Baggage basics for checked
and carry-on items

Only the rare passenger flies without carrying at least one piece of carry-on baggage, and many have to check one or more pieces of luggage as well. While there is always the risk of having items lost, misplaced, stolen, or damaged, many of the common risks can be reduced, avoided, or eliminated with a little bit of planning.

In the box below are links to baggage related pages. Below the box is advice on general baggage limits, reducing both checked and carry-on baggage risks, including how to travel with computers and other electronics; and dealing with lost, damaged, or stolen baggage.

Additional baggage pages

Carry-on bag tips

Flying with batteries

Top 10 bag tips

Baggage claim tips

Restricted items

Flying with cash

Flying with computers

Flying with sex toys

Flying with pornography

Duty free tips

Electronic cigarettes

Electronic devices

Baggage fee basics

Top 10 bag fee tips

General Baggage Advice

There are only a few basic things to know when it comes to your carry-on or checked bag, mostly having to do with items you are not allowed to carry. There are the obvious items that you should never pack such as illegal drugs or explosive devices. However, most other items that you should not pack are not so obvious, especially items that may be allowed in checked bags but not in carry-on bags.

If you are only have carry-on bags, check in early enough (either online or at the airport) to deal with security and to make it to your departure gate at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time for a domestic flight. If you are checking luggage, flying with a group, or have any special needs, you should allow for extra time for dealing with security and boarding the aircraft.

You should also contact your airline if you have any questions about their baggage policies. Other basic baggage advice include not putting heavy items in the overhead storage bins, to immediately report lost luggage to your airline, and to be aware of your airline's carry-on luggage limits.

Baggage Limits

In general, airlines allow you to bring without additional charge up to two pieces of carry-on baggage (one of which can fit under your seat), plus some additional items such as umbrellas, and baby strollers. Additional baggage may cost you extra.

Reducing Carry-on Baggage Risks

If you are traveling with carry-on baggage, especially if you have no checked baggage, there are a few things you should do to avoid most of the problems you may have.

  • Prepare to have it searched - Before you get to the airplane, you have to go through airport security, and that means putting your bag through the x-ray machine, and having the bag opened up and inspected by airport security.
  • Know what's allowed in the cabin - There are many rules about what is allowed in the aircraft in your carry-on baggage. Check with's guide to hazardous and prohibited items, and with the rules your particular airline may have.
  • Keep track of your bags - In the terminal, especially in the areas beyond the security screener checkpoints, unattended baggage may be confiscated or even destroyed by airport security.
  • Prepare to have it checked - If your airplane runs out of room in the overhead storage compartment, your airline may check your bag at the last minute. Keep critical items like medicine and eyeglasses and valuable items like jewelry and cash in a separate small bag or pouch. If you are forced to check your carry-on, take out this small pouch and keep it with you.
  • Don't overpack the bag - Make sure your bag is light enough for you or someone else to easily lift it and put it in the overhead bin. Also, be extra careful if there is a heavy carry-on bag in a bin over your head. The doors on these bins may come open in flight, and heavy carry-ons can cause a serious head injury if one falls on your head.

Reducing Checked Luggage Risks

Any time that you check a bag, you run the risk of having individual items or even the entire bag stolen, lost, damaged, or delayed. In order to reduce or eliminate many checked luggage risks, you should consider doing the following:

  • Only use carry-on bags - Avoiding checked luggage reduces the time spent at the airport and also reduces the chance that your belongings are lost, stolen, or damaged.

  • Eliminate potential luggage snags - Since checked luggage usually goes though some kind of mechanical conveyor system, you should also remove straps or other protrusions that could get caught in the system.

  • Make your checked bags easy to inspect - In the US, the TSA has to be able to inspect a checked bag, so your bag should remain unlocked, unless your bag has a TSA-approved lock. If the TSA has to break your lock, you will not be reimbursed for the damage.
  • Make sure that your checked is bag easy to identify - To reduce the chance of someone accidentally taking your bag from the baggage claim area, place an identification tag with your contact information on each piece of checked luggage. You may also want to use small ribbons, stickers, or other identifying marks to make your bag easier to spot.
  • Check the airline luggage tags - At check in, make sure that tag on each piece of checked luggage matches your baggage claim tickets. Also, ensure that you and your bag are going to the same destination airport.
  • Put valuables and critical items in your carry-on bags - You should never check valuable or hard to replace items like cash, financial documents, jewelry, cameras, phones, laptops ,portable electronic devices, medical items, eyeglasses, keys, travel documents, business papers, or favorite toys. Your airline will likely not compensate you for the loss or damage of any these items, so it is safer to put them in your carry on bag.
  • Keep fragile items out of checked luggage - Such items should be in your carry-on bags. Even a properly packed fragile item may be at risk in your checked luggage if that item has to be unwrapped in order to be inspected.
  • Prepare for a lost, stolen, damaged, or delayed checked bag - Pack your carry-on bags so that you will be able to survive for 48 hours at your destination without your checked bags. If you are checking more than one piece of luggage, distribute items so that the loss of one bag will not cause undue hardship. Be prepared to keep a record of any costs related to your delayed or missing bag, or to any damage to the bag or contents so that you can later submit a claim to the airline or to the TSA.
  • Check your bags after arrival - Go through your checked luggage after arrival to see if anything is damaged or missing, or if extra items were placed in the bag. If there is a problem, make sure you contact your airline as soon as possible.

Laptop Advice

Laptop security is of particular concern to travelers because in the US you are required to remove the laptop from its carrying case for inspection. This exposes the laptop to increased risks from damage and especially from theft. In order to reduce the risks that you face, you should consider doing the following:

  • Keep the laptop with your carry-on baggage - Laptops are relatively fragile, as well as being an attractive target for theft. Keeping it with you on the plane is preferable to packing it in your checked luggage.
  • Be prepared to take it out for inspection - In the US and in some other countries, your laptop must be taken out of its bag or carrying case before it is passed through an x-ray scanner.
  • Keep you laptop in sight - You may be delayed getting through the metal detector or you may be pulled aside for additional screening. If this happens, make sure you keep your laptop in sight. If you are traveling in a group, one thing that you can do is to have the first person through security be the person who takes care of all the laptops.
  • Separate the data from the laptop - For most users, the information on a laptop is far more valuable than the laptop itself. One easy way to protect against the loss of data is to keep any key data separate from the laptop in a device such as a flash drive, CD-ROM, or DVD-ROM.
  • Secure the laptop with passwords - If you are unwilling or unable to separate the data from the laptop, at least put some kind of password protection on the laptop or on individual files or directories within the laptop.
  • Use alternative electronic devices - Mobile phones, iPads, and smaller electronic devices are not required to be taken out of your carry-on bag. However, all electronic devices have to be taken out ouf pocket and screened by security.
  • Store it in you laptop bag - With smaller laptops, you may be tempted to put it in the seatback pocket or an adjacent empty seat when you are not using it. If you do, you may forget it, so if you are not using it, keep it in your laptop bag or other carry on bag.

Advice for small electronics

In addition to using your personal electronic devices or other small electronics responsibly, you should also take same precautions you would use for your laptop to keep from using it. If you are not using your ebook reader, smartphone, iPod, or portable gaming system, don't leave it in the seat next to you or in the seatback pocket, put it in an appropriate protective case like an iPhone protector, and then put it in your backpack, briefcase, or other carry on luggage.

Lost, Stolen or Damaged Baggage

If your bag is lost, stolen, or damaged, whether on a domestic or international flight, your first step is to gather all the information you have about what happened, and be prepared to take steps to file a complaint with the appropriate company or agency.

When your luggage be lost, delayed, stolen, or damaged, you may be eligible for some kind of compensation from either the airline or from the TSA. Compensation for domestic flights in other countries will depend on the laws and the civil aviation regulations in that country. If your claim involves an international flight, you compensation may depend on the circumstances of that flight.

Other baggage issues

Other baggage issues that may affect your trip.

More baggage resources
Things you should not bring on board (video)
Key things to know of about baggage issues (audio)

Get the Baggage and Security Guide

If you subscribe to the Fear of Flying mailing list, you can also get access to a free copy of the Baggage and Security Guide. This ebook has details on what is prohibited and what is allowed in airports and airplanes, as well as advice on dealing with baggage and airport security issues. This may be useful if you are traveling to Turkey or to other locations that your travel company may have in mind for you, perhaps to go along with your balklänningar or Dutch trouwjurken wedding dress, or the Norwegian version, also known as a brudekjole, or the Portuguese version, called a vestidos de madrinha.

When it comes to some items, don't just consider the monetary cost. Even cheap wedding dresses can have a high emotional value and should be packed with care. After the wedding, it may be time for the bridesmaids to break out the black cocktail dresses. Most of this advice makes sense, even if you plan on staying in a hotel.

After downloading the Baggage and Security Guide and and if you are heading for a gambling vacation to a casino, be sure to review suggestions for traveling with large amounts of cash. Also, if you are entering the US and are a citizen of one of the visa waiver countries, you still may have to get prior approval to travel, and you can find out more about these requirements at ESTA USA. If you prefer to do your business research online, you can look at review company formation issues addressed at Guarded, Inc..

Things You Should Not Bring on Board

For more videos, visit the YouTube channel.

Andy Singer: Baggage Train

Cartoon by Andy Singer

Baggage basics for checked and carry-on items -- Revised 14 January 2017