Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Flying without checked-in luggage

A photo of a Ryanair flight at Dublin Airport. Many Ryaniar flyers don't check in luggage and just take carry-on bags.

When we went to Dublin, Christine and I flew with Ryanair, the airline everybody loves to hate. This is mainly because Ryanair has unbundled just about anything that can be considered optional from its fares. Which means that the basic fare is cheap, but you may end up having to pay more for things that other airlines include. For example, the ability to check in luggage to be carried in the plane’s cargo hold.

Ryanair’s carry-on baggage allowance isn’t as bad as it once was, thankfully. For each passenger, two bags – a large one and a small one – are permitted, with the largest bag limited to 10 kilograms. That’s enough for a rucksack and a camera bag, for example. If you want to check in a bag, then there’s a £20 charge per person per flight for up to 15 kilograms, so that would be £40 if we wanted to take a larger case to Dublin and back. We decided, therefore, not to check in a bag.

We found that there are several advantages and disadvantages to not checking in luggage, some of which are listed below.

It may be cheaper

I’m sure Ryanair isn’t the only airline that offers cheaper fares for those that don’t need to check in their luggage. It saves the airlines quite a bit of time and money, so whilst it’s nice to find it included in your fare, you may find that if you can cope without it, savings can be made.

You may not need to check-in in person

Most airlines allow you to check-in online, and some, like Ryanair, pretty much mandate this. Not printing your own boarding passes on such airlines can cost quite a bit of money. Consequently, the ‘check-in’ desks for low-cost airlines essentially just become ‘baggage drop’ desks, where you can check-in your luggage to go into the hold. If you’ve no luggage to check-in, then you can just head straight for the security screening area. Unless you need a visa to travel and are required to have this checked by someone from the airline, in which case you will need to go to the check-in desk first.

You can’t carry liquids in containers larger than 100ml

Liquids in carry-on bags must be in containers of 100 millilitres or less, including any shampoo for example. So for our Dublin trip we bought travel size bottles of shampoo, deodorant and the like. These cost more per millilitre than regular-sized bottles so it’s another expense to consider. Alternatively, you could buy such things after passing through security (even a small airport like Leeds-Bradford had a Superdrug airside), or once you’ve arrived at your destination. And most hotels offer complementary shampoo and soap.

There’s no need to wait for baggage reclaim

If you carry your bags with you, then once you’re off the plane you already have all of your luggage. So there’s no need to wait at baggage reclaim – you can head straight out of the airport and onwards to your destination. Considering it can take some time for your luggage to make it off the aircraft and onto the carousels, especially at larger airports, this may save you quite a bit of time.

That being said, on the return flight from Dublin to Leeds-Bradford, practically no-one had checked in any luggage. Ours was the only flight landing at that time, so reclaim was a relatively quick and easy process for those that had checked in bags. I guess it’s a sign that Ryanair’s policy is working.

No risk of your luggage getting lost

You know where your bags are at all times. After all, you’re the one who brought them on the plane, put them in the lockers, retrieved them again and took them off the plane. So they can’t be left behind, put on the wrong plane, or picked off the carousel accidentally by somebody else. Plus, any fragile items are less likely to get broken if you’re careful with your bags, since you’re not at the mercy of the baggage handlers.

You may be limited to what you can take

Whilst we managed to fit in everything that we needed for our four night stay into two rucksacks and two shoulder bags, with room to spare, we may not have been able to manage this for longer trips. Indeed, we were somewhat conservative in what we took – I only had one pair of shoes, which I wore, and had a coat and jumper wrapped around my waist. We also had the benefit of travelling in summer – had we gone in January, for example, or to a cold country, we’d have needed more warm clothes which would have taken up more space.

You may need an iron

If you’re bringing smart clothes then you may have to crumple them up in your bags to make them fit. So it may be worth checking that your accommodation at your destination offers access to an iron or trouser press. Or, if you have space, take a travel iron, but make sure it’s drained of water and doesn’t push you over any weight allowances.

Buy yourself a luggage scale

We bought a luggage scale for less than £2, from which we could weigh our bags to ensure they were under the 10 kilogram limit. The scale itself was quite small and light, so we could also take it with us to make sure that our luggage was compliant on the way back as well. As it happens, at no point were we asked to weigh our bags but it was best to be on the safe side in case it happened.

You can buy these scales for £2.10 at Amazon, with more accurate digital ones in the £5-£10 range.

You may need to buy new bags or cases

Christine’s handbag was too large to be her ‘small bag’ under Ryanair’s rules, so she used this as an excuse to buy a new, smaller handbag. Thankfully, not an expensive one, so it was still cheaper than it would have been to check in her larger bag. Similarly if you only have small bags, you may need to buy a slightly larger one. Ryanair has a range of bags it recommends, that fit within its dimensions, but at quite a high price.

I wasn’t able to use my normal rucksack, which is designed to be comfortable when hiking. It fit the dimensions, but is curved to keep my back cool, at the expense of internal space. Instead, I used a less ergonomic bag which had a larger capacity, but at least it was one that I already owned. If you don’t own a suitable bag, then you need to consider the cost of buying one versus checking in a bag that you already have.

If you want to take this to an extreme, buy a wearable luggage jacket that lets you keep many items on your person, to maximise the space in your luggage. The cheapest ones are about £30 and have plenty of pockets.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this amusing video by the cabaret act Fascinating Aida, about cheap flights and the added extras.

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