Direct Line magazine

Luggage guidelines for flying

Updated on: 30 March 2020

People sat at an airport with luggage.

You’ve got your boarding pass ready and your passport in hand, but have you given much thought to your luggage?

If you’re taking hand luggage, then is it the right size and weight? And what about your hold luggage? If it’s too heavy, you could face fines.

Here’s the lowdown on what luggage you can take on an aeroplane.

Hand luggage restrictions

Also known as cabin luggage, this is the bag you carry on the plane with you.

As these bags have strict size restrictions to fit in the overhead lockers or under the seat in front, it’s a good idea to check specific sizes with your airline so you don’t get caught out.

If you get to the drop off desk, or the boarding gate, and your hand luggage is too big, you could be charged to put your luggage into the hold area. This cost varies depending on the airline.

Here are the hand luggage rules of some popular airlines:

British Airways

Size of hand luggage: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm including handles, wheels and pockets

Weight restriction: 23kg

Cost to upgrade to hold luggage at the airport: £40-£65

Other things you’re allowed: A personal bag such as a handbag or duty free purchases – up to 40cm x 30cm x 15cm


Size of hand luggage: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm

Weight restriction: none

Cost to upgrade to hold luggage at the airport:

At drop off desk: £37

At boarding gate: £47

Other things you’re allowed: An overcoat, a shawl, an umbrella, crutches, a walking stick/frame, one standard size bag of duty free goods.


As of January 2018, Ryanair’s standard Non-Priority bookings allow only one small personal bag on board. A second 10kg bag will be tagged at the gate and put into the hold free of charge.

Size of hand luggage: 35cm x 20cm x 20cm

Weight restriction: none

Size of second bag: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm (smaller than other airlines)

Weight restriction: 10kg

Cost of failure to comply: £50 per item

What you can’t take in your hand luggage

Certain things aren't allowed in your hand luggage. If you pack any of the following, you’ll be made to dispose of them when you reach security:

  • Blades longer than 6cm, including scissors and knives

  • Any liquids, gels, creams, sprays or pastes over 100ml

  • More than one lighter

  • Corkscrew has a pretty comprehensive list of items which you can and can't take in your hand luggage.

Hold luggage

If you want to check in a larger bag, it’s best to arrange for this online beforehand – at the time of booking if possible.

Most airlines don’t have size restrictions on hold luggage, but there is a weight allowance. If you go over this weight, then you’ll be fined (sometimes heavily).

For example:

British Airways: If your bag is over 23kg and less than 32kg, then you’ll be charged £65. Bags over 32kg are not permitted as checked baggage and will need to be shipped as freight or cargo.

easyJet: If your bag is over your pre-booked weight, then you’ll have to pay an extra £10 for each additional 1kg at the airport.

Ryanair: Has the same rule as easyJet - £10 for each additional 1kg at the airport.

What you can’t take in your hold luggage

Hold luggage restrictions aren’t as strict as those for hand luggage, but there are still some prohibited items. According to Heathrow Airport, the following items shouldn’t be packed in either hand baggage or hold luggage.

  • Flammable liquids and solids

  • Oxidisers such as bleaching powders

  • Organic peroxides

  • Tear gas devices or any gas cylinders

  • Infectious substances such as live virus materials

  • Wet-cell car batteries

  • Magnetrons. Instruments containing mercury

  • Instruments containing magnets

  • Fireworks and pyrotechnics

  • Non-safety matches

  • Fire lighter, lighter fuel, paints, thinners

  • Poisons, arsenic, cyanide, weedkiller

  • Radioactive materials, acids, corrosives, alkalis, caustic soda

  • Creosote, quicklime, oiled paper

  • Vehicle fuel system components which have contained fuel

  • Explosives, ammunition, detonators and related equipment

  • Smoke canisters and smoke cartridges

However, there are some of the things you can take in your hold luggage that you can’t take in hand luggage. These include work tools, items with long blades and a whole range of sports equipment. You should always check with your airline to avoid travel difficulties and the chance that your possessions will be confiscated.

suitcase on conveyor belt

What if your luggage goes missing?

There’s always an element of excitement – mixed with relief - when you spot your suitcase on the luggage collection conveyor belt. But occasionally (fewer than six in 1000 cases) luggage does get lost by airlines.

If you happen to be one of the unlucky ones, here’s what you should do.

First things first, check your travel insurance includes baggage cover so your bags and contents are covered while you travel. This can be added to most travel insurance policies for an additional cost.

If your luggage is damaged, or the contents go missing, you must act quickly – usually within seven days. You can claim with the airline, but Citizen’s Advice say that you’ll probably be better off claiming through your insurance as it’s easier and you’ll get more money.

If you claim compensation from the airline, your claim is usually limited to:

  • The bare essentials – things like underwear and toiletries

  • Only part of the cost of replacing your lost luggage and its contents

Airlines will often request receipts for everything. Plus, they’ll probably refuse to pay if your suitcase was faulty, and they’ll rarely give you more than £1,000 total compensation.

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