Airlines May Reduce Carry-On Bag Sizes, Who Cares?

Not long ago, this week’s announcement that airlines may further reduce the already small size of allowed carry-on bags would have filled us with dread. Today we just shrugged.  

You see, we used to be a carry-on-only couple. It was an accomplishment we had worked hard to achieve. And it wasn’t easy either. Downsizing everything you need in life to fit into the space of a fourteen-inch square box is no small feat.

We didn’t get there overnight, for sure. It probably took years of weaning ourselves of various “necessities” so that we could travel for any length of time utilizing only the contents of our carry-on bags. And like most other travelers who manage to make do with small luggage we felt a certain amount of pride, and even a bit of superiority, in our abilities.

Oh, how we’d scoff at all the travel noobs struggling with their monstrous suitcases. What do they pack in those things anyway? Spare children?  

But then one day, while running with bags bouncing off our backs to catch a connecting flight at what was naturally the farthest possible reaches of an impossibly long airport, our carry-on-only lifestyle started to feel a little less like an accomplishment and a bit more like a fetish.

Suddenly a question occurred to us that neither of us had thought of in a really long time. Why are we traveling like this anyway? No one could quite remember.

Shannon's bag enjoying a coffee in Spain

Shannon’s bag enjoying a coffee in Spain

Sure, there are obvious reasons for packing small. It’s worth doing simply because carrying less crap is superior to carrying more. That’s especially true when your bus deliberately strands you outside of town in an attempt to coerce you into buying overpriced taxi rides. Having the freedom to walk past all the douchey drivers while waving a middle finger is worth every ounce of foregone gear.

Checked bag fees, the potential for lost luggage, and the fact that when your plane lands the only thing you want to do is head immediately to your destination are more good reasons for sticking with carry-ons.

So why have we been checking bags lately? A big reason is airport security.

Only Pomeranian-sized products allowed

Only Pomeranian-sized products allowed

Two years ago we finished our U.S. travels with a trip to Hawaii and Alaska. On that sojourn we took a total of seven flights in forty-five days. That meant dealing with airport security screening pretty much every week. Needless to say, buying and rebuying and then buying again, sunscreen, bug spray, and assorted other liquids and creams week in and week out got to be extremely irritating. Did I mention we hate to shop?

We would have had the same frustrations in South East Asia, a place where we found flying long distances often cheaper and always more convenient than taking the train. The only difference is that we finally wised up for our nine Asian flights and started checking our bags, normal-sized lotion bottles and all.

Suck on it TSA

Suck on it TSA

Imagine that, a whole 14 ounces of shampoo all for our very own. You have no idea how exciting that is unless you’ve tried to live out of a TSA approved toiletry bag for the past year. But more than reveling in the privilege of owning adult-sized bottles of skin cream, checking bags also allowed us to bring along other useful items that are routinely confiscated (corkscrew) or would land us in prison (sharp knife) if we tried to smuggle them through airport security.

Once we started checking our carry-on sized backpacks we made a surprising discovery: we’ve rarely had to wait for them at our destination.

These days our flights normally take us across international borders and land us in long immigration lines. By the time we get our passports stamped our backpacks are usually already waiting for us.

Fulltime travel means always using shitty knives <br> (yes, that's me trying to dice ginger with a freaking bread knife.)

Full time travel means always using shitty knives
(yes, that’s me trying to dice ginger with a freaking bread knife.)

As a bonus, we get to spend less of our lives contorting into coach class seats. Because we no longer need to compete with every other airline passenger for limited overhead bin space we can wait until final boarding to get on the plane. Checking bags turns out to be a more comfortable and even a lower stress way to fly.

And those weren’t the only surprises. Walking through the airport unburdened by baggage was a revelation. Why didn’t we think of doing it sooner?

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13 Comments on “Airlines May Reduce Carry-On Bag Sizes, Who Cares?”

  1. The Anxious Anthropologist June 11, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    That’s hilarious reading. Each side has its pitfalls


    • Paul June 11, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

      Charity shops are full of the clothes you need on your holiday and you can donate them when your are leaving town. Our problem is that we do the around world trip with to many different climates, yes poor planning. Taffy


      • Brian June 12, 2015 at 2:45 am #

        We pretty much have to pack for 4 seasons as well, although we do try to miss the worst of the winter.


  2. Where's Zoe Now? June 11, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    It’s definitely true that “carry-on only!!!!!!” is a bit of a cult 😉 Sometimes it’s a good idea — you’re going on a short trip or you really really don’t want to lose your luggage, but you are so right that lugging a limit-sized carry-on bag through an airport while connecting flights is miserable.

    (One exception that I know of to the waiting-for-bags point: in Australia, and I imagine New Zealand, you have to have your bag checked by quarantine officers even if you’re a citizen who cruises through Immigration, so waiting for bags can be an issue)


    • Brian June 12, 2015 at 2:44 am #

      We haven’t yet been to Australia so that’s new to me. Wouldn’t all bags need to go through quarantine or just checked bags? Seems silly to only quarantine some stuff.


      • Where's Zoe Now? June 12, 2015 at 3:00 am #

        It’s every bag, but it definitely seems to go faster with just a carry on… That said, I’m a citizen, which speeds up immigration a lot, so maybe it’s not a huge difference in speed through the airport if you’ve already spent ages in an immigration line…


  3. mytimetotravel June 11, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    I definitely travel light – my “big” bag is 21-22 inches (depends on how you measure it) but I have never gone carry-on only, for the reasons you cite. I don’t take full size bottles of shampoo etc – liquids weigh heavy – but I do take more and bigger than will fit in the infamous one quart bag. i also take a metal nail file and a corkscrew and sometimes a hiking stick.

    Plus, no lugging two bags through terminals, and no concerns about overhead space. Even with all my electronics and pharma, and a change of underwear and top, my actual carry on fits under the seat in front of me. No fuss boarding and it makes it easier to change seats should there be extra space on the plane. Last time that happened (on a trans-Atlantic flight) my seatmate on the aisle didn’t want to move away from his bag in the overhead, so I moved and wound up with no seatmate and more leg room.


    • Brian June 12, 2015 at 3:04 am #

      Our bags are carry-on size but like you we travel with two of them each. One we can check the other holds all our electronic gear and other stuff we never want to be separated from. I’ll put that bag under the seat unless its a long flight and actually want to utilize the tiny bit of legroom that’s available.

      Even though all our bags are cabin size many flights (especially international carriers it seems) don’t technically allow you to carry two of them on the plane. So we’d end up checking for that reason as well.


      • mytimetotravel June 12, 2015 at 10:01 am #

        My actual carry on is a medium sized day bag. If I get the window seat (which I do much of the time), after take off it fits nicely in the curve of the fuselage beside me, freeing up whatever space there is in front of me.(I remember one flight where the “foot space” was mostly occupied by a box for the entertainment system.


  4. Bulldog Travels June 12, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

    I’ll bet the baggage makers are rejoicing! I new way to advertise the bags they have that fit the new measurements!


  5. Mallee Stanley June 13, 2015 at 12:38 am #



  6. Earth Under my Feet June 15, 2015 at 6:19 am #

    Great post. I can identify with all of it 🙂


  7. vjdunlap June 16, 2015 at 8:58 am #

    Reblogged this on VJD's Around the World and commented:
    Mostly I have gone to checking luggage so I can carry my camera and technology gear with me. Oh, and I have a 22 inch suitcase…


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