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How Does Your Luggage Measure Up?

When it comes to shapes and sizes of bags, which ones can be carried on the airplane and what you need to know to keep airline baggage costs at a minimum is easily figured out using information from the airline carrier and elementary arithmetic. The rules are always changing for the number of bags, their size and weight and depend on your fare, destination, frequent flyer status and date of travel, so it’s a good idea to check with the airlines before you go. Keeping up with the regulations can save money and hassles at the airport. We've seen travelers struggle to offload items from their luggage into already overloaded carry-ons to avoid overweight baggage fees or run at the last minute to buy the cheapest suitcase they can find at duty free. The airline industry invented the idea of linear inches to establish their limits regarding checked and carry-on baggage allowances. The calculation is easy; just add the total of the length plus the width plus the height of the case to calculate its size in linear inches. You must include wheels and handles in your measurements. If you want to convert to centimeters, multiply the number in inches by 2.54. A typical checked bag for most North American travel in 2013 must not exceed 62 linear inches (157 centimetres) in order to avoid extra baggage fees for oversized luggage. A carry-on bag has limits of 45 linear inches (114 centimetres).


Airlines also have policies regarding the shape of carry-on bags to ensure they fit under your seat or in the overhead bin. The Canadian airline industry standard for carry-on bags is 20.5"high x 15.5"wide x 9"deep (55cm x 40cm x 23cm). You might have a bag that meets the requirements for linear inches but one of the dimensions is off. A bag that measures 12"h x 25"w x 8d "(30.5cm x 63.5cm x 20cm) for example, adds up to 45 linear inches but since it's over 2 feet wide it's too big to take on the plane. Your itinerary may include transfer to another airline, so don’t forget to consider their baggage policy as well. Some airline carriers restrict the dimensions of checked baggage depending on the type of plane and the country you're flying to. For example, British Airways currently charges a fee for any checked luggage over 35.5"x 29.5"x 16 " (90 cm x 75cm x 43cm). There are weight restrictions for both checked and carryon luggage and overweight fees can be high, in some instances up to $100. If combined with oversize fees, costs become steep. Most common limits in Canada for carry-ons are 22 pounds (10 kilos) and 50 pounds (23 kilos) for checked luggage. The easiest and most accurate method of weighing your luggage is to use a portable scale that hooks onto the handle and raises the suitcase off the ground. They're light and compact enough to bring along to weigh your bag for the return trip:



It's helpful to know the capacity of a bag for packing purposes and when comparing sizes and shapes. Volume is calculated in cubic inches by multiplying height x width x depth. Bags that have the same measure in linear inches can vary greatly in volume. For example, a 20 x 15 x 10 inch bag has a volume of 3,000 cubic inches. A 5 x 35 x 5 inch bag has a volume of 875 cubic inches. Both are 45 linear inches, but the volumes are very different. To get the most packing space, the length, width and height measurements should be as close as possible to each other. Divide the number in cubic inches by 61.02 to calculate the volume in litres. Each airline has special regulations regarding sports gear like skis, golf clubs and bicycles, musical instruments, scientific and camera equipment and pets. Check with them for costs and if any specialized packing material is needed. If your baggage is considered to be too heavy it might not make it onto the plane at all unless you've made prior arrangements. Railway travel has its restrictions too. In Canada, Via Rail baggage measurements are the same as for the airlines but not all their trains have baggage cars and they will not take any suitcase on board over 50 lbs (23kg). On European and Asian trains, luggage is stored on overhead racks, behind your seat or in front of you and sometimes there is a storage area at the end of the wagon. It's usually cramped and difficult to maneuver large heavy bags. You’re on your own handling and lifting your luggage and in older train stations there are platforms and staircases with no elevators or escalators so lighter, smaller bags work best. Cruise ships can offer generous baggage allowances but unless you’re getting to the port by car, you most likely will be abiding by airline luggage rules. In your cabin, suitcase storage is usually under a bed, which can be a tight fit. Smaller boats and zodiacs used on adventure vacations prefer bags without wheels or handles. Rental cars in Europe are typically one or two size categories smaller than their North American counterparts. Trunk space might be tight and better suited to soft-sided luggage that is more malleable. Don’t forget to lock your bags and it's recommended that any valuable items including electronic equipment, cameras, film, cash, jewelry, medication, prescriptions and keys be kept with you. Shop for a great selection of locks here:


Check the Transportation Security Administration website for the latest in traveler information. A helpful website for luggage rules regarding size, weight and fees:

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