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Luggage Freakout

We are leaving for Europe at the end of September, and even though this will be our third trip with carry-on luggage, it will be our first time with air travel between two foreign cities. We fly Air Berlin (through their partnership with American) from LAX to Dusseldorf and after clearing customs catch another AB flight from Dusseldorf to Munich. We're on trains the rest of the time, and fly home on Air Tahiti Nui from Paris.

We flew from LA to New Orleans in May on American and although we were flying coach we were going through the First Class security line because my husband is a Gold AAdvantage member. We couldn't figure out why the agent guarding the escalator up to the First Class line was eying my 8 year old Rick Steves bag and touching it to see if it was "squishy". He didn't say a word and let us pass. Several weeks after our return we saw the article indicating that American (and I think United and Delta) had changed their size specifications for carry-on luggage and we figured that that was the issue.

We are in a tizzy trying to decide if we need to replace the older RS bag. We replaced my husband's old no-name brand roll-aboard in January and his new RS bag is approx. 2.5" shorter than my bag. The new bag conforms to American's new rules, as well as to Air Berlin's (21.5ish x 16ish x 8ish--Rick's bag is actually only 14" wide). Fitting the items we take with us into either bag has never been an issue, but weight is always tricky. I did a trial packing in the new suitcase this morning and was at approx. 15.5 pounds with clothes and shoes and room to spare, so by the time I add some other odds and ends I'll probably be up close to the 8kg/17.64 pounds allowed.

It would be nice to not have to pay another $170 or so for a new RS suitcase when we have a perfectly good one. We are thinking we might even go ahead and budget for 1 checked bag on the German leg of our trip (would be free on the initial flight and might even be able to stay in the cabin with us if LAX is a bit "lax" with the rules) and then not worry particularly how heavy that bag is (hubby is loathe to rip Rick's books apart to lessen the weight). Gives us a bit more flexibility knowing up front one bag will be over sized, over weight and checked. On the other hand, we fly American several times each year and it looks like we are going to need a shell out for new bag anyway if they are going to enforce new carry-on rules.

The other reason I'm having a mild freakout is that we've always used Rick's medium sized backpack as my husband's personal item and never even thought twice about it and have never been questioned about it. But it turns out it is larger than the almost 16 x almost 12 x almost 4 inches allowed for an Air Berlin personal item. And the tote I use (and into which I stuff my purse) is fine length and width, but at 9 " wide it also doesn't conform. Nor does the very classy large black "purse" I've used to stuff my purse, books, toiletries into on occasion -- it meets the 4" back to front, but is 2" wider and taller. So I guess at this point we are resigned to using Rick's Day Pack as my husbands personal item, and I've found an almost flat canvass tote amongst the junk in our closet that I'll use to stuff my purse and toiletries into.

We both have fairly new Scottvests and this will be our first trip to Europe with them. We'll wear them and stuff pockets with books, scarves & gloves, but I've also been eying the Stuffa Vests online wondering if we should get one of those to stuff things like underwear and pj's into. I'm so glad I have a two month head start on the luggage freakout so by the time we're actually needing to get stuff packed I'll have mellowed out a bit. Hate that we had a system that worked for us and now, one way or another, it's going to cost us money to conform to the new rules!

Does anyone have experience on Air Berlin, or with taking Rick's older bags onto a European airline?

Posted by
1068 posts

Unfortunately, this is a difficult question to answer as airlines, agents, scales and rules are often capricious and inconsistently enforced. You have, most likely, read the recent spate of articles on the net about changing carry on luggage rules.... and probably the articles on how they are enforced. So, right now, there is no great answer, it will in part depend on your comfort level with inconsistency. Part of the answer also depends on how much you travel-- would it be cheaper to buy new suitcases or budget for a one-time checked bag? If you fly frequently, it may be helpful to consider new suitcase(s). As an aside, I have a Scottvest and think it okay, but would likely not replace it. I have found the most use I get out of it is when I am flying and require passports and various papers--and also like to carry my snacks and some money etc. The hidden pockets in the vest help me feel secure and I have slots for a tablet, phone, snacks, money and papers. IMHO, they are extremely uncomfortable when you have actually carry things in the pockets so I don't use it that way. (I may take my tablet on the plane with me, but carrying it around all day in the Scottvest with a camera, bottle of water, etc. etc. is much more cumbersome than a backpack for me.) A number of people who post here mention they use them to get through security and on board the plane before transferring goods back to their bags, but I try to pack less so I don't have to do that.

Posted by
18384 posts

"if they are going to enforce new carry-on rules."

New carry-on rules? I read the Seattle-Times article, and I am frankly confused. I've been carrying on since 2000 and closely following the baggage size allowances. They haven't changed. For almost 15 years it's been Europe: 55 x 40 x 20 cm, US: 22 x 14 x 9 in., for almost all airlines. Maybe the US airlines are being more forceful at enforcing the rules that have always been there, but the rules are not new.

15.75 x 7.87 in (40 x 20 cm) is almost the same cross sectional area as 14 x 9 in, so if the bag is not rigid (as in a rolling bag) or fully stuffed, it will deform to fit in the sizer.

I have a circa 2000 RS Convertible bag, and I have used it for at least a dozen trips to Europe, as recently as last October, without problem. I have inserted it in the sizer in Europe, and it fit. I also put it in a US sizer in Seattle last March, and it fit.

"his new RS bag is approx. 2.5" shorter than my bag."

Which tells me that your bag exceeds the 22 in limit!

But both of your personal items are very definitely over-sized. You need to replace them (or hope they don't measure them).

BTW, I just flew United from San Francisco to Seattle. At the gate in San Francisco, they kept announcing that carryon luggage would have to fit in the sizer, but I never saw any bags put in the sizers, and I saw roll-aboard that were obviously oversized being taken on board. I even saw someone put in the overhead compartent a roll-aboard that was so long it had to be put in sideways.

So they are still not doing a very good job of enforcing the rules.

Posted by
186 posts

My old bag IS a Rick Steve's bag -- it is +/- 2.5" taller (23.5 vs 21, give or take a bit) than my husband's new RS bag. We've traveled 3 or 4 times to Europe and once to Australia/New Zealand/Fiji and never worried about the old bag's size until now. The following link is to a discussion here on the forum regarding the new size rules, and inside that link is the link to the article we saw after returning from New Orleans that gave us a head's up that a change had been made. Both RS bags comply with the 14" wide domestic rule change. After much grumbling it seems that the most logical thing for us to do is pony up the money for a new, shorter RS bag before heading off to Germany.

Posted by
1812 posts

We flew to London on American via Chicago in May. The gate agent was going to deny my older RS carry-on. I frantically dug stuff out so it would fit in the sizer. It wasn't extended, just front- heavy with RS guidebooks. No problem with subsequent British Air flight or other AA flights. I did realize that my model is older and taller than my husband's RS model.

Posted by
1068 posts

Lee, good to admit you can be confused at times. As to the OP, even before the "changes" to carry on bag size, boarding a plane was haphazard at best. I've got at least half a dozen stories that items that had been permitted on-board multiple times were suddenly challenged. I believe (it was true at one point) that the TSA could also refuse to let something on board if they deemed it dangerous.....even if the item in question met their standards. That happened to me once when my multi-tool--designed to meet travel standards-- was suddenly questioned and deemed suspicious (I think the security guy just liked it.) No one else has ever given it a second glance. Today, travel is always a crap-shoot.

Posted by
186 posts

We took our lunch in a small insulated cube (squishy and packable when empty) with a shoulder strap as a "fifth" piece of carry-on luggage between the two of us for over half a dozen domestic flights before anyone questioned it. And then all they said was "is that food?" and when we said it was they just passed us on through. I asked on Trip Advisor if that was strictly an America Airlines accommodation, or if other airlines looked the other way when a lunch bag was involved, and got a ration of name calling for flouting the rules. We carried our cube a couple more times, had to stuff it in a tote on an inter-island flight in Hawaii, but were able to walk on with it two hours later on the flight from Honolulu to the mainland. But we finally decided to just carry food in a plastic bag. And in the last few days I've read a reference to "food from the airport food court" as being allowable which makes me think my plastic bag of sandwiches and chips from home can be taken from me on a whim.

And I would swear to you that up until the last four years or so I was able to board American flights with a purse in addition to a roll-aboard and a tote bag where we were sitting in First or Business Class. In my mind's eye I can even see that in writing, although now the written directives are the same for every class of seat. Now I always leave room for my purse in my tote. So I think the rules are constantly being massaged.

Posted by
2081 posts


I have/use an Ospray Porter 45? and one time i had it packed full. It was within the weight limit but i didnt take much care to pack it so it was more rectangular than a lump. When i got to the checkin gate the ticket agent asked me to put it in the box. Of course it wouldn't fit, so i told her let me rearrange things and it would. I was able to move things around to make it more rectangular and it fit, easy peasy.

you have mentioned doing some of the things that i do, but i will review what i do.

wear my jacket on board. I take it off once i get my seat. the jacket compacts down but i prefer to wear it to minimize my luggage weight.

wear my bulkiest shoes. I bring 2 pair on my travels. one to wear and the other to swap every other day. If i bring my horseback riding clothes, i bring my 3rd pair of paddock boots.

minimize my junk. I try to only bring my necessities. I leave my toothpaste and any liquids out and buy them once i land. I dont want to deal with TSA about if my toothpaste tube is 1 oz over max. Been there, done that. No win scenario.

buy/use travel clothes that are lighter in weight/bulk and dry faster.

happy trails.

Posted by
453 posts

We check our bags, and I have a small carryon with things like snack, water bottle, food etc. This way I don't have the headache and stress that you have now.

And our bags are RS roller and an Ebag weekender roller. Can't be bothered.

Posted by
186 posts


I go back and forth on the darn suitcase. One day I'm sure it's better to buy new for this trip, then, as happened this morning when I went to look something up in one of Rick's books, I stare at almost 3 pounds of guidebooks and figure there is no way we are going to be able to make four pieces of properly sized carry on items fit the weight limitations. Can't rip the books up to leave only the pertinent chapters because Prague and Budapest are each their own book, and we are seeing 3 German cities (and probably more with day trips and cruise stops) so no sense trying to rip up the German book. And I've figured out that once I resign myself to checking one overweight suitcase, suddenly either my usual tote or my husband's medium sized back pack that are oversized as a personal item now can count as a carry-on "suitcase".

Last year in NYC we ordered a guide book on the Kindle. Last time I ever do that! Impossible to use a guidebook in electronic form, in my opinion. Of course, I'm a dinosaur who still looks for a plumber in the paper Yellow Pages!

Posted by
453 posts

It's a pity about the books. I've been know to copy the relevant pages and leave the book home!

You have to do what works for you. I ignore a lot about packing or checking bags because some things I need to take with me.

Posted by
1068 posts

To each his/her own (re: guidebooks.) However, regarding the electronic guidebook: I personally find them quite helpful..... I usually take a map (my favorites are Streetwise Laminated Maps which IMHO are great if you are doing the "usual" tourist things) and use the electronic guidebook for suggestions about restaurants and opening times of museums etc. I have difficulty using electronic maps so the combo of "real" map and electronic guide is great for me. In smaller towns where Streetwise does not have a map, the local Tourist Information Center can usually help out. I also do quite a bit of research at home regarding what I want to see etc. So when I go, an electronic guidebook is more of a reminder.

Posted by
1277 posts

I just traveled Italy and Slovenia with 3 friends and one had down loaded ricks Italy book onto her I phone, we had a printed Rick Italy map and also a very complicated topographical/road I had a hard copy of a DK guidebook in my carry on that we only referenced at night. about the perfect combination for us......

Posted by
715 posts

With regards to the book issue try a kindle or an iPad mini, then you don't need all the books. I use an iPad mini and, unless I plan to do a lot of work while traveling, I don't need my laptop. It is one of the best travel purchases I have ever made.

Posted by
351 posts

It killed me to do it the first time, but once I ripped apart that first Rick Steve's book, I've never regretted it. The reality for me is this: by the next time I travel to the same place, I will probably enjoy a new version anyway.... It saved a ton of weight on a trip to Scandinavia, Paris, Lauterbrunnen and Munich. The sections I tore out stayed reasonably well "bound" by the glue that had held them to the cover, so they were not just sheaves of loose pages. I travel with a backpack so size is no issue, but weight on my back matters a lot.

Posted by
27 posts

Its not that there are new carry on rules, just that they are following their currently existing ones to a T.

With the American and United merger, FAA and other governmental entities are checking that the airlines are enforcing their regulations (including carry-on sizes) to the letter. This is why we are seeing so many more "minders". Making sure we are minding their rules.

I don't know what the difference is to the government whether the companies are enforcing such little mundane rules, but thats part of the pre-check stuff the government does prior to allowing a merger.

So, if you're afraid that your bag is too big, and you just can't part with it in flight, then get a new one.
If you're ok with maybe having to check it, then wing it and see what happens.

But always have a backup plan. Last thing you want to have to do is stand 15 from the boarding door and be shuffling your luggage around from bag to bag. That just sounds like no fun!

Posted by
11455 posts

The government couldn't care less if the airline's enforce their own carry on rules. (Remember, each airline decides its own carry on rules and sizes.)

The reason the airlines are getting tougher is money. Last quarter, most airlines showed a profit, the first profit in a long time. And each said that profit came from additional fees with baggage fees leading the way. In 2013, the airlines reported baggage fee revenue of just over $5 Billion.

Posted by
517 posts

We bit the bullet and switched to RS's new roller when the last several trips of 3 weeks each....we came back with a weeks worth of totally unworn clothes we obviously didn't need......although shorter and better incorporated wheel still allows us to bring everything we could possibly need for 21 days.....we each carry a personal bag as well. All our guide books are on iPad mini.

I totally dislike checking bags due to hassle of having them go missing....I would gladly pay if airlines changed their policy to play for carryon.

The new bag is lighter too.