Airlines have different policies when it comes to carrying luggage. The weight, size and the amount of luggage you are allowed to carry can differ per flight, and even per ticket. To avoid fines or extra costs, it is recommended to check before departure how much luggage you can carry.
Most travellers are aware of this and check with their airline what they can carry on their flight. However, many travellers are unaware that additional luggage guidelines apply for a trip to the USA, such as locking your luggage with a special TSA lock. Additionally, it is mandatory to apply for an ESTA visa.
Airline luggage rules
Airlines make a distinction between three types of luggage: hand luggage, hold luggage and non-standard luggage (also called special luggage). Some objects may be carried in the hold, but not in your hand luggage. Other special luggage must be reserved in advance. One piece of hand luggage is generally included in the ticket, other pieces of luggage often have to be booked extra for a fee.
On most flights, one piece of hand luggage, such as a backpack, travel bag or small trolley can be carried free of charge. The allowed dimensions and maximum weight vary depending on the airline and the type of ticket booked (for example, economy or business class). The maximum dimensions are often around 55 by 40 by 20 centimetres. The maximum weight of hand luggage is usually between 7 and 10 kilograms, although some airlines do not have a maximum. Always check the website of the airline for the dimensions and weight of your suitcase or bag.
Liquids, aerosols, creams and gels with a capacity of more than 100 millilitres may not be carried as hand luggage. Liquids less than 100 millilitres need to be carried in a transparent plastic bag. Naturally, firearms, sharp objects and blunt striking objects may not be carried in the hand luggage.
Hold luggage and non-standard luggage
Depending on the airline, additional costs may be charged for carrying hold luggage. With some airlines, hold luggage is included in the ticket, and 20 to 30 kilos can be carried for free, while other airlines charge extra for this. Keep an eye on the maximum weight, and weigh the suitcase before departure. The costs of too heavy luggage can be quite high.
Virtually all items may be carried in the hold luggage, as long as the items are not dangerous. Liquids are also allowed as long as they are not flammable or otherwise hazardous.
Non-standard luggage refers to luggage that is heavier than normal, has a strange shape or is fragile. This includes, for example, bicycles, baby carriages or larger musical instruments. Pets are also considered to be non-standard luggage. Special luggage may be subject to additional fees and must sometimes be reserved.
Luggage rules of U.S. border control
In addition to the rules of the airline, the terms and conditions of the U.S. authorities must also be observed. The most important advice is the use of a TSA lock. TSA stands for Transport Security Administration, a security agency of the U.S. Homeland Security, which monitors the safety of travellers in the United States, including at airports. TSA was established as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001.
For a trip to the USA, it is recommended to lock the suitcase or bag with a special TSA lock. This is a lock that can be opened by the border control staff using a special key. TSA locks are available in various forms: as a combination lock, lock with key or lock with key card. TSA locks can be recognized by a red diamond-shaped symbol. Many suitcases have a built-in TSA lock. Although the use of a TSA lock is not mandatory, it can save a lot of hassle and prevent a damaged suitcase. Customs staff can quickly and easily check luggage with a TSA lock. Luggage that is not equipped with a TSA lock might be forced open by the customs officer.
In addition to the luggage rules, also keep the ESTA in mind, the mandatory travel authorisation for the United States. Travellers without a valid ESTA cannot check in for a flight to the USA. Travellers who do not yet have a valid ESTA visa and are leaving in the near future can submit an urgent application for an ESTA, which is generally processed within one hour.