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Luggage Limitations for Cruisers

by Linda Coffman

I know the days of massive steamer trunks are history, but is there a maximum amount of luggage that I can bring on a cruise?

Yes, there really is a limit of sorts. While some cruise lines state that each passenger is allowed 200 pounds of personal luggage, I've never seen anyone's bags actually being weighed. However, it's not the cruise line policy that passengers have to worry about. Cruisers arriving at their embarkation port by air should be aware of airline restrictions. Most major airlines have recently begun enforcing suitcase size and weight policies, which have been on the books for years but seldom applied. The result has been a rude (and expensive) surprise to some travelers with large, heavy suitcases.

United Airlines flight attendant Kay Bialk shared her flying experience with, "Check the weight of your bags along with the size of carry-ons! I thought I had it all figured out... one small, polite carry-on and one huge, enormous suitcase to be checked packed to the gills. Well, some big, intimidating woman pulled me out of the baggage check-in line to take my bag (big one) to the scale. It weighed 8 lbs over the limit. I transferred eight lbs to my purse, husband's bag. etc. I did this in front of hundreds of people at O'Hare in Chicago. I guess it was funny, especially the transfer of my zip locked panties and bras. People were fascinated! This was a Chicago to London flight so beware. The airlines now charge mucho bucks for overweight bags."

The Airline Luggage Allowances

Time and space preclude the listing of all airlines' restrictions and allowances here; however, following is Delta Airline's policy for carry-on bags, which is fairly typical of those in the industry for domestic US flights (some overseas airlines restrict carry-ons to one item). Each passenger is permitted one carry-on, plus one personal item. All baggage must meet the size and weight limits listed below. Luggage carts count toward your bag allowance.

Carry-on Items: All carry-on items must fit easily in a Size Wise™ unit (approximate dimensions 22" x 14" x 9") and must weigh less than 40 lbs.

You can carry on one bag plus one personal item per passenger as long as it:

  • Weighs less than 40 pounds (18 kg).
  • Does not exceed 45 inches when you total length plus width plus height.
  • Fits easily into the SizeWise® unit
  • Fits in an overhead bin or underneath the seat in front of you.

Examples of personal items:

  • Male or female purse
  • Briefcase
  • Laptop computer (All laptop/computers must be carried aboard and cannot be checked.)
  • Camera case
  • Diaper bag
  • Items of a similar or smaller size to those listed above, such as Portable Electronic Devices.

These additional items are okay to carry on and don't count towards your allowance:

  • Food items for immediate consumption
  • Assistive devices such as wheelchairs or crutches, provided passenger is dependent on them
  • One box or bag of duty free merchandise
  • A coat or jacket
  • An umbrella
  • One item of reading material

There may be more limits to carry-on baggage based on available space and additional restrictions on certain flights.

Checked Luggage: You'll find airline policies are changing as fast as their fares in terms of charges for checked luggage and suitcases that exceed their weight limitations. The best advice is to check with your carrier for the latest information. A good source of advice regarding airlines, with links to their web sites, is Johnny Jet.

Problems & Solutions

Unfortunately, many 29-30" suitcases now exceed the maximum size limitation of 62 linear inches (length, width, depth) and are possibly subject to additional charges. Then there is the matter of suitcase wheel assemblies... are they included in the measurements or not? That depends on who you ask and responses are all over the map. It seems that the ultimate arbiter of oversize dimensions is the agent checking in passengers at the airport.

Those 29-30" suitcases are likely to incur excess weight charges, as well. As Kay Bialk discovered, they hold so much that they are prone to be overly "heavy." Depending on their size, rolling garment bags might also fall into the category of "too big" to be checked free of charge. Keep in mind, when you use Pack Mates or zipper lock storage bags to compress your clothing, you save room and get more in your suitcase, but it could end up heavier and costlier than anticipated. 

Don't even think of "expanding" a suitcase in the 29-30" size range to accommodate the addition of your souvenirs for the trip home—the additional size and weight just "won't fly" these days without a fee as robust as the bag. Take a folding bag for your purchases and carry it on the plane. You'll find the perfect one at Magellan's (follow the Luggage link to Carry-on Bags and select the Pack Flat Back-Up Bag).

My view is that two smaller suitcases in the 24-26" size range will hold as much (or more) and are easier to lift when necessary. Take the following steps before purchasing luggage and leaving for the airport with it:

  • Ascertain the exact baggage regulations of the airline(s) you are most likely to fly with and strictly adhere to them;
  • For ease of moving through check-in lines, buy luggage pieces that can "piggyback" onto one another;
  • Measure suitcases for size and include the wheels just in case;
  • Weigh packed suitcases on the bathroom scale.

You may find that packing "less" is "more" by following this experienced travelers' adage: Pack your suitcases and remove half the contents. Then take twice as much money!


Tips for Selecting Luggage for Your Cruise - What to look for before making a major luggage purchase.

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