggage has to be lifted by actual people on and off the aircraft. The airlines will
absolutely love you to death if you go over the weight limit because then they can charge you obscenely high excess baggage fees. The policies for excess baggage fees also vary from airline to airline and are outrageously expensive. I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken to customers who “just want to check an extra bag” only to recoil in shock and irritation at the fact that an extra bag
will cost $250. They almost always decide it is not worth it.
How do the airlines figure the baggage allowance? It is completely capricious. I am old enough to remember when the airlines allowed two bags per passenger for domestic flights in the US for every
passenger in coach. Those days are long gone. Up until 2007 is was still common to find carriers that allowed one checked bag for domestic economy and two checked bags for international flights. Sadly, that time has also passed. Now, most airlines shrewdly use checked baggage as another avenue for profit. As the pendulum has swung to the extreme of trying to charge customers for every checked bag,and the airlines have accelerated their race to the bottom, the airlines are now having to deal with the customers trying to shove as much as possible into carry-on luggage. Now in-cabin bag space is increasingly fought over by customers, particularly the overhead bins.
Low-Cost Airlines. Up to this point we have spoken about normal airlines, but when you are flying with Budget, or Low-Cost Carriers (LCC), the rules are also different. For LCC, you always have to pay for luggage. In the rare cases, the LCC will have fare levels which will have baggage included (Germanwings is a good example). Trust me when I say that you are paying for the baggage with this fare, you are also paying for the privilege of being able to rebook the ticket, which will also have extra fees. So, the rule of thumb with LCC is there is NO free checked baggage allowance. You will have to pay per piece, and sometimes per kilogram, for any checked baggage. The good thing about this is that you can check as many pieces as you want, or closer to the truth, as much as you can afford. Another important fact to be aware of with LCC is that you should always pay for the checked luggage at the time you make the booking because they usually charge more when you check bags at the counter.
The best advice that I can give the average airline customer is to contact the airline directly when you have questions about the baggage allowance. Most people who work as travel agents have
general knowledge about the “normal” baggage allowance, but it is important to remember that a customer service agents for an online travel agency will be responsible for assisting customers who have purchased tickets from possibly hundreds of different airlines and it is not possible to know the exact information for every carrier in every case. Inform yourself before you buy a ticket, there are many websites that have basic information for many of the most popular airlines and if you do not understand the baggage policy of a particular airline from their complicated explanation on their website, well that is why they have toll free customer service numbers. Do not be afraid to call the airline with these questions, if they want your business they will have to explain the policy for their