checked luggage

This comprehensive guide answers some of the frequently asked questions about checked luggage, from what type of suitcase to use to how much weight you can bring.

Whether you’re a first-time traveller or an experienced jetsetter, read on for all the information you need to breeze through airport security with your belongings in tow.

Checked luggage: image of a checked luggage behind a blue background

Checked-in luggage includes bags, suitcases, or other large items that are too big to bring on the plane with you.

They are checked at the airline’s counter before you go through security.

The airline will load them onto the plane and drop them off at the luggage belt at your destination. You will not have access to it during your flight.

Checked-in luggage usually has size and weight requirements that vary from airline to airline. The most common maximum weight for checked luggage is 50 pounds.

The most common maximum dimensions for a checked bag is 27 x 21 x 14 inches, or a total of 62 inches altogether, according to Airline Baggage Fees.

If your baggage is over this weight or size limit, you may have to pay extra fees.

Checked bags are the luggage that you check into the airplane hold.

You do not carry checked bags onto your flight with you.

Checked bags are usually too big to fit as a carry-on. The maximum dimensions are commonly 27 x 21 x 14 inches with a maximum weight of 50 pounds.

Airlines also allow you to bring carry-on luggage onto the plane. This must fit within the dimensions of 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

You can also take one personal item free of charge that fits within the dimensions of 16 x 12 x 6 inches.

Carry-on luggage is stored in the overhead bins above your seat, while your personal item is stored underneath the seat in front of you.

The most common maximum dimensions of checked luggage are 27 x 21 x 14 inches or 62 linear inches total (equaling all the sides added up).

The most common maximum weight is 50 pounds. If your bag is overweight, you will either have to remove items or pay extra.

However, all airlines have their own size restrictions depending on the size of their aircraft. It is best to refer to your flight ticket to get the most accurate information about what size and weight of luggage you can check.

Many airlines also charge for checked luggage, although this depends on the plane ticket you bought.

4) Can you bring anything in checked luggage?

You cannot pack just anything in your checked luggage.

There are certain restricted items you should avoid packing.

This includes the following: lithium batteries, flammable items, explosives, matches, pressure containers, poisons, infectious materials, magnetic materials, radioactive materials, illegal drugs, and marijuana.

There are also items that you should pack in your carry-on instead of your checked luggage, such as film, expensive items, e-cigarettes, and vaping devices.

Film can get ruined when it goes through checked luggage x-ray screening, and expensive items such as jewelry should be kept with you in the case of luggage being lost.

5) Are checked bags free?

Checked luggage: image of a male traveler at the airport

Checked bags are only free if they are included in the flight ticket you purchased. International flights usually allow one free checked bag unless you bought an economy ticket.

Otherwise, you most likely have to pay a fee to check your bag. Fees are common for domestic flights and budget airlines.

A checked bag may cost anywhere from $30 to $50, depending on the airline and the flight.

If your bag is over 50 pounds or over 62 linear inches, you may also have to pay extra fees.

6) Where do checked bags go?

Checked luggage: image of many luggage being pulled around at the airport

After you drop your luggage off at the check-in counter, it goes on a conveyor belt to the luggage storage room.

Here it will go through TSA screening. After it is deemed safe, your luggage will be either manually sorted or automatically sorted through the bar code taped onto your suitcase.

Once it is sorted to your flight, workers on the tarmac will load your suitcase into the storage compartment of the airplane.

For smaller aircrafts, luggage is stored on the floor of the cargo compartment. Larger aircrafts are able to hold containers of luggage.

If you miss your flight, you should automatically let an airline representative know.

They may be able to find your baggage before it is loaded onto the plane or the plane takes off. In the event that your baggage goes to your destination and you do not, the airline will hold your luggage until you arrive on a later flight.

If you miss your connecting flight, your luggage will most likely have gone on to the final destination.

Always let an airline representative know. They will help you schedule a new flight and contact someone in your destination airport to hold your bag for you.

8) Why are checked bags cheaper than carry-ons?

Checked luggage: image of a big checked luggage beside a carry-on suitcase

Sometimes airlines will make checked bags cheaper than carry-ons to encourage people to check bags rather than bring carry-ons.

When everyone on the plane brings a carry-on suitcase, it can take a lot longer to board and deplane. In order to save time at the gate, airlines will try to get fewer people to bring a carry-on.

There is also a problem of space.

When planes are fully booked, there may not be enough space for everyone to bring a carry-on. If there are too many carry-ons, they will check some people’s suitcases as they are boarding the flight.

9) What is TSA looking for in checked bags?

Checked luggage: picture of a female airport official going through a traveler luggage for contraband

All checked bags go through a TSA security screening.

TSA agents are looking for any hazardous items, such as explosives, flammable materials, firearms, weapons, and more.

About 1 out of every 10 suitcases is physically opened and looked through by TSA.

While TSA does not check your bag for any illegal drugs, they will confiscate them and alert the authorities if found while checking for other items.

10) Is a 28-inch suitcase too big?

Checked luggage: picture of a female traveler arguing with airport official about her luggage

A 28-inch suitcase is too big to bring as a carry-on suitcase. However, it is an acceptable size suitcase to check-in.

The maximum dimensions of a checked suitcase are about 27 x 21 x 14 inches or 62 linear inches when height, width, and depth are added up.

As long as your suitcase fits these requirements, it is fine to check.

If your suitcase is oversized, you will still be able to check it for a fee. The fee depends on the airline but ranges anywhere from $20 to $200.

Be sure to check the requirements of your flight to avoid paying these extra costs.

11) Can you check a 32-inch luggage?

Checked luggage: picture of a 32" checked suitcase at the airport

A 32-inch suitcase is considered to be oversized.

The normal dimensions allowed for a suitcase are 27 x 21 x 14 inches or 62 linear inches. This means that the height + width + depth needs to add up to 62 inches or less. You can check 32-inch luggage as long as the width and depth make up for the longer length of the suitcase.

Otherwise, you will have to pay extra fees.

It is always best to check the specifics of your airline to make sure that you will not have to pay extra charges.

If you are still confused, you can call the airline to ask.

12) Can you check a 28-inch luggage?

Checked luggage: picture of a checked suitcase being pulled by a female traveler

You can check a 28-inch luggage if it falls within the maximum requirements of a checked bag to be within 62 linear inches.

This means that when height, width, and depth are added up, the total cannot be more than 62 inches.

For a 28-inch suitcase, you may need to save an inch or two with the width or depth.

13) What cannot go in checked luggage?

Checked luggage: image of contraband items at airport security check

What Cannot go in checked luggage?

There are many items you are prohibited from carrying in your checked luggage.

This includes the following items: lithium batteries, flammable items, explosives, matches, pressure containers, poisons, infectious materials, magnetic materials, radioactive materials, illegal drugs, and marijuana.

If TSA finds any hazardous items in your luggage that are considered unsafe, you may face fines or arrest.

Read TSA’s complete list of permitted and prohibited items to be on the safe side.

14) What is not allowed on a flight?

Checked luggage: image of contraband items at the airport

TSA has a list of items that are not allowed on a flight, either in your carry-on or checked luggage.

This includes but is not limited to the following: gun lighters, gun powder, explosions, flammable materials, flare guns, disabling chemicals, and compressed gas cylinders.

Some items are prohibited to take in either your carry-on or your checked bag.

For example, martial arts weapons can only be put in your checked bag, while electric cigarettes must be brought with your carry-on items.

Read the complete list of permitted and prohibited items to find out more.

15) Why are checked bags so expensive?

Checked luggage: picture of a heavy tag attached to a checked suitcase

One of the main reasons airlines charge for checked bags is due to tax arbitrage.

There is a 7.5% government excise tax on flight tickets, but not on other services, such as bag check. By gaining capital from checked bags, airlines are able to save on taxes.

This is why international flights still usually have one free checked bag- because there is no excise tax on international flight tickets, only domestic ones.

Of course, checked bag fees are also just a way for airlines to make more money in general.

16) Do you have to pay for checked bags twice on a round trip?

Checked baggage fees are one way. If you pay to check a bag on your outbound flight, you will also have to pay the fee for your inbound flight.

The fee can cost anywhere from $30 to $50, depending on the airline you fly.

If you paid for baggage when you bought your flight ticket, this usually covers the cost of baggage for both directions.

If you are unsure, your ticket receipt or email confirmation should notify you of your baggage allowance.

17) Can you put alcohol in a checked bag?

Checked luggage: picture of a wine bottle being removed from the front pocket of a luggage

Yes, you can put alcohol in a checked bag.

However, each passenger is limited to just 1.3 gallons of alcohol (5 liters) when the percentage of alcohol is between 24% to 70%. Alcohol under 24% is not subject to limitations.

18) How often do checked bags get lost?

Checked luggage: picture of a lost luggage sign at the airport

Out of every 1,000 checked bags, 3 or 4 will get lost.

This is about 1 in every 250 bags, or 0.4%. This is the average, but different airlines have varying statistics.

For example, American Airlines loses about 0.7% of checked bags, while JetBlue loses about 0.4%.

Across all airlines, 0.4% seems to be the average percentage of lost or mishandled luggage.

It is not bad odds- however, with thousands and thousands of people flying every day, it still adds up to a lot of lost luggage.

19) Do checked bags get searched for drugs?

Checked luggage: picture of a dog and airport official sniffing a luggage at the airport

Checked bags do not get explicitly searched for drugs.

TSA performs random security checks but mainly looks for hazardous items such as flammable materials and explosives.

However, while they are not outright searching for drugs, they will remove them from your bag if found and alert law enforcement.

20) Can I send only luggage without flying?

You cannot ship luggage on a plane you are not flying on. It is considered a security risk by the airlines, and they will not allow it.

If you need to ship luggage, it is best to use a freight or shipping service. There are many companies that cover both domestic and international shipping.

The only circumstance your luggage would be on a flight without you is if it got lost and the airline is returning it wherever you are.

21) What happens if I don’t pick up my bag from baggage claim?

Checked luggage: pictures of suitcases and bags on the airport conveyor

When a checked bag goes unclaimed from the baggage claim, the airlines will hold it for up to 90 days (sometimes less).

If you contact them and they have it, they will help reunite you with your luggage.

If the owner of the lost luggage is never found, or they are unable to reunite with it, the airline will sell it to a third party.

It’s always a good idea to put a label on your checked bag with your name, number, and email. This way, the airport services can contact you and let you know they have your bag.

22) How do I get my checked bag back?

Checked luggage: travelers taking their suitcases and bags from the conveyor

After your airplane touches down at your destination, workers will quickly unload your checked bag and bring it to the baggage claim.

You can find the baggage claim by exiting the terminal and following the signs.

There is usually a screen that will inform you which baggage claim belt your items will be on.

Wait by the baggage claim belt until your checked bag appears. It can sometimes take a few minutes for the luggage to be brought there.

7 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Checked Luggage (22 of Your Checked Luggage Questions Answered)”

  1. Hey Femi,

    thanks for this FAQ about checked luggage. It’s an interesting read. Although, it’s a low number of lost baggage in the grand scale of things, it’s still shocking to see that they do lose so many, when it should be a fail safe system???

    Thanks

    John

    Reply
  2. Hey Femi.
    Thanks for another great blog post on checked luggage. I know for many people is the difference between hand luggage and check-in still unclear. (This is also due to the complicated explanation from some airlines).
    I didn’t know that your checked-in luggage can fly without you if you miss the flight. To me, it happened only once that I missed my flight, while luggage was already checked in. The airport people were able to give me the luggage tough, so I thought it was standard procedure. Now I see, that it isn’t. So, that means extra attention and care when planning the trip. 😉 Cheers

    Reply
    • Hi Julius,

      Thanks for the comment! It’s great to know that our content is helping people understand this important topic.

      It’s definitely important to be aware of the possibility that your luggage can fly without you if you miss your flight. This is a rare occurrence, but it’s always best to be prepared so you don’t have any surprises when traveling.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, and keep checking our blog for more travel tips!
      Cheers,
      Femi.

      Reply
  3. It’s good to refresh all the rules about checked luggage again before the summer season. I love that you collect 22 questions that people often ask about checked luggage, which offers great value as references to plan their travels.

    I booked traditional and low-cost airlines in the past. Normally, traditional airlines offer you one checked luggage without charge, and low-cost airlines charge everything. I prefer traditional airlines because they provide better services for checked luggages. It really depends on the airlines you travel with. 🙂

    Reply
  4. I will be flying next month and it has been a while due to the pandemic, so this article was a great reminder of what my luggage can contain and what not. I looked at all those items, including scissors, but was now just wondering what about nail clippers? Is that also a prohibited item?

    Reply
    • Thanks for the question, Schalk!
      According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), nail clippers are allowed in both checked and carry-on luggage. However, they recommend packing them in your checked bag if you have a blade longer than 2.36 inches.
      For more information on what items are prohibited in carry-on luggage, please visit TSA’s website: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/prohibited-items

      If you have any more questions, our team is happy to help.
      Cheers,
      Femi.

      Reply
  5. Thank you for this information about checked luggage. It’s always good to plan when travelling and some of the information this article helps when putting a travelling plan together. Like being aware of standard procedure by airplanes when it comes to luggage.
    Cheers
    Angee

    Reply

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