With the ever-increasing trend towards airlines charging to check even one bag it is tempting to carry onboard any and all bags for your flight. But, the airlines are keenly aware of your desire to avoid the fees and are on the lookout for passengers who want to stuff as much into carry-on baggage. Here are some simple steps you can take to packing a bag for carry-on and still stay within the airline rules.
Step 1 - Pack Light
Trust me, you don't need to bring as much as you think. Consider how often you are going to be seen by the same people and realize that you don't need to wear something different every day of your trip. Limit the number of shoes you bring. Remember you're already wearing one pair on the plane.
Step 2 - The Grays Have It
If you bring colorful clothes then matching them will require even more clothes in total to be packed. Consider packing nothing but black, white and gray clothes with maybe one or two colored shirts or tops. A small number of clothes can be mixed and matched to create a different look each day.
Step 3 - Downsize Everything
If you are going to carry-on then no liquid, gel, cream or ointment can be in a container greater than 100 ml or 3.3 ounces. And don't forget the one quart clear bag to show it all to TSA. So, leave home that big bottle of shampoo and pour it into a small bottle. Keep in mind many hotels provide for free or sell toothpaste, shampoo, soap and tooth brushes which means you may not have to bring them at all! It's all about creating room in your small carry-on.
Step 4 - Leave the Scissors Home
Trim your moustache and cut your nails before you leave on your trip. You can't carry anything sharp, pointed or blunt onboard. Even small manicure scissors will most likely be tossed at the screening station. If you really need to have these while you are away, just buy a cheap pair when you arrive and toss them when you leave for your return flight.
Step 5 - Get Right Sized
Carry-on baggage is limited in size to 45 linear inches. Huh? That means if you add the length plus the height plus the depth of the bag it cannot exceed 45 inches total. But there is second rule: It has to also fit in a box at the airport that makes sure your carry-on is not too big in any one of the dimensions. So, the real size requirements is a bag no larger than 22" x 14" x 9". You can't have a bag that is for instance 27" x 12" x 6". The 27" dimension is too large and will be rejected and these days airport personnel are checking bags against the box to make sure all three dimensions fit.
Step 6 - Don't Over Stuff
OK, so you have the right sized bag and it still didn't fit the box at the airport. What happened? First, the dimensional requirements include the wheels and the handles. Some luggage have wheels or large handles that protrude past the body of the luggage and exceed the allowable dimensions as a result. Second, do not over stuff your bag. Don't pack your bag like a meatball. Pack it from the perimeter towards the center layering items as you go. Pack the large items first and then put the small items, like socks, in nooks and crannies created by the large items. This will also give you some cushioning. Socks can be rolled up and placed inside of shoes. Third, do not pack any items except magazines in the outer pockets. They just make the outside bulge and your 9" dimension will now be 11" or more and it won't fit in the box.
Step 7 - Don't Hassle the Airport Folks
You've done all this and you get to the airport and the check-in agent looks at your bag and says it won't fit in the dimensional box. Look, they're just doing their job. Rearrange some items in the bag and I'm sure you will have a "legal" bag once again. Now you go to the TSA checkpoint and they notice the scissors you forgot to leave home. Arguing with the agent will only make things worse. They've heard all the excuses before and are in no mood to add yours to their experience. Just ditch them and enjoy your travels.
Chris is the President and Co-Founder of ExpertFlyer.com, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.