Checked baggage or hand baggage?  The best for airports now

Checked baggage or hand baggage? The best for airports now

TThe recent surge in air travel and flight delays has travelers wondering if checking a bag is a good idea. Summer breaks, bank holidays and weddings have kept airlines and airports busy in recent months, with air travel returning to pre-pandemic numbers. More than 2 million people took off from US airports every day last week, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). However, the air travel industry may not be able to meet the demand after more than two years of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Widespread staff shortages have become a major problem for airlines.

Between July 5 and July 14, more than 54,000 flights worldwide were delayed, accounting for 20.8% of all flights during that period, according to FlightAware, an aeronautical data collection company. Delays and cancellations were almost as common in 2019, but FlightAware attributes this year’s mania to delays piling up around bank holidays and other busy times.

As lost baggage becomes more common – as the airline industry grapples with staffing shortages, delays and cancellations – checking baggage or being stuck with a carry-on bag could make a significant difference in a person’s travel experience.

Is it ever a good idea to check a bag?

Checking baggage is a classic part of flying that most travelers are used to. According to a survey by Go Group LLC, around 55% of travelers check in some or all of their luggage during the flight.

Kareem George, owner of Culture Traveler and a member of Travel + Leisure’s 2022 A-List Travel Advisory Board, says checking bags comes in handy when you want to pack more, especially on longer trips, and avoids the hassle of lugging your items around to avoid in the airport.

“If you have your hand luggage, it’s another item. Yes, you are in complete control, but you are more burdened by travel. You can’t walk through the airport with just a backpack or a handbag,” George tells TIME.


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Checked baggage also has fewer content restrictions, leaving ample room for liquids and souvenirs for loved ones on the way home. It may also be a better option for travelers with young children or disabilities that may make navigating the airport difficult.

However, travelers who choose to have their bags checked should be aware of additional fees for the service. Checked baggage for domestic travelers starts at around $30 for one bag and increases for each additional bag. The weight limit is generally 50 pounds per bag, and bags that weigh more can cost travelers over $100.

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“Lost” baggage isn’t common, with 92% of missing bags being found and returned to their owners, SITA reported, but baggage screening can also slow travelers down. In April 2022, nearly 220,000 bags were mishandled by US airlines, meaning they were lost, damaged, stolen or delayed, according to the US Department of Transportation. SITA reports that 77% of baggage mishandling is due to delays.

“With delays and cancellations, your luggage is more likely to be lost,” Wendy Perrin, a travel blogger, told TIME.

Delta Air Lines rolled out a creative solution on July 11 to reunite travelers with their luggage after a flight was canceled. Delta flew a passenger plane from London to Detroit with just 1,000 bags. The baggage-only flight was an attempt to expedite returning travelers’ checked baggage and help clear the baggage congestion at Heathrow Airport. Such measures are interesting approaches to cope with persistent flight delays and cancellations.

Sticking to hand luggage

Carry-on baggage, which is usually limited to a small suitcase or duffel bag and another smaller bag or other item, must fit under your seat or in the overhead compartment on the plane, which can make packing difficult due to size restrictions. However, during the busy flight season it can be helpful to have luggage with you.

“If you can manage to fly with only carry-on baggage, then you’re in better shape for a lot of reasons,” says Perrin. “Personally, I only want to use hand luggage.”

Carry-on luggage is touted as a practical option to pack efficiently and have greater and faster mobility during transit.

“Based on the disruptions we’re seeing with airlines right now, this is definitely a strong push in favor of carry-on simply because it gives you an extra layer of control and less worry. You can go straight to the gate, get in and have everything with you,” says George.

Connecting flights are another factor in deciding to fly with carry-on luggage.

“They have a higher success rate at making close connections. We always recommend as much space as possible between ports to ensure comfort [and] so as not to miss them, but there are cases when it is difficult to avoid. If you have everything in your carry-on, you can just get up and go,” says George.

Domestic and international travel don’t differ all that much when it comes to carrying luggage, but Perrin did mention that Europe tends to have slightly different size and weight restrictions on hand luggage, and George said it’s important to note that traveling through different countries with checked baggage being a problem is added hassle if lost or delayed.

What can you take with you in hand luggage?

A Delta Air Lines representative emphasized that while traveling with only checked or carry-on baggage is a personal choice, there are some items that passengers should always take with them on the plane, such as medication and medical supplies. On occasion, airline officials may ask travelers to check their baggage if there is no space left on the plane, and travelers must be prepared to keep some items with them.

“Let’s say you’re at the gate and the gate agent says, ‘You need to check your bag.’ Take out your medical kit, your keys, your wallet and keep those things with you,” the Delta representative said.

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Over the years, airlines have squeezed more seats into cramped planes for higher profits without adding enough storage space to keep up with flight capacity. Additionally, the growing trend of checked baggage fees is leading more travelers to opt for cabin baggage only travel, but some airlines have started to charge a cabin baggage fee as well. United, Spirit and Frontier all charge full-size carry-on baggage fees with select tickets.

The Delta representative pointed out that medical devices, such as B. CPAP machines, count as additional carry-on items in addition to the regular two allowed items. There are also some exceptions for liquids, including liquid prescription medicines, breast milk and infant formula, which do not have carry-on baggage allowances.

TSA guidelines restrict each passenger to carrying 3.4-ounce containers of liquids, creams or gel items in their carry-on baggage, barring the medical exceptions noted above — an additional inconvenience for passengers flying carry-on only.

Ultimately, choosing between checked and carry-on baggage is a personal choice based on lifestyle and preferences.

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