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There are two ways to define baggage allowances on flights. IATA:

  • Weight Concept: measured by the total weight of checked-in baggage, which is shown as a weight amount on the ticket (e.g. 20 kg or 45 lb).
  • Piece Concept (PC): measured by the number of pieces of checked-in baggage (shown as PC on the ticket).

Until last week, I had never had or even heard of the "piece concept" being applied outside flights to/from the US, with essentially the entire rest of the world using the "weight concept".

However, when flying from Japan to Australia with ANA, at check-in I was told my 25 kg bag exceeded the 23 kg piece limit and I would have to pay a surcharge for the extra weight. The same bag had been accepted without question on three previous flights during the same trip, all of which were also to or within Japan.

I initially assumed the check-in person was mistaken, but much to my astonishment the fine print of my ticket did indeed say BAGGAGE: 2PC, instead of the expected BAGGAGE: 30KG. Why?

The only reason I can think of: I purchased the ticket off ANA's international website, priced in USD, so I presume this somehow triggered it into applying the piece concept. But this still makes no sense, because the piece concept is (in my limited understanding) an FAA requirement/standard and not applicable to either origin or destination here.

(In case you were wondering: in the end the surcharge was waived, because our group combined had a 9 piece allowance (thanks Star Gold) and we used only three of it.)

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  • ANA seems to have a blanket 2pc limit for economy passengers: ana.co.jp/en/us/travel-information/baggage-information/…
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Apr 27 at 0:02
  • @JonathanReez Huh, TIL. Make that an answer? Commented Apr 27 at 7:13
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    Why? Because this is another way for the airline to squeeze more money out of a customers. Once one airline starts it the others follow eventually. ANA is finally catching up. 23kg/piece in economy is pretty much standard these days.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Apr 27 at 12:36
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    Isn't the real difference between the two whether you can split your weight allowance on several smaller pieces of luggage? Have you seen allowances of 50 kg or more that you could use in full for one piece of luggage? In practice, bags between 23 and 32 kg may or may not be included depending on the carrier, route, fare, etc. but anything heavier than that would be very troublesome for the baggage handlers.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 27 at 14:49
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    @Hilmar I have to disagree. Before, most european airlines had a weight limit of 20kg - this was pretty much standard throughout my youth. Now it's typically 1 piece @ 23kg (except low cost carriers). For the average "holiday traveler" who is bringing one large suitcase, the change from weight concept to piece concept actually brought an increase in allowance. Airlines always try to find new sources of income, I agree, but this is not one of them.
    – Sabine
    Commented Apr 28 at 20:12

1 Answer 1

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As mentioned in a comment, this seems to be ANA regular luggage allowance, not something specific to this flight or the way you booked your ticket. I thought airlines in Europe actually combined both restrictions but after double-checking, it seems they also apply the “piece concept”: BA, Lufthansa, KLM. So it's definitely not restricted to the US.

Incidentally, 23 kg / 50 pounds is roughly the upper bound for a weight that can be lifted safely with two arms (e.g. NIOSH lifting equation). That's only true under ideal conditions (which are unlikely to be met when loading a plane) and you can easily find other industries breaking that rule but heavier bags definitely require special handling, at least in theory. That may be an additional rationale for airlines to use that limit and require a surcharge or premium fare for heavier bags.

For all these reasons, the most practical advice is to assume that anything over 23 kg could be an issue and to double-check the fine print if you need more.

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    I believe the last time I flew in Europe on a ticket with 'weight concept' luggage was in 2014. Indeed, also most European airlines now work with the 'piece concept'. Still, one piece is usually limited to 23kg, which for a surcharge can be extended to 32kg. Most, if not all airlines prohibit single items heavier than 32kg. These slightly odd numbers (23 and 32kg) are AFAIK just metric conversions of 50 and 70 pounds. Commented Apr 28 at 15:02
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo That seems likely, the NIOSH lifting equation uses pounds as well. I don't have the documentation at hand but IIRC some European norms also have somewhat odd numbers (21 kg?) as a guideline but if the rules were initially formulated in metric units it would be just as easy to round it down to 20 and 30 kg.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 29 at 1:07
  • It's not a rule, the NIOSH lifting equation is a recommendation only.
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 30 at 21:14
  • @user71659 Yes? Even if it was law, it wouldn't apply to European or Asian airlines either. The reason I mention it is that this is also a fact of human biology and the reason European norms (also mere recommendations for the most part) converge on similar values.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 1 at 2:21
  • Incidentally, as I already alluded to in my answer, a full analysis of baggage handlers' work would almost certainly conclude that routinely lifting up to 50 lbs without knowing how heavy each bag is not recommended. So I am not suggesting airlines are really applying the NIOSH equation (or any other similar norm) in good faith. What I am saying is that going over what's been found to be a maximum in ideal condition is surely something that would be trickier when negotiating with trade union, considering potential liability, etc.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 1 at 2:28

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