Would you be ready to have your carry-on bag weighed and measured at the airport?
A probable disaster...
Do you think you're an organized and prepared traveler? Consider the following scenario and imagine how you would fare.
It's late at night and you’re in Belgium. In just a few hours, you'll be flying to Bangkok via Istanbul, where you’ll have a 12 hour layover to go enjoy the city. You'll be in Bangkok for just under 24 hours before hoping on a cheap regional flight to Myanmar, where you'll be spending the week, travelling to 3 different cities via train and ferry. It's adventurous, it's a bit crazy, and it's the kind of thing a lot of people are doing these days – making the most of a short amount of travel time, grasping every opportunity to enjoy a city.
But as you're gaining your last few hours of sleep in Brussels, somewhere in the world something bad is happening. An environmental disaster. An outbreak of war. An unexpected election result in a tumultuous region. Without warning, the price of oil rises. Skyrockets, in fact. And while commuters back home are waking up to a pricey car fill up, airline executives are having aneurysms as they imagine staying financially afloat.
Will airlines start cracking down? More like WHEN they start cracking down...
We already know that airlines are finding creative ways to earn a buck at every turn and unpredictable fuel hikes are one of the main reasons for it. In the face of particularly annoying checked baggage fees, more and more travelers are opting to just take carry-on only. And we are sneaking on bags that are pushing those carry-on boundaries, sometimes to ridiculous limits. So in this fictional situation, what's an airline likely to do when they wake up and realize their fuel prices have increased overnight.
They're going to start making some money and they're going to start paying attention to those carry-on bags. Immediately. They're going to make you demonstrate that you can fit your bag inside the metal form and they are going to weigh the bags too. By some estimates, close to 75% of carry-on bags are over the size and/or weight limit. Not all by a lot, but still certainly over, if only by a small amount. If you've ever been last to board a plane, you can attest to the incredible lack of overhead space. And almost everyone has experienced delays in takeoff and then in disembarking as we all take extra time stashing and stowing our heavy, oversize gear.
Would you be prepared to have your carry-on scrutinized? If you showed up at Brussels airport in the early morning hours, would you be ready to have your carry-on challenged? Would you be ready to check that bag? Would you check it straight through to Bangkok so you wouldn't have to worry about it in Istanbul? What would you do if it didn't show up in Bangkok? Would you be prepared to replace your belongings in 24 hours?
Prepare for strict rules.
I don't think my fictional scenario is all that far fetched and in fact is very probable and realistic, considering increased security, demands for greater efficiency in boarding and disembarking, and airline profit motivations. Carry on regulations can and do change without notice (Do you remember in August 2006 when regulations concerning liquids changed overnight? Welcome, 3-1-1 kit!) The reality is that airlines can insist you check carry-on at any point and it’s only a combination of short staff and high passenger volume that permits a slack system to continue.
As I plan my round the world flight, I plan on going 100% carry-on only. It will be easier for me when it comes to moving around on land and I’m sure my back will appreciate having a lighter load to carry. And I will eliminate the chance of losing my luggage as much as is humanly possible. But I found it surprisingly hard to find backpacks that fit my requirements. While there are endless small wheeled suitcases that are made to fit airline requirements, I wanted to go with a backpack. They weigh several pounds less than suitcases and are much easier to handle in the real world, whereas wheelies would fail on cobblestone, gravel paths, subway stairs.
Searching for the ideal carry on bag begins
Do you know the carry on dimensions for every airline in your itinerary? Here's a comprehensive list to help with your research!
Several well-known companies offered hiking and camping style backpacks that, while appropriate in terms of volume (35-55L), wouldn't work due to their dimensions. While aggravating, this is understandable, as hikers require long, narrow packs. This wasn't the best choice for me. The packs were comfortable and supportive, but the long dimensions didn't cut it and the plethora of exterior straps were unnecessary for my purposes and would eventually just snag or tear.
That left travel bags. While many of these have rigging and straps every bit as comfortable and supportive as a hike pack, they are often less technical and more bare bones. No exterior straps and loops, no sleeping bag compartments. They are meant for travelers and are designed to maximize space and minimize fuss. Great in theory, right?
Well, it drove me crazy to find one that fit carry-on regulations. Some, understandably, were quite large and obviously were never meant for carry-on But, time and time again, the smaller sized travel packs were 1-4 centimeters larger than carry-on dimensions. Why oh why oh why would you make a pack that was an inch or two over dimension? Who exactly is the market for these oh-so-close but ultimately useless bags? If I'm going to pay to check a bag, I'm gonna make sure it's worth it! Why would I buy a bag that was carry-on size at first glance but would never actually help me?
A second level of craziness? The reviews of these bags! Without exception, every single bag review would be subject to the "is this carry-on size?" question. And every time, a helpful staffer or client would respond that while it wasn't TECHNICALLY carry-on size, you might be able to scrunch it smaller if it wasn't too stuffed. Or that if you were a taller person, the bag would look smaller and you would be okay!! (really?) Who exactly leaves enough space in a bag to squish it? Human nature seems to say that if it has room, a person will fill it.
Is It Love?
In the end, I was thrilled to find my Osprey Porter 46. Designed as a travel bag with the max allowable carry on dimensions, it is ultra light, stylish, but very practical. It is comfortable as a backpack and looks grownup at the same time.
I'm so looking forward to travelling with it and, if I'm challenged at an airport, I'll be prepared!
After one year and the round-the-world trip, I've put all the pros and cons of the Osprey Porter 46 into a comprehensive review! You can find it here.
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
Anywhere in the World with Carry-On
10 Tips for Keeping Your Carry-On Safe
The Case for Carry-On and Ultra Light Packing
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Rucksack Roundup: Three Favourite Things I Always Travel With
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