Travel Tips Tuesday: Should I Check My Luggage?

Domestic airlines often charge for checked luggage, while international flights may have complicated baggage allowances or short connection times to consider, making it difficult to decide when to check vs. carry-on your bags. Did you know that European airlines have to pay you if you lose your luggage, or that US airlines will begrudgingly pay you as well (but only if you fill out a claims form)? In the post below, we’ll break down some of the rules, written and unwritten, of checked and carry-on baggage, through a game we like to call….


To check or not to check? (That is the question…)

The Atlas Workshops team has collectively logged well over 2,000,000 miles in flights around the globe. Some of our most complicated itineraries? The winner: Boston to Gondar, Ethiopia, via London, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, and Lalibela, all while carrying (an unbroken) jar of gefilte fish. Runner up: Boston to Abuja, Nigeria by way of Paris, Casablanca, and Lagos. In the six scenarios below, test your knowledge about baggage regulations – and learn from our travel expertise.

1) You have a tight connection in the Amsterdam Schipol Airport, and you’re worried that the 45 minute layover you booked via the web means that your bags might not make it. To Check or Not To Check?

ANSWER: Check! Most travel agents will tell you a bag takes approximately 45 minutes to get between planes. As a rule of thumb, if you can physically make it between planes, your bag will also make it – so long as it is the same airline and terminal. If you’ve booked a budget fare cobbling together many different airlines, you should always leave a few hours between flights: (A) so your bags definitely make it, and (B) in case there are any delays – as the airlines will not necessarily coordinate.

2) You’re heading to Myanmar for three weeks on a school project. You’ve done a good job packing, and your suitcase will fit in the overhead bin (with some minor shoving). The only catch? You wear contacts, and were nervous about running out of contact solution. You’ve got two plastic bags filled with liquids. To Check or Not To Check?

ANSWER: In general, travel according to the strictest policies on what you can and cannot carry-on. In the US, contact solution is a liquid, but theTSA will usually make exceptions for over-the-counter medications. If you’re connecting through Heathrow, however, the 100 ml maximum size of a liquid still applies – so be sure to check ahead! If you need to carry lots of liquids with you, pack some in your carry-on, and check the rest in your bag (double-wrapped to prevent leakage) just to be safe.

3) You’re en route home from a work trip in Sydney, and you’ve managed to work in some vacation time in Fiji and a visit to a friend in Hong Kong en route back. You booked this trip on miles, so you’ve got another four layovers before you arrive in New York early Monday morning in time for an important meeting, before returning home to Boston. Your suitcase is full with gifts from your friend in Hong Kong to deliver in the US, and you are pretty sure the bag is now overweight. To Check or Not To Check?

ANSWER: CHECK. Or if possible, mail those gifts. Seriously, this may be the perfect time to buy a second bag – an inexpensive duffel or lightweight carry-on. No matter what, with such a complicated itinerary, make sure you carry with you anything you’ll need at your meeting on Monday – you do not want to show up in the same clothes you wore on the airplane! Checking the bag also frees you up during travel – there is nothing worse than lugging an overstuffed suitcase from airport to airport.


4) You checked your bag in the Dar Es Salaam Airport in Tanzania, but when you arrive at your final destination, the bag is nowhere to be found. Airline officials have tracked it in Mumbai (a mix up they are MOST sorry about). You sadly head home, facing several days without your laptop charger (oops!), and all of your warm weather clothes. To Check or Not To Check?

ANSWER. Hindsight is always the kicker, isn’t it? First of all, make sure anything you cannot do without for more than a few hours is in your carry-on (medications, chargers, all cash, necessary outerwear, etc.). But did you make a mistake in checking your safari suitcase in the first place? Actually, the only thing you’ve done wrong here is to give up too easily. Airlines will deliver your bag and compensate you (with limits) if they have lost your stuff. Check the airline’s website for information on lost baggage – they may not spell it out clearly for you when you are in a jet-lagged haze at the terminal. Also travel insurance can pay you daily for things you need to buy while waiting for your bag to arrive.

5) You’ve got a five hour connection in the Entebbe Airport en route to Dubai, then Dhaka.(True story, this happened to us.) You’ve got your dad’s fancy new camera and large telephoto lens in your suitcase – it didn’t fit in your carry-on. You bought some new TSA luggage locks before you left to keep your bag safe. To Check or Not To Check?

ANSWER. CHECK! – you don’t have a choice here since your bag is so large. However, make sure your bags are locked up. In many places, a long layover means your bags will be sitting in a luggage warehouse, and a telephoto lens can definitely tempt theft. Do the TSA locks actually work? They are better than nothing, and most likely a deterrent against theft. However, these locks (which have room for a tiny key for TSA to search your bag without breaking the lock) are less secure than other options: if your trip originates outside of the US, consider putting a heftier lock on there.

– Adam and Jenny

UncategorizedAdam White