Why I’m now checking in a bag more often when I fly

Jan 11, 2022

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I was previously a staunch advocate of travelling with hand baggage only. My record is travelling for 126 (that’s four months) non-stop with only a full-sized cabin bag, and a very small personal item. With a carefully thought-out and strictly followed packing list, it can be done.

But over the last two years my strategy has changed. I still prefer hand baggage only for short weekend city breaks though these have become less frequent due to the onerous and constantly changing testing requirements during the pandemic.

For trips of a week or longer, I find myself often checking in a full-sized bag. Here is why.

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(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In This Post

You often have to visit the check-in desk now anyway

If you are travelling hand baggage only you can usually check-in online and head straight to the gate when you arrive at the airport. As much as I love travelling, I also love spending as little time in airport queues as possible. Carrying only hand baggage helps with this.

Some airlines will now not allow you to check-in online even if you are not checking baggage because of the pandemic. If they need to check your vaccination certificate, negative test result and passenger locator form they may force you to visit the check-in desk.

If I’m at the desk anyway, I may as well check my bag and travel hands-free.

Related: TPG reader question: Do I need printed copies of my COVID-19 documents for travel?

It makes security an absolute breeze

On my last hand baggage only flight earlier this week I used five separate scanning bins to get through security. I travel with all sorts of devices that need to be separated out for scanning, as well as my liquids, a reusable water bottle and even a metal laptop stand. The latter of which kind of looks like a weapon so I can’t keep it in my bag unless I want to wait for a lengthy manual inspection.

If I can check my luggage I can put all those things in that one bag and security is much faster and easier. When my gate is a good mile away from security as it often seems to be, it’s a no-brainer.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

I can board last

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve raced to the gate more than 45 minutes before departure to try and be one of the first to board in order to secure overhead cabin space above my seat. If you are on a 180 seat Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 I can assure you there is absolutely not enough space for 180 full-sized cabin bags.

If I’m not one of the first 100 or so to board, my cabin bag might be gate checked, or it may be placed in an overhead several rows behind my seat if that’s the only space available. This makes it very difficult to battle other passengers upon disembarking — effectively swimming against the current of a lot of weary people desperately trying to leave the plane after a long flight.

With no full-sized cabin bag in your possession, you can board last and without stress and head straight to your seat. If you have a small personal item it can go straight under the seat in front. Simple.

Related: Why I always board last, no matter where I’m sitting on the plane

Sunscreen

This might sound like an odd one, but – as a sun lover – by far the cheapest sunscreen in Europe I’ve found is right here in the U.K. It is not at all cheap in most holiday destinations.

If I don’t check a cabin bag I can only take 100mls and I would get through that in a few days. Sure, I can buy a full-sized bottle after security at the airport (which I have done several times) but if I only have cabin bags for the return journey, I need to either use up all of the bottle I have bought. Or throw the remainder out before returning home.

For a week at the beach, I’d rather take a few full-sized bottles with me in my checked baggage so I don’t get sunburnt, and also don’t get burnt purchasing expensive sunscreen at my destination.

Several low-cost carriers now charge for cabin bags

Unfortunately, my beloved easyJet is one of several European low-cost carriers who now charge for full-sized cabin bags. Ryanair, Wizz and Vueling also now do the same. Fortunately, Jet2 have held out — this is one of the reasons they are now one of my favourite airlines.

While you can still pay to take a full-sized cabin bag onboard these airlines, the cost may be similar to the cost of checking the bag in the first place, plus it will be minus all of the benefits I’ve described above.

Related: EasyJet’s new baggage policy makes zero sense, and here’s why

Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy

I’ve been lucky with baggage delivery times

One of the main reasons I’ve previously travelled hand baggage only, even when using a ticket that includes a bag as standard, it’s because I prefer to leave the airport as quickly as possible when I land. Waiting for a bag to leave the plane and return to you can take an age, depending on the time of day and how busy the airport is.

But, I’ve found immigration on arrival times to be longer during the pandemic as, like with check-in, various additional forms need to be checked. The longer I spend waiting in an immigration queue, the more likely my checked bag will be waiting for me when I reach the baggage belt.

I still have the odd nightmare at London Heathrow where the baggage isn’t delivered until more than 45 minutes after the flight has landed but most times my luggage is at the belt before I am.

Related: Stop behaving badly at baggage claim: Etiquette tips from the experts

Bottom line

As something of a minimalist, I hate being bogged down with lots of luggage. I take no pleasure in lugging a big and heavy bag up and down steps at a train station or dragging it down a cobbled street just to have more outfit options for a night out.

While I don’t enjoy paying more to check a bag on a low-cost carrier, the changing aviation landscape during the pandemic has made it more sensible to at least consider this option on my next flight.

Featured image by Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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