The recent growth in low-cost carriers operating transatlantic routes from the UK, has forced so-called legacy airlines to attempt to compete on price by launching hand baggage only (HBO) fares.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Delta and United have all recently introduced HBO fares on transatlantic routes, giving customers the option of lower fares in return for foregoing their checked luggage allowance.
Business Traveller takes a look at exactly what you can take on board your next transatlantic flight from the UK…
Of the carriers offering direct, nonstop flights across the atlantic, British Airways offers the most generous baggage size allowance.
The rest of the airlines’ restrictions are anywhere from one to 10 cm smaller than BA, and often only varying on one measurement (length, width or height).
This can be a problem if you purchase a carry-on bag specifically designed to fit BA’s overhead bin, but then end up on a flight with Delta or United, which both have the same length limit as BA (56 cm), but only allow widths of up to 35 cm (compared to BA’s 45cm).
These seemingly small differences in size restrictions are often enforced, and that further complicates choosing the best carry-on suitcase to buy. A bag that meets the smallest requirements could be used everywhere, but you could be missing out on up to 10cm of space when you fly certain airlines.
If you’re hoping to travel with only a carry-on, this space makes a difference. However, if you buy a suitcase that fits the bigger BA allowance, you won’t be able to take it on board other airlines.
The weight limit of a carry-on also varies, though this is easier to plan for. The most common cut-off is 10kg. The largest allowance is 23kg, again with British Airways.
None of the three major American airlines (American, Delta, United) gives an official weight restriction on carry-on baggage, although they do clarify that anything too heavy for you to lift is too heavy to take on board.
Primera Air and the trailblazer of the low cost transatlantic fare, Norwegian, both give a maximum weight limit for the carry-on bag and personal item combined.
On the subject of the personal item, its size threshold also varies by airline. Delta and Virgin both shy away from specifying how big is too big, instead suggesting the item be a “purse, briefcase, camera bag, diaper bag, laptop computer or an item of a similar or smaller size”.
Other airlines are clearer. The generous allowance on American Airlines (45 x 35 x 20cm) can easily accommodate a large backpack, while the smaller limits on Aer Lingus, Norwegian and Primera leave far less wiggle room.
For the moment though, none of the airlines count a jacket, book, umbrella, or other similarly small item you may happen to have in your hand while boarding as your personal item.
The easy solution to this confusion would be for the airlines to agree on a universal baggage size and weight limit. Until that day comes, the best you can do is know the exact restrictions your airline gives, and plan to follow them. With these low-cost flights, the penalty fees for not following directions can quickly add up to approach the cost of the fare itself.
Hand baggage size and weight restrictions on major airlines for transatlantic fares:
Carry-on: 55 x 40 x 23cm
Personal item: 33 x 25 x 20cm
Combined kg limit: 10kg for LowFare, LowfarePlus and Premium; 15kg for Flex and PremiumFlex