The ultimate guide to carry on luggage rules

You have booked a wonderful trip and are busy packing your luggage. Of course, you would also like to bring carry on luggage, just because there is some stuff you think you need on the way.
Perhaps you're just going on a city trip and hand luggage seems sufficient. But as we all know, the rules and regulations for carry on luggage can be quite difficult to grasp. Nowadays, the airports enforce their carry on luggage rules harder than ever and you don't want to get into trouble.
To make sure you're not stuck in the airport, I made this comprehensive guide on what you can and can't take in a carry on bag, what the size restrictions are, what your hand luggage can weigh and much, much more.

Of course, the requirements imposed on carry on luggage can change. It’s therefore advisable to recheck on the airport or airline’s website.

carry on luggage rules

Why all those rules and regulations?

This question can be answered with two digits: ‘nine’ and ‘eleven’. Since this date there are a lot of rules imposed for taking hand luggage on the aircraft. This all has to do with safety; your safety to be precise. Nobody likes to stand in line, certainly not when it’s hot and you might get a little nervous about the flight. But remember that everyone needs to pass this safety checkpoint, and that it’s all for your own good. With the help of your smartphone, long queues luckily aren’t that long anymore.

What can I take in my hand luggage?

Let’s start with the positive! Fortunately, the carry on luggage rules for aren’t as strict as many say. If you have something with you that isn’t allowed on board, you can always leave it at the checkpoint and just carry on (no pun intended!) with your journey. What can you take in your hand luggage?:

Medicines: Medications in your hand luggage you need during flight are permitted. Imagine that your suitcases get lost, and all of your medication is gone together with it… A story that doesn’t happen all too often, but hey… You never know! Better safe than sorry! Liquid medications are only allowed up to 75 milliliters (2,5 ounces) in the United States and 100 milliliters (3,38 ounces) in Europe. Obviously, drugs are taboo.

Cigarettes: You can just bring them in the cabin. It doesn’t matter that you have quite some packs of cigarettes in your hand luggage for the holidays. Just take into account the limitations of your final destination.
Of course you can never smoke at the airport or on the plane. Whoever thinks that he or she is being smart and smokes in the toilet will quickly be discovered: there are smoke detectors.
And then of course the electronic cigarette or the e-cigarette. What about that? You can take it into your carry on luggage. In fact, it’s even mandatory! E-cigarettes can’t be tucked away in your bigger suitcases. Just like ordinary cigarettes, you can’t smoke them on the airplane or the airport.

Liquids: The regulations regarding liquids in your hand luggage are very clear. You can take up to 100 milliliters (3,38 ounces) of liquid or gel per package in Europe. But when traveling to / from America, you may only have 75 milliliters or 2,5 ounces with you.
The liquid limit on a flight also takes into account these products: perfume, lotion, deodorant, water, sunscreen and, yes, baby food.
It’s important that you pack your liquids in little, see-through bags. These resealable bags can usually be obtained at the airport check-in desk. If you want to make sure you have them, you can buy them yourself too.

Electronic devices: Electronic devices such as your smartphone, e-reader or laptop can be taken as hand luggage on the airplane. There are some restrictions on the use, however. The mobile phone must be on airplane mode, which eliminates all wireless features of the device.
You can just use your laptop while in flight, but during startup and landing it must be switched off. Not sure what to do? Follow the instructions of the cabin crew. Still not sure? Just ask!

What can I take in hand luggage?

What are the carry on restrictions?

It’s time to get a little more strict. What items in a carry on are restricted? In fact, this question isn’t easy to answer. The EU list and TSA list on the internet is extensive.
Just use your common sense and ask yourself if an object or device may endanger the plane, crew, yourself or fellow passengers. In case of doubt: just ask. This avoids a lot of problems afterwards. In any event, you may not transport the following items in the cabin of the aircraft.

Fire, impact and stinging weapons: This seems like a simple rule, but it’s a lot harder in real life. Because items that at first sight don’t look like a weapon, can still be used as a weapon in some cases… A razor on a plane isn’t allowed. A pair of tweezers in your hand luggage will give you a guaranteed security check. A pointy nail file will give you the same problems. Although they are primarily not intended to use as a weapon, you can actually use them as a stinging weapon…

Certain electrical tools: Electrical tools such as a hair straightener are also not allowed in your hand luggage. Again, because they can be used as a weapon or as a part of it.
Lithium batteries and spillable wet cell batteries (used in cars) are not allowed in your carry on luggage.
Most powerbanks to charge your phone or tablet are allowed, as long as they are under 100 Wh. This is different from airline to airline.

Flammable substances and sprays: Matches and lighters are an absolute no-go on a plane. I think I don’t really need to explain the reason for that, right? The same goes for deodorant, tear gas, pepper spray, mosquito or other bug sprays, … Basically all aerosols are forbidden in your carry on luggage.

Corrosive, Magnetic and Radioactive Materials: There is no sensible explanation to think of why you would take one of these materials as hand luggage on the plane. Strong magnetic materials can disrupt aircraft’s computers, and corrosive and radioactive materials can also be used as weapons. If you have them casually lying around, I would say: leave them at home.

airplane carry on restrictions

What is the maximum weight and size for carry on luggage?

Europe

“How heavy can hand luggage be?” Is a common question.
For a suitcase checked in the luggage room, Europe usually has a maximum weight of 23 kilograms. This has to do with the current labor rules in the European Union. How heavy your hand luggage may be depends on the specific rules that each airline sends out. The same goes for the maximum dimensions of your hand luggage. Europeans often use Ryanair, Easyjet and TUI. So I have listed the specific rules of these companies for you.

Ryanair: Ryanair’s rules for luggage in the cabin are very flexible and you wouldn’t immediately expect that. Ryanair is known to ask for money for everything. Michael O’Leary has even said that he considered to let passengers pay if they used the toilets!
Since Januari 2018 Ryanair changed it’s carry-on policies. The airline believes that too many people take two items on board, making it less profitable for them. As a result, only priority customers can check in with one extra piece of hang luggage (so in total you can take two on board). To have priority access, you pay €5 to €6 extra ($6 – $7). Those who don’t pay extra can only bring a small bag (35 x 20 x 20cm or 13,78 x 7,8 x 7,8 inches). The other item must be checked in, but luckily this will be free.
However, checking-in luggage does get cheaper and you may take more on board also. Instead of 15 kg (33 Ibs), you can now bring 20 kg (44 Ibs), and instead of €35 ($42) you’ll pay ‘only’ €25 ($30). But … Of course there are also exceptions. In high season (think of busy holidays) and for longer flights, the luggage check-in will still cost €35 or $42…

Easyjet: One piece of luggage is allowed with Easyjet, but there is no weight restriction here. The maximum dimensions Easyjet uses for hand luggage is 56 x 45 x 25 centimeters (22 x 17,7 x 9,85 inches). This includes the handle and the wheels. Should your bag or trolley be bigger during boarding, then you can check it in for €60 or $67,5. If your luggage is considered too big or too heavy at the drop-off desk, you’ll pay ‘only’ €47 or $56. So buy your suitcase(s) a place in advance instead. Checking in your bags beforehand will cost you between €16.90 and €39 ($20 to $47) per suitcase.

TUI: TUI’s rules for hand luggage are very similar to those of Ryanair and Easyjet. At TUI, your hand luggage may be up to 55 x 40 x 25 centimeters (21,65 x 15,75 x 7,8 inches), and weighing more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds) is not allowed. If your hand luggage is bigger or heavier at the check-in counter, you can check it in for €50 or $56. If you do this beforehand, you’ll pay depending on the weight. For twenty kilograms (44 Ibs) on a European flight you pay €10 or $12, for twenty kilos on a long flight you pay €15 or $18. More weight? Pay more!

United States

The United States have other rules for their luggage size and weight.
Just like I did for Europe, I will now discuss a couple of popular airlines and their size and weight restrictions.

American Airlines: The size of hand luggage for American Airlines should never exceed 56 x 36 x 23 centimeters or 22 x 14 x 9 inches. The weight isn’t strictly monitored, but if you want to make sure: 23 kg’s (50 Ibs) is in fact the maximum you can stuff into your carry on luggage.

United Airlines: United Airlines has very similar rules. The size of your hand luggage should never exceed 56 x 35 x 22 cm or 22 x 14 x 9 inches. The max weight for a carry on bag is 23 kg or 50 Ibs. Is your carry on bag too big anyway? Then you’ll need to pay a standard fee to check-in your luggage ($100 to $200) and an extra fee of $25.

Delta Airlines: Let’s start with the positive: there are no weight restrictions for a carry on bag with Delta. Well… Except when you’re flying from/to some countries in Asia, that is. The bag should never be bigger than 56 x 35 x  23 cm or  22 x 14 x 9 inches. The fee that is charged when an overweight bag is checked in is different for every situation. So let’s just hope for the cheapest possible option if this ever happens to you!

Unfortunately, there are quite a few rules you need to follow. But when you have a good understanding of all these rules you can happily enjoy a nice holiday or city trip. Have fun!

size and weight restrictions hand luggage

Did you check and double-check everything? Then you can leave without any difficulties!

Looking for carry on luggage?

Check out these items! All have the right sizes, are lightweight and can be ordered online.

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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  1. Swoozles says:

    I think you are the incorrect when you state you can take 100 ml of liquid or gel in hand luggage in Europe. EasyJet allow 1,000 ml!

    • If I check the website of EasyJet, you can indeed take 1,000 ml in total, but you have to pack them in containers of 100 ml or less. I do say this in the article as well: “You can take up to 100 milliliters (3,38 ounces) of liquid or gel per package in Europe”.

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