To check or carry on? Luggage choices get heated

(CNN) — We all aspire to easy, hassle-free air travel, but luggage goes a long way toward snarling the experience.

What we do with our luggage is the subject of much in-aisle and online gnashing of teeth.

To check or carry on?

To add an extra 15 minutes, $25 and three extra pairs of shoes (and the possible rerouting of said shoes) or risk shoulder dislocation with an overhead hoist and the tragic loss of leg room to an outlandishly large “personal item”?

Weighing in on this debate are two CNN Travel staffers. We also want to hear your rationale. Please submit your reasons for checking or carrying on luggage in the form below.


Raised in Northern Ireland and based in London, Maureen O’Hare has been on 13 short-haul European flights within the last year — most on Ryanair but one on a Douglas C-53 which took part in the D-Day landings. She enjoys in-flight G&Ts and getting a row to herself.

It’s 2019, not the 1800s

Hey, you, stuffing your lorgnette and gramophone into your leather trunk: Notice how we can carry our whole lives in our pockets these days? Our libraries of music and books, our wallets and notebooks: They fit in a single device.

We’re no longer steaming across oceans to set out with our manservants on a Grand Tour. Ever since Robert Plath switched up the game by inventing the wheelie suitcase in 1987, luggage has also been evolving in line with the needs of the modern voyager.

People are traveling more than ever before.

Our skies are loaded with planes and our airports are congested. We really don’t need you and your hoarding instincts weighing down the hold and using up engine fuel with your 40 pairs of shoes because “you never know.”

Know the upside of all this globalization that is homogenizing cities from Bangkok to Baltimore? You can buy what you need at your destination. It turns out other places have stores and laundry services too.

Overhead luggage: Keep calm and carry on.

Overhead luggage: Keep calm and carry on.

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

It pays to be organized

Check-in enthusiasts will complain that people who bring carry-on suitcases cause delays when boarding and disembarking.

Maybe they’re projecting their own lack of organization (why consider what you need when you can throw it all in?), but it really doesn’t take long to lift and grab.

The real villains are those people standing up and hustling to get off long before the doors open, like sentient anxiety attacks.

Going carry-on does require more preparation. You need to check your airline’s baggage allowance beforehand — Ryanair changed its rules twice in 2018 — and make sure your bag fits the requirements.

You need to make tough decisions and strip down non-essentials. While the liquid rules are tough, shampoo and body wash will be available at your hotel. The only real heartbreaker is suncream: 100 ml tubes — even several overpriced, overpackaged 100 ml tubes — just won’t cut it for a week’s vacation.

Again, stores. They probably have them where you’re going.

Light of luggage, light of heart

Your home might look like a racoon’s wastebasket, but by packing our suitcases efficiently we can all live that Marie Kondo life of decluttered calm on the road. (Even if you don’t unpack it for three weeks when you get home).

Extra heels in case you go somewhere fancy? Those invites dried up years ago. Choice of nail polish? You’re lucky if you remember to floss your teeth. There’ll be no unworn garments to rebuke you if you don’t pack them at all — and you can congratulate yourself when you never miss them.

Nothing is as delicious as the smugness of skipping lightly with your rucksack or case through metro system or across city street, knowing you’ve not burdened yourself with an unnecessary 40 kilos.

The fear of lost luggage is an anxiety you will never know. Then of course there’s the greatest triumph of all — the moment when you stroll right past the crowds at the carousels, Dante’s damned stuck in the nine circles of Hell.

“You travel light!,” they’ll say, as you saunter into Arrivals, 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Yes, I do. Darn right I do.


Massachusetts-bred, New York-based Channon Hodge prefers to let others carry things for her and one day hopes to have an assistant for that purpose. (She travels with A LOT of camera equipment). Last year, she made it to Croatia, Cleveland, Nashville and Asheville without losing a single checked bag.

Just check it, you know you want to

The carry-on life seems like a dream until you wake up to the fine print. Go ahead, attempt to stuff a week’s worth of essentials into a bag the size of your kitchen drawer. We who check bags accept the confines of reality.

That reality includes many airlines offering checked bag pickup times that are faster than ever. More efficiency behind the scenes means carriers like Delta and Alaska Air will now guarantee you get your checked bag in 20 minutes or less.

That’s enough time to hit the loo and go through security. If your bag is not at the carousel in 20 minutes, you could pick up a discount on your next or bonus loyalty program miles.

Friends reunited: Ditch your bags then find them at the carousel.

Friends reunited: Ditch your bags then find them at the carousel.


You know your bag is the wrong size and everyone else knows it, too

The maximum carry-on size on most US carriers is 22 by 14 by 9 inches (56 by 36 by 23 centimeters). That includes the wheels, handle and whatever you’ve attempted to stuff in the outside pocket. (It was not meant for four pairs of heels!)

It enrages me to sit at the gate adding up all the extra time I’ll have to spend waiting for people to stuff their awkwardly sized luggage into the overhead. Do not ask the poor flight attendants to help you. They likely have back issues already.

And beyond size restrictions, carry-on luggage also has a weight limit.

Domestic carriers often don’t weigh carry-ons, but international flights will hit you with it when you least expect.

I flew Emirates once and was shocked to find my backpack alone went over the 15.4 pound (7 kilogram) weight limit. My laptop likely took up five pounds (2.3 kilos), which is average for laptops. Try to fit everything else you need in the measly 10 pounds you’ve got left after that. You’ll need to employ magic.

Three words: Wash and go

I have very real, very curly, very massive amounts of hair on my head that I like to wear in a wash and go style. Those dinky little hotel conditioner bottles are like a sick joke when faced with hair that wants to turn into dreads whenever I miss a tangle.

I need real conditioner and I need a lot of it, and I can’t always buy it when I get there.

Unfortunately, the “ethnic” in a drugstore’s “ethnic hair section” means different things to different drugstore managers. I simply can’t rely on them to stock my favorites: SheaMoisture High Porosity Moisture-Seal Masque and Organix Brazillian Keratin Smooth.

Whether you’ve got a mass of curls, or other special hair or skin care needs, you’ll save time and money by packing them up in plastic bags in your checked bags. Put them right by those rechargeable power cells that are also not allowed in the overhead.

The money isn’t worth the pain in your neck

There is no argument here. Checked bags will often cost you more than carry-ons.

However, I’d like to take a moment to remind you that you have these things called joints. You may forget about them, you spry, young, healthy thing, but I notice them constantly because I’m a video producer who carries heavy things like light panels for a living.

Straining your shoulder to wheel a heavy bag around a large airport is nothing when you consider the strain you’re putting your back through when you improperly hoist that case into and out of the overhead. Again, don’t lean on the flight attendants to shoulder your burden!

Instead, think of the money you’ll save on health insurance co-pays in the future. And for more immediate rewards, consider signing up for any number of airline credit cards, many of which come with free checked bag benefits.

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