Sometimes the overhead bins get full and the flight attendants will start collecting bags to put in with the rest of the luggage, but I keep insulin (diabetic) in my handheld bag, as I may need it during the flight (not to mention it might go bad if it was stowed with the other luggage due to the temperatures) - without sounding like an ass and saying "my bag is more important than your bag", what can I do to avoid this situation?

Yes, boarding early to ensure I get my bag up there first is a good idea, but not always possible when there is a short amount of time to change flights (especially in a large airport).

Is there anything I can do about this, or perhaps a way to resolve it more discretely?

  • 7
    Travelling in first or business would be another approach.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 8, 2015 at 15:17
  • 47
    Have a small bag, and put it under the seat in front of you? That's what BA advise at least
    – Gagravarr
    Sep 8, 2015 at 15:18
  • 8
    Carry your physician's prescription easy to reach, and show it to the attendant if any trouble arises. Check with the company their policy regarding medicine. Sep 8, 2015 at 18:30
  • 42
    @Relaxed - for the average traveler, recommending that they travel in business or first class is about as practical as recommending that they charter a private jet.
    – Johnny
    Sep 9, 2015 at 0:56
  • 5
    @Johnny It was merely a casual remark. But your comment, while apparently meant seriously, is actually much sillier than mine. I have occasionally seen business fares that were only a few hundred euros more expensive than coach on transatlantic flights and a random search to leave tomorrow for JFK shows fares around €2000-3000. Expensive, possibly too much for you and certainly for me, but not out of reach for mere mortals with a middle class income. Chartering a private jet is at least an order of magnitude more expensive, the price of a small car or many people's yearly income.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 9, 2015 at 7:02

9 Answers 9


"My bag has medication in which I may need during the flight" would normally be sufficient to get the cabin crew to select a different bag. You bag is more important than other people's.

  • 14
    I have seen attendants make people take the medicine out and store it in a bag that would fit under the seat or in a pocket.
    – lazarusL
    Sep 8, 2015 at 17:14
  • 21
    @lazarusL putting your important medication in the smallest bag possible (so you really aren't using the meds as an excuse) is a good thing, but insulin have to be stored between 36F to 46F for the length of the trip. Take the physician's prescription with you so you can show to the attendants in any doubt Sep 8, 2015 at 18:05
  • 10
    Right. OP wouldn't sound like an ass. The contents of my bag are useful, but I can actually keep alive without them. It's a different ball-park.
    – A E
    Sep 8, 2015 at 18:42
  • 5
    @IazarusL: Sure. Using a small bag would be sensible. However some airlines (e.g. budget airlines) are ridiculously strict about only allowing one piece of cabin luggage, so this may not be practical if the questioner wants to bring along a piece of reasonable sized cabin baggage. A route then may be to place smaller luggage inside larger luggage.
    – abligh
    Sep 8, 2015 at 18:50
  • 1
    @clcto I'm pretty sure I've heard that repeatedly on transatlantic flights. Presumably to keep the way to the emergency exits free from any possible obstruction.
    – Voo
    Sep 10, 2015 at 19:30

If your handheld bag is small enough to go under the seat in front of you, it won't be taken from you. If you want to bring a large roll-a-bord to save checking a bag, you can do that, but keep the things you genuinely need during the flight in a separate smaller bag. Also, do not choose a seat, such as the first seat in economy, that doesn't have a "seat in front of you" to use. (Chances are, a small bag would be squished into the full bin for you, especially if it contained medication, but you don't want to take that chance.) With luck, the large bag will get an overhead bin rather than being gate checked, but you won't be relying on luck to keep the small bag with you.

  • 1
    FWIW not all seats have seats in front of them. Obviously the first seat doesn't but some of the middle seats don't either. Like those near the exit. Of course, the OP could just preferentially not sit in those seats when they're choosing their seating assignments!
    – neubert
    Sep 8, 2015 at 15:23
  • 1
    Emergency exit seats often cannot have bags placed on the floor either. Sep 12, 2015 at 22:46

You could wear a fanny pack (a.k.a. hip pack) and keep your meds in that. Then you wouldn't even need to put it under the seat in front of you - it'd just be around your waist the whole time.


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  • 27
    NB Fanny pack is the North American term, but fanny is vulgar in many other English-speaking regions; bum bag or bum pack may be preferable. They are often marketed as waist packs or hip packs as well.
    – choster
    Sep 8, 2015 at 16:52
  • 5
    Also, insulin have to be kept refrigerated. It has to be a thermal bag with ice packs. A waist pack that large will raise eyebrows. Sep 8, 2015 at 18:07
  • 18
    @choster and in the US bum bag could be seen as vulgar; although I suspect the most common initial interpretation among people not familiar with other English dialects would be that it was a bag carried by someone who's homeless. Waist/hip pack would be fine here. Sep 8, 2015 at 18:46
  • 9
    What I find funny about both terms is that nobody wears it on their "bum" (which is the meaning of "fanny" in USA)
    – WGroleau
    Sep 8, 2015 at 18:49
  • 7
    If you want to be groovy and non-offensive, call it a "belt pouch". ;-)
    – Dronz
    Sep 8, 2015 at 20:40

First, make sure the bags you have fall within the airline's official limits. They vary by airline and a few times by aircraft-type within an airline. They always ask to store the biggest bags first, so your chances of being asked will be much smaller if you are among those that simply fit.

Take a carry on and a personal item which is something allowed by the majority of airlines. A personal item has a smaller size-limit and is therefore even less likely to be asked to be checked. In that bag, you put your most essential things, including prescription medications and documents.

Book a seat behind another. This guarantees you will have room for small to mid-size bag. Then, if asked, just tell them you will place it under the seat. Other people's bag do not end up in there, so it would be hard for them to argue. In the end, if you must to, the important line works best for medical reasons, so if it comes to that, just say it nicely. They are usually accommodating.

  • 7
    I've been reminded "the hard way" several times recently that the official limit is physically too big for the overheads in some aircraft.
    – WGroleau
    Sep 8, 2015 at 18:50
  • 1
    Yes, that does happen. Also note that there is an official weight limit which is rarely checked, but it's good to stay within.
    – Itai
    Sep 8, 2015 at 19:38
  • 1
    @WGroleau Yes, that's especially true on small regional jets. In those cases (at least in my experience in the U.S.,) the airline will normally put your bag in the cargo hold and return it to you in the jetway as you deplane.
    – reirab
    Sep 8, 2015 at 21:41
  • Normally. But at least once, they made me go to baggage claim. And once, I watched the guy ignore the hole offered for him to slide the bag onto the ramp, instead picked up over the rail and dropped it three feet.
    – WGroleau
    Sep 20, 2015 at 20:48

In addition to very good other answers:

Do not use a rollaboard. Those are the most popular for going to the hold. Some airlines guarantee the first X pieces in cabin then systematically start checking in other hand luggage. Yes, I am looking at you, RyanAir. I'm always one of the last passengers to board and always travel with a backpack. They never ask me to check it in while all rollaboards around me get checked in. In fact, I'm very grateful to RyanAir that they started using this system. I used to have to squeeze my backpack under the seat in front of me (and often that really requires squeezing), while with the present system there is always plenty of place left in the overhead compartments, even when boarding dead last.

My assumption is that they also dislike putting bags in the hold that look like they won't survive some tossing around.

  • Roll-aboard: bag with wheels. If they "dislike putting bags in the hold that look like they won't survive some tossing around," I don't know whether that's good or bad. Because the results of ABUSE, no matter how severe are always called "normal wear and tear."
    – WGroleau
    Sep 20, 2015 at 20:51

This is one of the biggest worries I have when travelling, and it's undoubtedly because of a less critical issue than yours. I often travel with a lot of (fairly valuable) photography equipment and so I do my utmost to keep it with me at all times. Only had to check them in once so far, and it was because of an unrelated issue. I have no doubt that if you tell them about your medication they wouldn't insist on taking the bag away from you.

If you need more reassurance, perhaps you may want to consider a travel vest. I use a travel vest by Scottevest and can fit a lot of fairly bulky stuff in it alone. I'm not sure about how bulky insulin medication is, but having had a quick look on the internet about some options out there, they would have no problem fitting in it. As the vest is something you wear, it's not something you're going to be asked to check in.

  • 1
    The vest is a good idea in general, but keeping insulin close to the body could cause it to heat up beyond the recommended 86°F limit mentioned in one of the comments. Sep 12, 2015 at 15:56

If you let the attendants know that you are keeping insulin that is needed for a medical condition they have to actually do their absolute best to help you with that. They don't want any lawsuits or attention being brought to them about poor customer handling. If they are close to asking it to be put on below the plane maybe ask if they can store the insulin somewhere cool for you on the upper part of the cabin?


If it's really important many airlines have affiliate credit cards that grant you early boarding and thus make it very likely you'll have space. These cards almost always carry hefty annual fees but usually waive them in the first year.


"X airlines is inviting our business class customers, frequent flyers, and those who require additional assistance to board now. Other customers will be boarding shortly."

Have you tried boarding early?

  • 1
    @ Mark - the very first call (on every flight I have caught in a long time) is only for people with children, frequent flyer privileges, or with medical needs, as well as business/first class. The 2nd through last calls are the zone specific ones.
    – Scott
    Sep 9, 2015 at 4:26
  • 1
    Yep, tried that too ("you're not in business class!"). I suppose one could argue medical, but getting wheeled onboard is possible a bit much.
    – Mark Mayo
    Sep 9, 2015 at 4:32
  • 2
    This adds zero information, since the question already acknowledges that boarding early is sometimes a possibility but also points out that it isn't an option if you arrive late from a connecting flight. In any case, the asker doesn't require assistance: they just require that their cabin bag travel in the cabin, rather than the hold. Sep 9, 2015 at 7:40
  • 1
    @David - Assistance takes many more forms than pushing a wheelchair. This is one form of assistance.
    – Scott
    Sep 9, 2015 at 8:18
  • 2
    It's a good option if you're at the gate well in advance, but as the OP notes, "boarding early [is] not always possible when there is a short amount of time to change flights (especially in a large airport)." Sep 9, 2015 at 14:14

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