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When travelling on airlines based in the US with a large backpack, I prefer to carry the bag onto the plane as part of my hand baggage allowance. Most foreign flag carriers, however, have a significantly more restrictive hand baggage allowance. I was caught off guard by this one time on New Zealand airlines and received my backpack with multiple broken straps and clips. I managed to repair it, and I'm still using the same pack, but I would like to avoid so many broken parts in the future.

Once, when flying Alitalia (flight was actually booked through Delta) I carried plastic wrap to the airport, and wrapped the entire bag in it before handing it over to the airline. @jpatokal recommends putting it into a giant, heavy-duty garbage bag in his answer to this question.

  • What are the pros and cons of using plastic wrap or a garbage bag?
  • Can anyone recommend any other, more effective techniques?
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    It is most important for proper handling that the backpack have a very easy location to grab that is strong enough for grabbing, and that all the loose straps be tied or clipped together. I take the waist straps and wrap them around each other so that the shoulder straps are clipped into one bundle, and have never had any trouble. – Phil Jan 14 '15 at 18:33
  • Another good way to deal with waist straps is to pull them back the other way, and clip them tight on the other side of the backpack. Apparently waist straps are deliberately designed to double back like this so you can keep them out the way when climbing – user568458 Jan 15 '15 at 0:05
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    From what I've seen of US air travel, it's just that most non-US airlines actually apply the the rules they've written down. The process in the US seems more like allowing the first people on to carry what they like, and those at the end have to make do. – Chris H Jan 16 '15 at 10:07
  • @ChrisH Most US airlines, in my experience, don't give a weight restriction like most foreign flag carriers. The only restriction is on the size of the bag, and that restriction essentially boils down to; will it fit in the overhead bins? This is certainly true on Delta which I fly regularly. – Chris Mueller Jan 16 '15 at 13:05
  • @ChrisMueller I'd guess about 50% of airlines I've flown from the UK on apply a weight restriction in economy. The sizes given in numbers (if given) when I've flown inside the US seem to be widely ignored in favour of "will it fit?" (and not even "will it fit without taking up the whole locker?"). As a result I make sure my camera bag will push under the seat in front and avoid emergency exit rows on a flight where it could be an issue. As the question covers a "large" backpack it could easily go either way. – Chris H Jan 16 '15 at 13:19
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Once, when checking an external frame backpack onto a Virgin Atlantic flight I was offered a giant, durable, resealable (great for security checks), clear plastic bag. It was similar to a clear trash bag but thicker and had the airline's logo on it. It seemed like a good solution prevent any straps or hooks from getting caught in the baggage handling.

Since that flight I've found that most legacy airlines have these. I've often encountered check-in agents that didn't know their airline had these, but in every case they asked their colleagues or manager and discovered they did. I've never been charged for one. I've gotten these in Europe, Asia and North America.

Here's an example of a bag I caught a photo of coming off a Delta flight from Tokyo Haneda:

backpack in a plastic bag

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    @ChrisMueller no experience with Air India unfortunately. Like I said every legacy airline I've asked for one has given me one. – Carl Jan 14 '15 at 20:40
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    I've also seen those handed out to people with buggies or prams or the like, if the checkin agent looks blank it might be worth asking for the bag to put a buggie / stroller / etc into, in case they only know of them for that use! – Gagravarr Jan 14 '15 at 23:04
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    Some airports do not make these bags available for this purpose. An example is Geneva, where they have the bags, but there are environmental rules saying that they can only give them out for car seats, not backpacks. What has worked for me in general has been to buy a roll of packing tape and use it to wrap up all the loose parts of the pack. – Ben Crowell Mar 16 '15 at 19:38
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    I've traveled with a large backpack many times, though only in Europe, but every time the person checking me in offered it right away, I never had to mention those plastic bags myself. And yes, every single airline/airport had it. – downhand May 5 '15 at 7:08
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    can we buy these bags anywhere? what do you call them so that i can search for it? thanks! – slayernoah May 8 '18 at 15:11
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Checked bags may be opened during screening. So the plastic wrap would be removed.

You could get a duffel bag with a draw string and put your backpack in it. That would offer more protection then a plastic bag, but it would take some room in your backpack to carry around when your not using the duffel.

The TSA's site has some tips.

  • I have actually seen people do this live. If I recall correctly they were Dutch backpackers. – JoErNanO Jan 14 '15 at 15:13
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If you buy a travelling backpack, i.e. a backpack that opens like a suitcase, normally they will have a pocket that you can zip the straps into, which keep them out of the way when checking in. Like this (courtesy from MEC's website):

tie pocket

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    That's true, and they're a very nice way to carry a soft suitcase. They're rubbish for hiking though - the weight is generally too far from your back and the back adjustment is poor if present. – Chris H Jan 16 '15 at 10:03
  • I added the linked image in the post. Check this out for future reference. ;) – JoErNanO Jan 16 '15 at 10:40
  • I've found that getting a backpack that will fit in the airlines carry on requirements is the way to go, that way you never need to check-in your bags. There are lots of them out there that fit into the most rigid airline restrictions yet allow enough space to carry stuff for backpacking cities for several months – EdmundYeung99 Jan 16 '15 at 10:47
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You can also use the (paying) plastic wrapping services that are often found in the airport terminal. This will ensure that all straps, handles, etc do not protrude, and thus will not be caught in the tapis roulant. If TSA/Security or whoever needs to access your bag, they will cut through the wrapping and should then replace it with their own heavy-duty wrap/duct tape.

For more information see this question.

In terms of the advantage, any wrapping method you use must be heavy duty, or at least capable of withstanding rolling conveyor belts, collisions with other luggage, baggage handling roughness, tarmac, rain, etc. That's why cooking plastic film might not do the trick, unless wrapped many times, and jpatokal mentions heavy duty garbage bag.

  • Thanks for the answer. Do you have a source for your claim that the TSA will replace the plastic wrap if they remove it? I have not heard that before. – Chris Mueller Jan 14 '15 at 15:20
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    The only thing I have is this answer to the afore-mentioned question. In all fairness, I never had security open my wrapped-up bag. – JoErNanO Jan 14 '15 at 15:21
  • I heard that airport wrapping services normally offer rewrapping free of cost after security destroyed their wrap. – Alexander Jan 15 '15 at 16:21
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The backpack I have has a pocket at the bottom with a cover that zips over all the straps sort of like what alanh mentions in his answer. That'll only help you if you consider this important enough the next time you buy a backpack, though.

Apart from that, I've also got a combined rain cover and transit bag. Something like this: http://www.gapyeartravelstore.com/highlander-backpack-bag-raincover.html

It's basically something halfway between a duffel bag and a rain cover.

  • That looks nice but they don't say how big it is (unlike the similar products). You want a good fit otherwise there's flappy bag to catch on things. – Chris H Jan 16 '15 at 10:06
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The other thing I've seen some bags come with is handy nylon+velcro organisers for straps. Kind of hard to describe, but here goes:

  • Short length of strap-style nylon, about 4-6 inches long.
  • Velcro on each end
  • Place horizontally across the long dangly end of your strap after tightening all the way/clipping where possible
  • Wrap the dangly end around it, rolling up into ball/cube/thing.
  • Fasten velcro.

The bag I've seen them on is this: http://www.tactical-kit.co.uk/hazard-4-second-front-12937-p.asp, and they can be seen in the photo of the tan bag with the waist strap to the front, on the side of the waist strap.

2

Not tried, but it strikes me you could use a baby stroller bag like this one. They're meant for use at carry-on/gate check, but I reckon there'd be no problem checking them in.

They also fold down quite small so you'd not waste too much space while you're backpacking.

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