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Five myths about carry-on bags

Everett Potter, Special for USA TODAY1:25 p.m. EST February 23, 2015

Many airline passengers seek to avoid those hefty checked-bag charges that the airlines levy by resorting to traveling only with carry-on luggage, using bags that seem to run the gamut of shape and size. The result is that aircraft bin space has emerged as the most hotly contested real estate on any flight. But what constitutes a carry-on bag? Here are five myths about carry-ons to read before your next flight.

1. There is a standard size for carry-on bags that's used by all of the major airlines.

Unfortunately, there isn't. JetBlue is one of the most generous carriers, permitting you to bring aboard a carry-on bag that measures 24 by 16 by 10 inches. But in 2014, United, American and Delta all changed the size limits of permissible carry-on bags to 22 inches long by 14 inches wide by 9 inches tall. That's an inch narrower than the previous 15-inch wide bag they had all allowed. Now an inch may not sound like much, but a lot of fliers got a rude awakening when their bags were placed in a bag sizer and rejected as carry-ons, forcing them to check the bag and pay a fee.

"Airlines have become more strict in enforcing carry-on rules," says George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com. "The three majors now have that 22 by 9 by 14 inch rule and have been known to enforce it to the inch in some airports at busy travel times, occasionally at the gate, but sometimes even before entering the TSA security lines. Other U.S. domestic airlines have a slightly more generous size limit. Some international carriers restrict the weight of carry-on bags as well."

While large domestic carriers seem to turn a blind eye to the weight of a carry-on bag, international carriers and smaller aircraft that are flown virtually anywhere in the world often have strict weight restrictions for every piece of luggage that a passenger brings on the plane. That's true for puddle jumpers in the Caribbean, small commuter planes and regional aircraft in the American West. The smart thing to do is to visit your carrier's website before you fly to see what the current rules are.

2. Carry-on bags are really all the same, it's not worth it to buy a better one.

There's no question that designing and selling carry-on bags is a growth industry for luggage manufacturers, who wrangle with changing airline restrictions about bag size and customer demand for even more packing space. But a well-designed carry-on can get past airline scrutiny and allow you to pack what you need. 

"We are also seeing the trend of travelers using travel packs and daypack-type backpacks," Jordan notes, "which allows folks to carry a second bag or keep their hands free altogether. Most of the daypacks have a larger capacity than a briefcase."

In your quest for the perfect carry-on bag, make sure that the dimensions listed include any wheels that protrude from the bag. Probably the hottest trend right now is luggage that expands for packing and then compress for traveling, allowing travelers to squeeze more into a bag. At the top end are bags like the Briggs & Riley U122CX Baseline, which measures 21 by 14 by 7.7 inches when closed but expands 25% for packing. It retails for $469. 

3. The TSA has relaxed the laws about what they allow in a carry-on bag.

No, they haven't, but this was apparently news to domestic passengers who packed more than 2,200 firearms in their carry-on bags in 2014, which the TSA said was a 22% increase from the year before. Guns aside, there is a long list of other items that are forbidden in carry-on bags, from pepper spray and knives to baseball bats, ski poles, lacrosse sticks and realistic replicas of firearms.

On the other hand, there's a new item that the TSA recently said must go into your carry-on and not in your checked bag: e-cigarettes. The FAA made the call to ban them from checked luggage because they utilize lithium batteries and there's a concern over overheating or fires inside the cargo hold. You still can't smoke them on board, however.

If you're sick of paying checked bag fees every time you fly, Matt Granite has some news for you. Here are his top 5 ways to never pay those fees again. VPC

4. It's the flight attendant's job to make sure your carry-on fits.

"Making sure a bag fits doesn't mean it's my job to make it fit," says Heather Poole, a flight attendant and author of Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 30,000 Feet. "Or lift it! Heck no. I can help you, but I'm not doing it for you. We're doing it together."

Stowing bags properly is not just a matter of efficiency but safety and departure time. The gate agent, says Poole, "isn't allowed to shut the aircraft door until all bins are closed and passengers are seated. If the bag doesn't fit, off it goes."

It also comes down to money, since delays are costly. That's also true for flight attendants, who, remarkably, are not compensated for their time helping you stow your bag.

"We're paid for flying time only," Poole says. "The time clock doesn't start ticking until the brakes are released and we back away from the gate."

5. The airlines may nickel and dime us, but at least they're not charging for carry-on bags.

Get out your wallet. Frontier charges between $25 and $35 for carry-on bags, depending on what level of economy-class ticket you have. Think you can outsmart them and just gate check? Think again. They charge $50 for any bag that has to be gate checked, a fee that is going up to $60 on May 1, 2015. Spirit is even more onerous, charging anywhere from $26, if you pay during online check-in, to $100 if you wait to pay at the gate. Allegiant is another airline charging for carry-on bags. These carriers do permit one free "personal item," such as a purse or backpack, but it can measure no more that 18 by 14 by 8.

So will the major US carriers follow suit and begin charging us for carry-ons? George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog says that it's "very doubtful this will happen, but never say never."

Notes: 1. Airline regulations and baggage policies are subject without notice. Be sure to check with the carrier before you fly. 2. Sizes quoted are for economy-class passengers. Airlines may permit business and first-class passengers to bring more or larger hand luggage. 3. As different airplane models may permit larger or smaller carry-on bags, determine what equipment will be used by your airline. 4. On most airlines, a briefcase, handbag, or laptop computer bag is permitted in addition to one piece of carry-on luggage.

Traveling through Airports

Travelers may now carry through security checkpoints travel-size toiletries (3 ounces or less) that fit comfortably in ONE, QUART-SIZE, clear plastic, zip-top bag.(8.5X7.5) After clearing security, travelers can now bring beverages and other items purchased in the secure boarding area on-board aircraft. At the checkpoint travelers will be asked to remove the zip-top bag of liquids and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt. X-raying separately will allow TSA security officers to more easily examine the declared items.

In addition, larger amounts of prescription liquid medications, baby formula and diabetic glucose treatments must be declared at the checkpoint for additional screening.

It is unlikely that additional changes in the liquid, aerosol and gel policy will be made in the near future.

This security regimen applies to all domestic and international flights departing U.S. airports. Travelers should, however, check with transportation security authorities in their country-of-origin for flights originating at non-U.S. airports.

For more details on how these measures affect you read our questions and answers on the new measures. Security Measure Questions and Answers at www.tsa.gov

Travel Tips To Make Your Screening Experience Hassle-free

  • The secret to getting through security smoothly is to de-clutter your carry-on bag. This lets our Transportation Security Officers get a clear, uncomplicated X-ray image of your carry-on.
  • When possible, keep packing liquids in checked baggage. You will get through security faster.
  • Limit quantities to what is needed for the duration of the flight.
  • Items purchased in the secure boarding area are for use on the immediate flight. If you must leave the secure boarding area and re-enter through the screening checkpoint, items exceeding 3 ounces that are not in the zip-top bag will again be prohibited.

Before you fly, understand what you can and cannot bring and how these security measures impact your trip . Permitted and Prohibitted Items

To effectively communicate important security information, we translated these changes into a variety of languages. Translated Security Information

In addition, TSA will be enhancing security measures throughout the airport environment – more random screening of employees, additional canine patrols, stronger air cargo security measures, more rigorous identity verification, deploying more trained security officers in bomb appraisal, and screening by observation techniques.

You are not limited in the amount or volume of these above items you may bring in your carry-on baggage. However, if these items are in containers larger than three ounces, please perform the following

  • Separate these items from the liquids, gels, and aerosols in your quart-size and zip-top bag.
  • Declare you have the items to one of our Security Officers at the security checkpoint.
  • Present these items for additional inspection once reaching the X-ray. These items are subject to additional screening.
  • We have also taken steps to ensure the security boarding areas after you pass through our security checkpoints.

Engraving & Embossing

Engraving and Embossing are two ways of placing initials or names onto different fabrications. Embossing generally refers to a method of heat being applied to leather to create an impression (branding). No color embossing means the initials take the color of the leather, also sometimes referred to as a blind emboss. If desired, color can sometimes be introduced to fill in the impression usually silver to match the hardware. Recently the no color choice has been the more popular choice where it is subtle, but rich. Some items cannot be done with the no color option because the leather is not thick enough to make a noticeable impression. Engraving generally refers to a scratch method of placing initials on metal, such as Grand Bands, pens, money clips, pen stands etc..

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