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I often travel in Europe with low-cost companies, bringing just a hand luggage with me. When the flight is full, it is asked to passengers if there are some "volunteers" to put their luggage for free in the luggage area of the aircraft.

I once was designed as volunteer and didn't dare to say "No", because I had nothing valuable in my luggage that time. However, my luggage was damaged (broken handgrip) during the flight and I never had any refund.

I'd like to know if I can categorically refuse next time, especially when I bring my laptop with me, which is very valuable.
Is there any legal basis where I can politely say "I will bring my hand luggage with me in cabin, even under my seat" ?

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    Almost certainly not. If there is no space, there is no space, something has to give and it's a safety issue as well. Some airlines have a (smaller) size that's guaranteed to be accepted (in particular because you can put it under the seat if overhead bins are full). Also, usually they explicitly warn that if there aren't enough volunteers, they will simply pick people (often the ones that enter last). – Relaxed Dec 19 '16 at 10:05
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    Also note that you can also pay a premium fare or fly with legacy airlines. If you want all the benefits that come with low-cost airlines, you have to accept some constraints. – Relaxed Dec 19 '16 at 10:10
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    OT hence comment: they should let you take your laptop out of the bag. (And obviously you should make sure not to leave your passport in it!) But if you want to be safe, take a backpack and they won't even measure it. – Peter Taylor Dec 19 '16 at 10:55
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    Yes, you can refuse, but if you bag cannot be safely stowed, either in the overhead, under the seat or, in rare cases, in the closet, it will not be allowed in the cabin and you will probably not be allowed to fly. – Johns-305 Dec 19 '16 at 15:46
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    What you can say though is "I have a laptop/important medicines/valuable jewelry/etc... that I cannot check" and then remove those items from your bag and take them with you. If you carry a smaller personal bag with such items, you can store that under the seat in front of you and the airline will just check your larger bag. – Zach Lipton Dec 19 '16 at 18:13
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There are no laws that give you the right to carry baggage onto an airplane, that is a privilege afforded to you by the airline. So there is no legal basis for you to refuse what is asked of you by a flight crew member in this regard. And before someone goes whatif.. yes there maybe some exceptions, like medical issues that mandate keeping a carry on bag with life support gear, etc

On an airplane, the flight crew has the final word and failure to obey a crew directive is grounds to be removed from the plane.

The fact that your luggage handle got damaged is likely due to airport handling at your destination, not the airline staff handling of your bag when you were forced to check it. And damage such as that can happen to anyone. The taxi driver taking you to your hotel could tear your handle when he throws your bag in the back.

Rule of thumb with carry on luggage, always pack items of value in an easily accessible location and perhaps in their own pouch, as even on full service airlines overhead space gets filled and some passengers have to gate check their bags. And no, full service airlines won't take no as an answer either.

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Can I refuse to place my hand baggage in luggage area when flight is full?

Yes. But you won't be flying on that aircraft at that time.

As mentioned by @Relaxed, this is a safety issue and airlines are adamant about such matters. The most you could hope for is the sympathy of crew (unlikely) or another passenger who might agree to swap their luggage for yours, but they would have to volunteer, or be bribed by you, to do so.

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