Tips & Tricks: Fly better with baggage

My family recently had our vacation as part of our rhythm of rest and I wanted to share some tips from our flight experience that will be helpful to you as well.

Today’s tip: Fly better with baggage. It’s actually six different steps to improve your airport baggage experience (and not about carrying emotional baggage 😉)

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1. Get a travel luggage scale

Airlines have baggage weight requirements and, unless you’re a very experienced traveler who tell just by feel if a piece of luggage is than 50lb/22kg, you’ll need a way to weigh the baggage. Unfortunately, bags rarely fit or balance on a bathroom scale so you have to resort to the “standard” but asinine method of weighing yourself, weighing yourself while holding the luggage (over your head?) and then subtracting your weight from your weight with the luggage. But as Brian Regan famously and hilariously showed, that’s just crazy—and, more than that, inaccurate and probably impossible on your return trip anyway since most hotels don’t have bathroom scales. Unfortunately, due to the law of expanding luggage1 and the purchase of souvenirs, your luggage on the return trip is more likely to be the problem yet that’s when you’re less likely to be able to weigh it.

Instead, just buy a luggage scale. These small handheld scales attach to your suitcase handle and measure the weight as the luggage hangs. They’re small and light so you can slip them in your suitcase and always have a scale.

2. Plan what you’ll rearrange

Unfortunately, even if you weigh your luggage in advance, you might still have a hassle if the airport’s scale is calibrated differently than yours. It’s a pain in the neck when a bag is overweight and you have to move a few pounds to another suitcase—rifle through your suitcase to find 1.3 pounds while everyone in line stares daggers at you and looks at your dirt laundry. Yeah, not fun.

Better yet: prepare a few things that are dense, easily accessible, and for which you know the weight. Super easy to make a switch, no underwear exposure required.

3. Go over the weight limit

This might sound funny, but I typically *intentionally go over the weight limit for my baggage. Airlines have margin around their weight limit; if their limit is 50 pounds, they won’t make a stink if your bag is 51. After lots of trial and error, I found that US-flagged carriers typically won’t make you reppack unless you are more than 3 pounds over the limit.

Three pounds may not sound like much, but when you check 2 bags apiece on an international flight and have a family of 4, that’s 24 pounds or half a suitcase of extra stuff you can ship for free. Just make sure to follow tip #2 so that, if you do have to repack, you can easily rearrange things.

4. Use your baby exemptions

If you have a baby, most airlines will let you check a car seat, stroller, and/or infant bed for free, which is wonderful. Airlines don’t care if the stroller’s empty space is stuffed with diapers, if the infant bed has an extra blanket smushed inside, or if the the car seat is full of baby clothes.

Maximize your allowance by buying a car seat bag or a stroller bag. Not only will it keep your car seat or stroller clean, but you can fill the empty space inside with tons of other stuff, giving you almost another checked bag for free. I only pack mine with baby-related things in case someone checks, but we’ve never had someone check in over 8 years of doing this.

5. Maximize your carryon capacity

US-flagged airlines that aren’t budget airlines rarely, if ever, weigh or check bags that are taken as a carryon or personal item,2 which makes your carryon bag a good place for small, dense items like books. I’ve traveled internationally with a 60 pound carryon bag plus a 30-pound backpack and no one batted an eye.

A large carryon bag, though, won’t fit in the seat in front of you, which makes getting items you want on the plane inconvenient. What I do is pack a small bag inside the larger backpack of everything I want to use on the plane. Then, when I get to my seat the large backpack goes overhead and just the small bag goes under the seat in front of me.

6. Make sure nothing is lost

My Grandpa worked in the airline industry for over 20 years and he would tell the craziest stories about lost luggage. While the airlines do a great job of trying to identify lost luggage if your information isn’t on or in the bag, there’s not much they can do. My Grandpa thus insisted that we travel with our contact information on the outside and inside of our suitcases.

Rather than those flimsy paper tags the airlines give you, buy some nice, sturdy, luggage tags so that you don’t have to constantly write your information down and so they don’t get torn off. As a bonus, if you get a distinctive color of the tag, it can help you find your luggage at the baggage claim.

I recommend travel tags that have privacy protection; these show your name easily so staff can check the bag, but in order to see the rest of your information, someone would have to unscrew or remove the tag, which helps protect your privacy.

So there you go! Six quick tips to make your airplane baggage experience better.

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1. Codified by my Grandpa, and who worked 20+ years at the airline, the law of expanding luggage states that luggage on your return flight expands to take up more space and than it did on your departure flight, even if all the items are the same.

2. In my experience, Southeast Asian (but not Chinese-flagged) and budget airlines will check both the weight and size of carryon items, so this doesn’t always work. You have to have prior experience to know if you can do this.

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