Baggage Size Requirements – What Airlines May Not Tell You

Recently, a US Airways passenger complained about a change in the airline’s checked-baggage policy, saying that its “62-inch limit now includes wheels and handles.” In other words, this passenger’s bag exceeded these dimensions because he didn’t include the wheels and handle in his measurements, so he got stuck with the oversize bag fee of $175. He called that, “a dirty trick.”

6 Things to Know: Finding the Best Bag

Dirty Trick or Standard Procedure?

Is it a dirty trick? It’s not clear if this actually represents a change or not – it’s always possible this was US Airways’ policy, but was rarely enforced. FareCompare has contacted US Airways for clarification and will update when there’s a response. UPDATE: A US Airways spokesperson told FareCompare that although it does not explicitly say so on the site, “wheels and handles are taken into account when measuring a bag for compliance.” He added that they will review the site’s language to see whether this point needs clarification.

What is clear is travelers love wheeled luggage. The modern history of roller bags dates back to 1970 and although figures for old-style suitcases vs. wheeled bags are hard to come by, it’s revealing that the Samsonite website offers nothing but suitcases with wheels.

History of Wheeled Luggage

Airline Size Measurements: Vague

Perhaps most airlines do not mention wheels and handles in the size requirements sections of their baggage policies because they assume they don’t have to. Still, it would be nice if they were a little more transparent. Some examples of vague measuring directions from airline websites:

  • US Airways: Passengers must “add the measurements for length, height and width together”
  • Alaska: Passenger bags cannot exceed “a maximum dimension of 62 linear inches (length + height + width)”
  • American: Passengers are told that, “size limitation of luggage is calculated by adding the total outside dimensions” which suggests that handles and wheels are to be included

Carry-on Bag Measurements

Some airlines are a bit more forthcoming when it comes to the dimensions of carry-on bags, but not much. Alaska Airlines does in fact say that wheels and handles must be including in carry-on measurements and while American Airlines doesn’t specifically say so, it does provide an illustration of how to measure a carry-on which clearly shows that handles and wheels are to be included. Airlines are likely trying to ease the ongoing problem of too many carry-ons for too few overhead bins which can increase boarding time and sometimes delay flights.

What to Know about Oversize, Overweight Bags

What Passengers Should Do

It might not seem fair, but if you want to avoid a steep oversize bag charge, common sense says you should include wheels and handles in all baggage measurements.

Also, since some airlines use different carry-on bag measurements depending on the aircraft, keeping to the minimum size can be important particularly if you need your bag at hand. Airlines can and do switch out planes without warning, and if you suddenly find yourself on a smaller plane, the bag you thought would fit may be taken from you and placed in cargo.


Published: July 30, 2012