The pros and cons of carrying on or checking your luggage for airline travel

Let’s talk about bags.

ByABC News
November 5, 2017, 6:19 AM
A traveler waits at the airport with luggage in this undated stock photo.
A traveler waits at the airport with luggage in this undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

— -- Let's talk about bags.

Whether you've got a 29-inch Samsonite spinner or an Eddie Bauer backpack or maybe even a Louis Vuitton carry-all, they all do the job. But some do it better than others and brand names have nothing to do with it. It's all about the size and bigger isn't always better.

Let's examine the pros and cons of big and little luggage.

Carry-ons: Pros and cons

  • You can keep lots of things you need (or might need) close at hand, including large headphones, medications, reading glasses, various electronics and charger cords.
  • You cannot bring small "saucy" type food gifts like jams or jellies or salsas because the TSA deems such foodstuffs "liquids," which are not allowed in containers larger than 3.4 ounces.
  • You become a smart packer because space is limited, so you learn to take only what you really need and really want.
  • The airline won't be handling your bag, which means the airline won't be losing it.
  • Most airlines do not charge a fee for carry-ons, while they do charge for big bags (usually $50 round-trip).
  • If the carry-on has no wheels (not all do), your arm or shoulder could start aching.
  • If you're traveling solo, you’ll learn that navigating a restroom with a carry-on can be a little tricky.
  • If you're near the end of the boarding line, all the bin space may be filled by the time you get to your seat and the only place left to stow your bag is the space for your feet.
  • With a carry-on, once you get off the plane, you go out of the airport and on your way. Vacation begins immediately.

Big bags: Pros and cons

  • Go ahead, pack everything, even things you only think you might wear; what the heck, that orange and green checked sports coat will be handy if the right occasion arises.
  • Want to pack a bottle of wine or a jar of that homemade salsa? No problem in a checked bag, but wrap it very carefully (consider using multiple, zip-type bags).
  • Yes, most big bags will cost you a fee (Southwest, the exception, offers two big bags for free). However, some of the airlines that charge for carry-ons actually charge less for big bags. On a recent cross-country Spirit flight, for example, a carry-on cost $70 round-trip while a big bag was $60.
  • No need to worry about bin space with a big bag; it flies below while you relax up top, with plenty of room for your feet.
  • Could the airline lose your big bag? It's possible and it happens, but it is actually pretty rare.
  • OK, with a big bag, you do have to wait at the baggage carousel. But maybe you'll be lucky and your bag will be the first one out. Maybe.

And the winner is...

There is no absolute, definitive answer but I'll give my opinion: The carry-on wins hands-down.

I take a small hand-held bag on my travels throughout the U.S. and I take the same bag on 10-day jaunts to Europe. The fee is the least of it, as far as I'm concerned (though I never say no to saving money); instead, I like carry-ons because they don't get lost and they get me out of the airport quickly. I like my adventure to begin immediately.

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

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