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It's quite common, that in addition to cabin size hand baggage you can take also smaller bag like handbag or small laptop case to the plane. I'm interested in knowing if someone hasn't been allowed to take average size laptop bag as an additional "handbag". Is this usual?

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For North America I bought this piece of tat: reviews.argos.co.uk/1493-en_gb/2859785/reviews.htm No chance of usefully using it in Europe. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Dec 28 '11 at 1:44

8 Answers 8

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The standard rule is one bag for the overhead, plus one small "purse" that fits under the seat in front of you.

Caveats:

  • Airport and airline staff are busy. They are unlikely to pay attention to what you're trying to bring on the plane in many cases. That said,
  • When you get on the plane, if you are later in the boarding process or if the flight is full (which is very common nowadays), you may find that there is no room in the overhead bin. This is your problem, not the airline's. Some people feel like it's the flight attendants' responsibility to magically cause 6 suitcases to fit in the space of 3. Believe me, if they had that kind of power to alter the laws of physics, they wouldn't be working as flight attendants.
  • You may also find yourself sitting in a seat where there is NO room under the seat in front of you. This may be because you are in an exit row, or behind a bulkhead, galley, or bathroom, or in a business class or first class where there are fancy reclining seats that go all the way to the ground and have no room for storage below them.
  • No-frills airlines (RyanAir, etc) operate on a business model that consists of torturing you unnecessarily, then charging you fees to remove the torture. They may be very strict about what you can bring on board. If you're on a super-cheap airline, check their website for specific rules and expect them to be enforced.

On US domestic flights, if you simply can't find a place for your carry on bags, you will be able to "gate check" it. People are unnecessarily terrified of the "gate check". Here's how a gate check works:

  • Flight attendent takes your bag and puts a special tag on it
  • He or she gives your bag to a luggage handler who puts it in the cargo hold in the very front
  • When the flight lands, the very first thing that happens is that the luggage handlers remove all the gate checked bags and bring them right up to the front of the plane
  • By the time you're getting off, your bag is usually waiting for you -- in the worst case scenario you might have to wait a minute or two.

So the frequent flyer's best plan is:

  • Carry a rollerboard with clothes and stuff that you don't need on the flight
  • Carry a laptop bag, purse, or knapsack with everything you need for the flight
  • If you can't find room in the overhead bin, gate check your rollerboard and enjoy the flight.
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The 'plus one' is very much a North American thing. You don't tend to get that in Europe, at least not on reasonably-priced airlines. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Dec 28 '11 at 1:35
    
@Tom that's not my experience. Most full-service airlines I've travelled in Europe allow for a "personal item", which can in practice be a small bag. I've taken a laptop bag, SLR bag, and coat on without a problem. –  Andrew Ferrier Jun 17 '12 at 20:41
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Gate check, on the other hand, is an almost exclusively North American thing in my experience. I have only ever seen this in Europe where overheads were full or the bag far too big, at which point the bag was sent to be fully checked (claim at carousel). I guess you want to avoid that. –  Andrew Ferrier Jun 17 '12 at 20:44
    
@AndrewFerrier I've only ever had something like gate check in Europe once, and that bag ended up in the crew coat cabinet, together with strollers and a few crutches of other passengers, was returned on disembarcation. –  jwenting 5 hours ago
    
In Business or First class, there are always some lockers around where you can (let) store your bag. The nicest solution I encountered was in the frontmost cabin of the Lufthansa B-747 (which was Business class at the time), where they had a real cabinet for these things, and everybody could access it during the flight. –  Max Wyss 3 hours ago

From experience with a number of airlines in Europe, your laptop bag does not count to your cabin baggage limit. It's treated similarly to a lady's purse, so if it indeed looks like a laptop bag (i.e. has an arm strap and everything), it should be allowed without a problem.

Please note that some low-cost companies (cough Ryanair cough) still insist that you need to have exactly one bag, regardless of its function.

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I believe a fellow traveller recently complained to me about EasyJet being as evil as Ryanair in this regard but I'm not sure. –  hippietrail Oct 24 '11 at 10:50
    
Learning from the best, as they say.. –  mindcorrosive Oct 24 '11 at 10:51
    
I'm not interested in low-cost companies, they have some exotic practices all intented to bring them more money. But for bigger companies klm.com/travel/cz_en/prepare_for_travel/baggage/hand_baggage/… and swiss.com/web/EN/services/baggage/carryon_baggage/Pages/… obviously line away normal size laptops. But probably they don't really care.. –  user44556 Oct 24 '11 at 10:59
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@user44556: You should include that in your question. We prefer questions to be very specific here for just this reason. –  hippietrail Oct 24 '11 at 15:54
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@user44556 In my limited experience and that of people around me, low-cost companies such as Easyjet and Ryanair are out to get you and will charge you or bar you for having two small bags when the rules say one. High-cost companies are more lenient on the number of bags (laptop bag plus clothes bag is a common sight and raises no eyebrow), but I once had to check in a bag with Lufthansa because it was overweight by less than 1kg, so there's no guarantee. –  Gilles Oct 24 '11 at 22:57

In North America, using Star Alliance airlines (Air Canada, United, Continental) I have never had an issue with one backpack (technically my laptop case, since my laptop is in it - this is the sort of backpack you get at conferences, not the kind you go hiking in or camp across Europe with, but it's full of stuff beyond just the laptop) and one small bag (labelled a "tote" by the vendor) with clothes etc in it. I have seen people with roll-aboards that could have easily held both my items. When I go for 4 days or less, I go carry on only :-) However when I get onto a very small plane, I sometimes gate check the tote, because their overhead compartments can't hold much more than a coat.

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Us travellers usually call this small kind of backpack a "daypack" ... Except when we have to wear both at the same time and it invariably becomes a "frontpack" (-: –  hippietrail Oct 24 '11 at 15:51

Discount/cheap airlines in Europe (Ryanair, Wizzair, EasyJet(?)) are very strict about "1 item of hand luggage total" rule. Even if you want to carry 2 very small items instead of one maximum size it's not allowed. I've seen multiple "scandals" with airport personnel enforcing this rule and passengers trying to reason with them based on common logic. Passengers never win and in several cases it ended up with passengers being escorted from the airport. In best case scenarios it ends with 20-40 Euro luggage fee and in-place repacking.

The bottom line is - check the rules of the airline you are flying with and obey them instead of relying on common sense.

After seeing these incidents I try to travel with either only one bag, or, at least, in a configuration that can be assembled into one bag.

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The reconfiguration ability is key. Once when I checked a bag and had only my backpack to carry on, the checkin agent (miles from the gate) insisted on weighing the backpack and pronounced it too heavy. She wanted me to move things into the checked bag. I keep a "pocket bag" in there, so I took it out and moved things into there from the backpack, whereupon she was content and let me proceed. Around the corner, I put everything back into the backpack :-) –  Kate Gregory Oct 29 '11 at 17:09

In my experience, the only practical criteria is that the "personal item" has to fit under the seat in front of you, so that it does not take up space in the overhead bins.

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There is no "rule of thumb" for things like this but I can probably put a few guidelines:

  1. If it's of the size of the small suitecase it's probably too big.
  2. You shouldn't be able to roll it.
  3. Don't stuff your back pack as you would a suitcase it is likely to be frowned upon.
  4. A small bag looking like a dufflebag is probably not a good idea.

Beyond that you are probably at the mercy of the gatekeepers at the airport.

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Be aware that RyanAir, EasyJet and many other LCC (low cost carriers) are EXTREMELY pedantic about the one piece of cabin luggage. This includes a jacket you may be carrying, a hat, a netbook, anything. It all has to fit in one piece of valid-sized luggage, or be checked. And if you're trying to check when you reach the gate, you're in trouble :/

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Lots of now outdated information here - in defence of RynaAir who I just flew with, they never measured or weighed my main bag (I wasn't hoping they didn't, it would have fit just fine in their sizer) or my smaller additional bag they now allow free too (laptop bag probably would have been pushing it though). I think this is the equivalent of a handbag for women, but the sizer for this second carry-on is very generous.

They also didn't mind that I wrapped my coat round my waist and had an SLR and hat round my neck. It's not all doom and gloom!

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