Hand luggage, also known as cabin baggage, is the luggage you are allowed to take with you in the passenger compartment of a plane. There are generally restrictions on the number of bags you can take, the size and weight of those bags and the items you can take on-board the flight.
Size and weight of hand luggage
The Department for Transport used to set the maximum size for an item of hand luggage at 22in x 18in x 10in (56cm x 45cm x 25cm). This included wheels, handles and any external pockets. The Department for Transport has not set maximum size limits for hand baggage since April 2010 but individual airports and many airlines may have their own rules concerning the maximum dimensions allowed.
These can vary quite widely depending on the airport and airlines involved but are unlikely to be greater than the old Department for Transport restrictions. Heathrow Airport, for example, stipulates the same maximum dimensions as the old Department for Transport restrictions. Depending on the airline a customer is flying with, there may be further restrictions regarding the maximum size allowed.
Hand luggage will generally also have a maximum allowable weight. Hand luggage is generally required to be stowed beneath the seat in front or in the overhead lockers before take-off.
Most airports and airlines will clearly state the maximum sizes and weights for hand luggage online, and customers can usually phone or email if they have any queries. If a customer turns up with hand luggage that exceeds the maximum size and weight limits, they may be asked to check it into the hold. There may be a charge for doing this.
Number of bags
Many airports and airlines stipulate that each passenger can only carry a single item of hand luggage with a maximum size and weight. Some may also allow a laptop carrying case or another small item such as a handbag in addition to the regular piece of hand luggage. Laptops and other electrical devices, whether they are packed in the regular hand luggage or in their own carrying case, must generally be removed and screened separately at security.
Some airlines will allow musical instruments to be brought on-board as hand luggage. If they exceed the size and weight restrictions for regular hand luggage, the airline may require the customer to book an extra seat for the instrument.
Travelling with an infant
If a customer is travelling with an infant, they may be allowed to bring a car seat or baby basket in addition to their regular hand luggage allowance. Collapsible prams may have to be stowed in the hold for the duration of the journey and returned at the end of the flight.
Travelling with reduced mobility
There may be special allowances for travellers with mobility problems, which can include items such as crutches and prostheses. Essential medical equipment such as dialysis machines will also usually be allowed. It's generally advisable for travellers with mobility problems or medical issues to contact the airline in advance to discuss their individual needs.
Supporting evidence such as a letter from the customer's doctor may also be required. Issues such as this will also be covered by the terms and conditions of your specific Travel Insurance* policy.
Hand luggage differs from hold luggage, which is stored and transported in the cargo hold of the aircraft. Suitcases, large bags and other bulky items must typically be checked in at the airport and transported in the hold.
Some airlines, particularly budget airlines, charge for transporting any items of hold luggage. Others will take luggage up to a certain weight or number of items for free, with charges for taking additional amounts. It can also take longer to get through arrivals if you have to wait for your baggage to arrive on the carousel.
Given these issues, some travellers are choosing to travel with hand baggage only. This is not always possible and it may depend on the nature and duration of the trip. But by stripping down to the essentials and packing effectively, many travellers find they can cut down on baggage charges and queues alike.
Some items are not allowed on the aircraft at all. These can include poisons and toxic substances (such as rat poison), acids and alkalis, car batteries, disabling sprays such as mace and pepper sprays, fireworks and pyrotechnics, fire extinguishers, flares, explosives, and non-safety matches. These and other restricted items cannot be taken in hand luggage or stored in the hold.
Firearms may be allowed in hold luggage, depending on the airline. Cigarette lighters are not allowed in either hand or hold luggage but one cigarette lighter may be carried on the customer's person.
Some items are not allowed in hand luggage but may be carried in hold luggage. These can include corkscrews; scissors with blades over a certain length; sports equipment including golf clubs, bats and rackets of various types, fishing rods and darts; and work tools including hammers, screwdrivers, saws and crowbars.
There are also restrictions on the amounts of liquids that can be carried onto a plane. These must generally be carried in containers of no more than 100 ml each. All containers must be carried in a single clear plastic bag and must generally add up to no more than a litre. There may be special allowances for medicines, baby milk and sterilised water for babies.
A full list of restricted items is available from the Directgov website.Back to top