How to Measure Luggage Dimensions for Airlines

More often than not you will be traveling with some bags on an airplane. The thing is, most airplanes have only a limited capacity of space inside their luggage hold, and they have to burn more fuel to lift each pound of extra weight. This is why they impose very strict restrictions on each passenger’s carry-on size and checked baggage size. Also, there is strict limitation on airline luggage weight.

For this reason, it is extremely important that you know how to measure the size and weight of luggage you have packed, and see if they are under your airline size and weight restrictions. Today, we will talk about the proper way of how to measure luggage dimensions for airlines. Pay attention now, because this may save a lot of unnecessary expense.

Why You Should Always Measure Your Luggage

When you’re going somewhere on an airplane, chances are that you’ll be going there for a while and therefore you will have some bags on you.You need them to carry your clothes and other essentials that you will be using in your destination for the duration of your stay.

Size chart for luggages

Why Airlines Put Luggage Size and Weight Restrictions

However, airplanes have very limited space inside them and have to burn a lot of fuel to fly every bit of extra weight. For this reason, airlines always place strict restrictions on the luggage size that they have to carry, to fit everyone’s luggage in the small space. The same is true for weight and even more – the airlines pose strict weight limitations on checked bags.

What happens you are over the limits

If you brought a bag under the airline size and weight limits, then it’s fine and you’ll just pay the standard checked bags fees for your airline. But what if you have brought bigger or heavier bags? Then these bags will fall in the oversize and overweight category. And those are expensive! Every airline charges a lot for oversize and overweight bags – over and above the standard baggage fees. Which means, you can end up paying twice, even thrice more than the normal baggage fee.

types of airline bags

Two reasons to measure your bags

It’s clear now why you must measure your bags before the journey – to make sure you are under the size and weight restrictions imposed by your airline (or the region), and to save a lot of money. This will also save you time since nowadays you can check your baggage from home.

But there is another, obscure reason. You might want to shortcut your baggage size measuring work by relying on the dimensions that your bag manufacturer supplied. Most people tend to think it is smart. Well – it isn’t! There are different reasons for this.

For one, bag manufacturer’s primary goal is to sell the bag, not to fit it into a sizer box at the airport – which you will be doing. Secondly, they may not consider the extensions of the bag (like handles, wheels, etc.) in the dimensions they announce.

For that matter, they might even announce the inside volume of the bag instead of the actual outside measure! Also, if you are taking a soft bag, it may get stuffed up to any dimensions, you can never tell. (see our recommended and best travel backpacks and underseat carry-ons).

Therefore, it is always a great idea to measure your luggage before leaving. Today, we will discuss how to measure luggage for airlines.

Know About Airline Limitations

The reasons why an airplane can’t take more than a limited size and weight of luggage, we have talked about above. And you can be sure that airlines are extremely sensitive about that – for a simple reason, airplanes are kind of the opposite of huge cargo ships. They spend huge amount of expensive fuel to carry people and luggage very fast.

So, they are much more concerned with getting your person from point A to point B, than with your luggage.

For this very reason, airlines have the last say about baggage size and weight limitations. You can take only what they say you can take, and no more. So, before even booking the ticket, you should get well acquainted with your chosen airline’s luggage size and weight limitations.

Airline luggage limitation factors to note

  • Baggage size restrictions for your class
  • Maximum size given in inches or centimeters
  • How the size is given – in each-side dimensions, or total linear dimensions
  • Weight restrictions for your class
  • Maximum weight given in pounds of kilograms
luggage size charts

Measure for Linear Inches

Generally, luggage sizes are published in per-side multiplications, like length x width x height. But airlines do realize that your luggage may be of odd shape. For example, instead of having regular rectangular sides, it may be more cube-ish (like a box) or more elongated (like a golf bag), or it may be of a shape that’s hard to define altogether – with few or no actual sides.

For this reason, airlines now prefer to publish size restrictions in total linear dimensions instead of each-side dimensions. This is the total number of inches or centimeters you count when measuring the bag from three directions. It is generally written as the sum of length + width + height (taken arbitrarily).

Even if it is not explicitly mentioned, if you see a single unit indicating the size of your luggage, you can be sure it’s talking about the total linear dimension of all sides, not just one side.

For example, an airline may tell you they allow checked bags up to 22” x 14” x 9” – which indicates the length, width and the height of the luggage. Or, they may say that the maximum checked bag size in their flights is 45 linear inches – meaning the addition of the ad-hoc length, width, and height of the luggage (22 + 14 + 9).

Common Tools for Measuring Luggage

There is a saying going like this, “right tool for right job.” That’s true in case of measuring luggage as well – you need some specific tools to measure luggage for airlines. The following are the tools for measuring luggage:

  • Streight Ruler: good for measuring small or straight surfaces directly.
  • Tape Measure: can be very long, and be either self-retracting or manual
  • Luggage Scale (Analog or digital): for weighing your bags. A standard body weight scale may work as well.

Understand Bag Dimensions

All the bags you can carry by air can be classified in three different types, depending upon bag sizes.

Personal Item

Also known as hand luggage or personal bag, this item may actually not be a bag but anything you need to carry in hand in person all the time. Normally, only one personal item is allowed per passenger, but if you are travelling with an infant, then you may be able to bring an extra personal bag for baby needs.

  • Example: ladies’ or men’s purses, jackets, small backpack, laptop bag, etc.
  • General size restriction: 17” x 10” x 8” (43 x 25 x 20 cm).
  • Must fit under the seat in front of you.
  • Weight restriction: generally, no maximum weight is specified for personal items, but it’s expected that you can carry it yourself comfortably.

Carry-on bag

Also known as cabin bags, these are the most common luggage you see with people – small suitcases or trolly bags good to hold a few days’ worth of necessities. Generally, airlines allow only one carry-on bag, and some even charge for them at economy classes.

  • Common size restriction: 22” x 14” 9” (56 x 36 x 23 cm)
  • Common weight restriction: 17 to 22 pounds (8 to 10 kg). Sometimes, it may not be specified. You still should try to stay under this limit – don’t pack bricks in your carry-on.
  • Must fit in the overhead bin or locker.
  • Try to board early if you have a carry-on. If the overhead bin is already full, then your carry on will be checked.
  • Make sure you get your carry-on size and weight right. Otherwise, if you are caught with an oversize or overweight carry-on at the gate, then not only the bag will be checked in and the appropriate checked baggage charges taken, but also you will have to pay a hefty gate check fee.

Checked bags

These are the bags that go in the luggage hold and that you collect later at the destination airport at the baggage claim station. Most airlines will allow you to take a couple of checked bags at lower fees, but from bags three to five the fees will jump up quite high. Most airlines will allow up to five bags per head only.

  • Common size restriction: 62 linear inches (157 cm)
  • Common weight restriction: 50 pounds (23 kg)

Notice how the size in case of checked bags isn’t expressed in per-side manner? Yes, this is the live example where total linear dimensions (length + width + height) are used.

Oversize and overweight bags

In case, just because you are determined to bring some overweight or oversize bags to the plane, you don’t get to be free from size and weight restrictions. Yes, in airplanes, even oversize and overweight bags have size and weight limits – you can’t just haul your whole house on a plane just because you are willing to spend a few bucks extra!

  • Oversize restrictions: Most airlines will absolutely not take bags larger than 120 linear inches (about 300 cm).
  • Overweight limits: Airlines take overweight fees in two ways – either they create weight slabs (weight X pounds to Y pounds, Y pounds to Z pounds, etc.) and assign flat fees to each slab; or they charge per extra kilogram of weight. Generally, no passenger aircraft will take single bags over a hundred pounds (45 kilos).

If you need to bring luggage bigger or heavier than this, you have to book a cargo plane or a luggage transfer service. Know how to measure luggage carefully to avoid oversize or overweight fees.

FAQ’s About How to Measure Luggage

1. Why must I include the length of the retractable handle?

You must retract the handle and measure the bag including anything poking outside the bag’s main body. The airlines will measure the absolute total size of your luggage, not just the main body.

2. What is the carton size for traveling on a plane?

The carton sizes and weights are according to your airline and distance. Before going on a flight, check luggage allowances from your airline’s website or contact them directly.

3. Can trucking bags be taken as hand baggage?

Doesn’t matter what kind of bag it is, as long as it meets the hand luggage size requirement of your airline, and it isn’t dripping with blood (just kidding!), the airline will take it, after checking the contents of the bag.

4. How do I measure depth of my luggage?

If your bag has a clear front and back size, then the depth of the bag would be the length from the backside of the bag to the front side of the bag – on the outside. You can determine this by figuring out which surface your clothes will rest on when you open your bag. Also, the front usually has some extra pockets. In case of trolly bags, it would be the surface where the retractable handle goes in.

5. How is the capacity measured at the airport?

Luggage capacity is expressed in terms of weight. It is measured with a very sensitive large weight scale at the airport. Make sure your bag is under the weight restrictions – get a luggage scale or use your bathroom scale.

6. How do I measure duffel bags?

Duffel bags can get complicated to measure due to their odd, cylinder-like shape. The length is easy, but which is the width and which is the height? Well, first make sure your bag is completely full. Then measure the length of the bag first. Then, take the depth of the bag as described above, and the dimension perpendicular to how you measured the depth will be the width.

7. How do I measure my luggage from the ground up?

A ruler can be used to measure most dimensions of standard luggage, but if you are using a large bag, chances are that your ruler will come short. Better use a tape measure – simple ones or self-retracting ones. They are small but handy!

8. Will an airline accept my luggage if it’s an inch over the regulations?

Most airlines are quite fanatical about their size and weight restrictions. They may be a little lax about your personal item, since they can be so varied – but forget about negotiating or wheedling with them about hard baggage size or weight. But sometimes if it’s an off season, they might just be lax about the size of bags, but they won’t announce it. You had better ring up the airline to clarify.

9. Do the Wheels Count When Measuring Luggage for Carry On?

Yes, absolutely! The bag manufacturer may not say it, but the airport people will include anything and everything sticking out or attached outside the main body of the bag in their size measurements – including wheels, handles retractable or simple, side pockets, decorations – pretty much anything.

When you measure your luggage for air travel, make sure you measure the bag including those. To measure a bag’s height including wheels, stand it up on them and measure from the floor to the top of the handle above.

10. What Are Linear Inches?

The word “linear” means “in a straight line”. It indicates what the measurements would have been, if all the sides of the container (the long side, the short side, and the tall side) are laid in a line and then measured altogether. In real life, the term “linear inches” directly means the sum total of the length, width, and height of an object, in inches.

Most airlines use linear inches to express their luggage size restrictions instead of the standard side-to-side measurements. They do this since there are too many shapes and sizes of bags available, and some of them may have very odd shapes, or don’t even have proper measurable sides. In this case, instead of measuring sides, a total linear dimension makes much more sense.

Check Airlines Baggage Fees and Policy.

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