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What Is Cabin Luggage?

By C. Mitchell
Updated: May 23, 2024

The term “cabin luggage” usually applies to luggage or hand baggage brought into the cabin of an airplane, train, bus, or other travel vehicle. Cabin luggage is often restricted in size. Most of the time, it must either fit beneath a passenger’s seat or fit comfortably in an overhead storage area, if available. Carriers typically place limitations on the size and contents of the hand luggage that can be brought aboard.

Most of the time, there are two main types of luggage when traveling: stowed luggage, which is checked or otherwise left in the care of the airline or travel operator, and cabin luggage, which passengers carry with them. Cabin luggage most often includes hand luggage like purses and briefcases, laptop computers and their bags, and small overnight bags. Larger suitcases are usually required to be stowed in baggage hold areas, outside of the main cabin. This both frees up space in the cabin and prevents the hold-ups and hazards posed by larger, unwieldy bags in what are usually very cramped cabin spaces.

Cabin luggage is usually synonymous with carry-on luggage. Particularly in the airline sector, carry-on luggage is severely restricted. Bags must be of a certain dimension before gate agents will permit them to be brought on board, and passengers are usually limited to one — at most two — pieces. Additional pieces, awkwardly shaped pieces, or pieces that will not comfortably fit in the overhead compartment are usually required to be checked.

Each carrier's individual luggage restrictions must be kept in mind when buying cabin luggage. Airlines have been known to measure bags before allowing them onto the plane, which means that size really does matter. Some luggage sets come with designated carry-on pieces, and any luggage retailers will sell pieces labeled as "carry-on ready." Still, it is always up to the customer to make sure that what the luggage store calls carry-on sized and what the airline calls carry-on sized are the same.

Savvy travelers are often able to pack everything they need for their journey within the small luggage allotments provided. This usually requires a minimalist approach to packing and an eye for squeezing a lot of clothes and shoes into tight spaces. An advantage of packing everything into carry-on bags is that, once the plane or train arrives, all a passenger need do is grab his bags and disembark: no waiting at luggage carousels or dealing with lost luggage lines. Cabin luggage is usually always free to bring, as well. Most carriers charge a per-piece fee for checked baggage.

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Discussion Comments
By anon278095 — On Jul 04, 2012

Cabin luggage, carry-on luggage, personal luggage etc. -- it's all the same thing depending on what particular airlines decide to call it. I think there's tons of tricks for fitting more in too:

1. Fold clothes properly and tightly so they can all fit together with very little air pockets.

2. Fill shoes with socks and other small items. After all, the inside of shoes is wasted space otherwise.

3. Consider those vacuum packs you can buy. You pack your clothes and then use a vacuum cleaner to suck the remaining air out of the plastic packets. It gets things really small.

4. Wear lots of clothes yourself as you're boarding the plane. The more you wear, the less that has to fit in your bag.

I've used these tips a lot to really maximize my carry-on luggage for aircraft charter that I regularly take. I think I've got it down to an art now. As long as the weight limit is kept, you can fit loads of items in you cabin luggage.

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