The global spread of the coronavirus is disrupting travel. Stay up to date on the science behind the outbreak>>

Frequent flyer: Ryanair's new hand luggage rules

With Ryanair changing its hand luggage rules and other airlines cracking down on baggage allowances, is this the beginning of the end for free carry-on luggage?

By David Whitley
Published 8 Apr 2019, 23:53 BST, Updated 15 Jul 2021, 12:02 BST
Ryanair passengers boarding

Could Ryanair's new rules be a game-changer for travelling with hand luggage?

Photograph by Getty Images

So what exactly has Ryanair done?
It's changed its baggage policy. From now on, if you've not paid for priority boarding you'll only be allowed to bring a small carry-on bag on board that will fit under the seat. Anything bigger — especially wheelie cases — will have to be checked in at the airport. Plans to charge for checking those bigger bags in were dropped after adverse public reaction.

Why has it done this?
Mainly because there are too many people trying to bring too much baggage into the cabin and this impacts the economics of aviation. Generally, the less baggage a plane is carrying, the cheaper it is to fly. Less weight means lower fuel costs, and that's before you get to staffing and handling costs. So airlines want to encourage people to fly with less. The current system of tagging hand luggage and putting it in the hold has led to delays on the ground, as staff have to load it onto the plane. Whether the new policy simply switches the delays to the check-in desk — which Ryanair's business model has previously sought to keep passengers away from — remains to be seen.

Would charging passengers for carry-on luggage help?
Probably not, because the moment taking carry-on bags becomes an unavoidable charge, the price will have to be factored into the advertised price of the flight, making it look more expensive. And passengers really, really like cheap-sounding flights.

So what's the future, then?
If airlines want to encourage people to turn up at the airport with less luggage, then they need to change tack. For example, Air Canada and Westjet have bumped up their checked bag fees for this reason, and Tigerair Australia is trialling a new tag system to ensure all cabin bags have been weighed and size-checked. 

But is this increasingly complex set of rules for different bags going to put passengers off? 
The airlines hope not. Either way, it's likely that an array of baggage charges will be played with by airlines — with the type of bag allowed in the cabin getting smaller each time, and charges for bags checked in depending on size and weight. The war on wheelie cases is just the beginning.

Cabin baggage policies
What can you take on for free?

Flybe (10kg)
1 cabin bag* (max 55 x 35 x 20cm, including wheels and handles)
1 personal bag* (no set size)

British Airways (23kg)
1 cabin bag (max 56 x 45 x 25cm) 
1 personal bag (max 40 x 30 x 15cm)

Easyjet (no limit)
1 cabin bag (max 56 x 45 x 25cm). Space for 70 bags on board; the rest will be checked in for free

Jet2 (10kg)
1 cabin bag (max 56 x 45 x 25cm)
1 personal bag (only allowed at staff discretion)

Virgin Atlantic (10kg)
1 cabin bag (max 56 x 36 x 23cm)
1 personal bag

Tui (5 or 7kg)
1 cabin bag (max 55 x 40 x 20cm)

Ryanair (10kg)
1 cabin bag (max 55 x 40 x 20cm). This will be tagged at the gate and put in the hold unless the passenger has paid for priority boarding)
1 personal bag (max 35 x 20 x 20cm)

*Personal bag = fits under the seat
*Cabin bag = fits in the overhead locker

Follow @mrdavidwhitley

Published in the November 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Read More

You might also like

National Geographic Traveller Reader Awards 2022
Will the conflict in Ukraine impact travel plans?
The scandal of 'ghost flights': are empty planes haunting our skies?
Is this the end of short-haul flights? How sustainability is shaping the future of air travel
Why you should fly with Singapore Airlines

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved