Avoiding Common Airport Pitfalls

You know you’re a frequent traveler once you have memorised most three-letter airport codes, the luggage requirements of each low-cost airline and have got enough tricks up your sleeve to be able to sneak in extra pieces of luggage, extra liquids and extra weight.

Before I present you with my insider tips on how to get around silly airport and airline regulations, aimed not at our safety but at pure profiteering, let me preface this by saying that none of these near-absurd shenanigans would be necessary if local governments and regulatory bodies, such as the European Commission in the EU or the Bureau of Consumer Protection in the U.S. were working harder to protect air passenger rights and introduce fairer standards across the board.

Circumvent the Hand Luggage Maximum Liquid Allowance and Save Money

Although I still haven’t figured out how to get past security with large bottles of drinkable liquids, empty bottles are fine to bring with you and you can easily fill them with tap water from the airport bathroom or water fountains (not all airports offer the latter). If you are concerned with the tap water quality at the airport, you can always ask one of the clerks at Starbucks, Costa Coffee or any other airport café or bar to fill it up for you with their (supposedly) filtered tap water, at no charge.

Don’t Exceed the Checked Luggage Weight Limit

Here standards tend to vary again, with some airlines allowing 32 kg of checked luggage, some – 22 and others – 15 or 20 kg, depending on how much you’re willing to shell out. Ryanair is definitely lagging behind with their maximum 15 kg or 20 kg allowance (depending on price), as this only equals the weight of approximately two carry-ons and is highly insufficient, especially if you pack a considerable amount of liquids or heavy shoes. For this reason, I recommend packing as much liquids (up to the limit) and your heaviest items in your hang luggage.

Get Around the One-Piece-Only Rule

Some budget airlines (talking to you, Vueling, easyJet and WizzAir) have some ridiculous rules like the one-piece-per-passenger regulation, which pertains to luggage you are allowed to take on board and they will not even allow you to carry a tiny little document and wallet cross-body bag with you. They would ask you to place your handbag or shoulder bag into your bigger carry-on before you can board the plane, even though they know very well that you’ll take it out as soon as you’re past the check-in clerk so you can access at least your paper tissue, headphones or phone on the flight. Pure ridiculousness. For this reason, I bring all the luggage I need with me past security but once it’s check-in time, I am forced to engage in one of the following cheap tricks:

  1. Place your shoulder bag across your body, if flying in winter; then put on your winter jacket and zip it up so that your bag isn’t visible to the check-in clerk. Unzip at your leisure once you’re through.
  2. Carry your outer jacket in your hand with your handbag hidden under it. Make sure no straps are treacherously sticking out.
  3. Buy a small (and cheap) item from the duty free shop and ask for a big bag. If you’re especially charming, simply ask one of the store cashiers to kindly provide you with one for free. Unlimited numbers of duty-free bags are allowed on board so take advantage of this allowance, then place your extra luggage (handbag, etc.) in the duty free bag, and voilá! Don’t overload it as not to look too suspicious. At some airports the bags are transparent and they are taped shut by the clerk at checkout so getting around that would be slightly trickier and possible not worthwhile.

Board The Plane Early

Don’t forget to start queuing and board the plane early if you don’t want the exact dimensions of your carry-on bag checked at the gate. Some airlines get fussy with this as overhead space runs out, and they’ll either charge you for larger trolleys, or force you to check-in your baggage, resulting in delays at your destination as you then need to wait for it at the luggage belt (and also risk your luggage getting lost).

Ryanair, admittedly, has come a long way since tape-measuring hand luggage bags and charging passengers overage fees for an extra centimeter over the allowance, and they now allow a personal item (purse or a laptop bag), in addition to your one-piece-carry-on. That’s a best practice in the industry and a reasonable expectation, so wake up, WizzAir, Vueling and easyJet! Thank you.

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