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More on 20-inch carry-on


This is my first post here, though I've been lurking for a few weeks. We are signed up for the June 7-13 Best of Paris tour and I'm already obsessing over the details, including luggage. I've been following the other discussion about the Rick Steves 20-inch carry-on bag, which I'm considering, and have a related question.

I get that 20-inch bags are recommended for flights within Europe, but what about flights to and from Europe on major carriers? For example, if we fly on British Airways or Lufthansa or another European carrier from the U.S. to London, will there be the same stricter carry-on rules, or would a slightly larger 21-inch spinner bag that's just fine on domestic flights be OK for the international flights, too?

I like the looks of the RS 20-inch bag and may well end up buying it in any case, but just wondered if the size is that critical on the flights we'll be taking. Thanks to all for any input.


Posted by
23472 posts

There really isn't an answer to that question either other than, "It depends." It really depends on the attitude of the gate/check in counter personal or current policy of the airline at the moment. Have stood in a couple check in lines for Lufthansa when every bag was going into the size box. No tolerance for anything. If it didn't fit, it was checked. Most of the wheeled luggage was being checked. Just this week on a domestic flight from Chicago, my wife's rolling bag was pulled from the line and was told it was too big. The gate people insisted it was too big and I insisted it has passed all prior tests. The sizing box was off to the side and not being used so I walked over to the box, dropped her bag in it, a very fit tight but it fit. Then she was allowed to board with her too big bag.

The trouble is, Size can be critical at very inconvenient times so I always make sure that we are with an limited imposed even if they are not checking. One of the last things I want to happen is having to check a bag at an unexpected time.

Posted by
41 posts

Great question! I cannot speak for London, but we traveled to Paris 2 months ago. We booked a round trip on Delta Airlines, and our outbound flight to Paris followed the same luggage size rules to which we are accustomed on domestic flights in the US. However . . . our return flight from Paris was handled by Air France, even though it was technically a Delta flight. We did not know this would be the case until we checked in for the flight at the end of our trip. The rules governing luggage size and weight were different for this flight, and it was quite a surprise. The total weight of each person's carry on baggage could not exceed 12 kilos and the size restriction of the carry on luggage was smaller than it had been on our flight into Paris. I am sorry to report I cannot remember the exact dimensions now, just that it was a bit of a shock for us. No one has ever weighed my carry ons before! I was way over, of course. We had two different security line people arguing about whether we should be allowed through, or if we should have to go purchase another bag and then check it for a $100 fee. We had no time to do this, even though we had arrived at the airport 3 hours in advance of our flight. Luckily the one that wanted to take pity on us won the argument, but we vowed to never find ourselves in this situation again. The checked luggage rules were about the same as domestic US flights. Bon chance and bon voyage.

Posted by
507 posts

This is from the Air France website. Since Delta & KLM are flying partners, it would probably apply to them also.

"To be accepted in the cabin, your hand baggage must not exceed the following dimensions: 55 x 35 x 25 cm / 21 x 13 x 9 in (including pockets, wheels and handles).

Please note: a suit bag is considered as one standard baggage item.


In addition to your hand baggage, you may also transport 1 accessory.

This includes your choice of one of the following:
Notebook computer
Camera, etc.

I would be conservative & go strictly by the baggage sizes given on your air carrier's website.

{Edit Add}. There is a weight restriction. Again check your air carrier's website.


Posted by
41 posts

Don't forget the weight restriction as well! Though we read Delta's information rather than Air France, since that is who we thought we were flying with.

Posted by
5837 posts

...handled by Air France, even though it was technically a Delta flight.

Be prepared. Read the rules.

AIRLINE PARTNER NOTICE Our SkyTeam® and codeshare partners may have >
different guidelines and restrictions on certain flights, so be sure >
to check before you check in.

Code Share Fact Sheet Code sharing is a commercial agreement between
two airlines that allows an airline to put its two-letter
identification code on the flights of another airline as they appear
in computerized reservations systems. For example, Delta Airlines
might have an agreement to operate flights for United Airlines on a
route. This flight would be listed under United’s identification code
(UA) but actually operated by Delta Airlines.

Posted by
5697 posts

Yes, it's difficult when there's a code-sharing flight -- to be on the safe side, go with the most restrictive rules posted. We're flying United over, Lufthansa back and planning to check the "carry on" bags on the flight home. Also bought bag check on an intra-European flight with Air France to avoid hassles at the airport.

Posted by
789 posts

Thanks to all. We don't have flights yet, but sounds like I should play it safe and go with the smaller bag, whether the Rick Steves one or another. I'm sure I'll be posting more questions over the next six months, as well. Looking forward to our first European trip.

Posted by
484 posts

You have the option of checking your bag. Check out your specific airline's website for luggage rules. Many international flights allow one checked bag per person at no charge. We often check a bag when it's free and just take our day pack with our important items and flight comforts on board. I know some fear and have experienced lost or delayed luggage. However, most luggage gets to baggage claim just fine. Check your airline and any connecting airline websites and follow the more restrictive rules. British Airways tends to be more lenient than many.

Posted by
15717 posts

Codeshare flights.....if your flight number is 8000 or higher, it's a codeshare operated by a different airline.

If your flight number is less than 3000, then the airline stated is operating the flight. Between 3000 and 8000 it's iffy.

All airlines now will tell you who is operating the flight when you book it. (At least on the airline websites--not sure about the discount travel sites.)

Posted by
1878 posts

When we have boarded a flight on a foreign carrier (though technically booked through United or Delta) the baggage allowances are less, as I recall. I am all for traveling light in principle, but to me it's much less stress to not worry about it and check a bag. For me it's a lot more stress to figure out how to pack lighter than it is to just check the bag. We may switch to smaller luggage the next time we drive in Europe though, because car trunks keep getting smaller.

Posted by
8655 posts

stoutfella, Brooke said it twice, but its important. The weight restriction is as big an issue as the dimensions. Our most recent code-shared flight, there were a lot of arguments with passengers who had gotten by with bigger bags on their domestic connecting flight, and had to check the bag at the gate. The gate crew basically went around eye-balling passengers carryons, and if questionable, they picked them up to judge the weight. If they thought it was too heavy, they took it to the sizer and measured it.

As VS said, checking a bag is not a crime. We always carry on outbound, and check bags on return.

Posted by
2081 posts


Youre better off with the smaller of the sizes since that will be the most restrictive as of this time. I choose to go with the smaller of the 2 "standards" since it would be less hassle, in my opinion and how i think and do things.

however, its not to say some puddle jumper airlines wont make you check in any second bag or anything larger or heavier than what they can accommodate.

so far in my experience, "International" as in from the USA to Europe has not been an issue as to what i have brought on board as long as it has "appeared' to be standard. Again, the smaller of the 2 sizes. On one of my flights (from USA to Europe) i didnt have my compression straps cinched down and they questioned the size of my carry-on. Of course it was oversized, but once i cinched the straps down, it wasnt an issue. Also, everything in my bag is usually squishible/mold-able with the exception of my riding helmet when i take it, but it doesnt fill my bag.

then there is always the the fine print.

happy trails.

Posted by
5837 posts

And even with the 20 inch carry-on, if it can't fit under the seat, you may have to gate check the bag if there is no more space in the overheads. This is more likely on internal European flights using single aisle aircraft in economy 32 inch pitch configuration. With three across each side of the aisle, if everyone has 14 inch wide x 9 inch high carryons, the overheads will not accomodate every bag on a full flight.

Posted by
789 posts

Thanks again for all the great information! I'm looking forward to picking everyone's brains in coming months on all manner of topics. No idea what airline we'll be on yet -- I'm waiting awhile to purchase, as June fares are very high right now -- but I'm pretty well decided on the smaller carry-on now.

Edgar: We've flown quite a few times on the smaller regional jets here at home, and it's routine to gate-check your carry-on, as overhead space is limited. Actually, it's a pretty convenient way to do things.

We intend to follow RS's admonitions to pack light and carry-on, at least on the way over. If we're coming back heavier, we can always check 'em on the way home.

Posted by
16894 posts

I check my carry-on sized bag pretty regularly, especially if I have a flight connection (and especially if it's my backpack, instead of wheeled bag). The bag you already own may fit the carry-on restrictions for your trans-Atlantic flights, with the caveats above about noting the weight limit and allowing for the fact that airlines may also gate-check you bag when they just decide that the overhead bins are full. I would not necessarily buy a new bag if the only difference is an inch. Spinner wheels are not always the sturdiest in a variety of situations (airline checking, cobblestones, etc), which could be a reason to try Rick's bag, but you should not really have any rough roads en-route to your Paris hotel.

Posted by
789 posts

Laura: Thanks so much for the input. I'm buying a new bag in any case, because the carry-on I have is about 25 years old, with no wheels and not that functional compared to today's luggage. After wrestling this thing (usually over-packed) on my shoulder for too many years, I've actually taken to borrowing my wife's rolling bag if I'm traveling on my own.

One reason I'm drinking the Rick Steves "pack light" Kool-Aid is that, besides the flights, we'll also be hauling the bags onto public transportation -- the Tube in London, the Eurostar train, the Metro in Paris -- up and down stairs and around the various stations and airports, plus at least a few blocks on the streets to reach hotels. So if I'm buying a bag anyway, I'm banking on being happier in the long run if I go smaller and lighter. Though this will be our first trip to Europe, I very much intend for it to be the first of many. I'm 60 years old now, and I figure I'm not going to enjoy heavy luggage any more in the future than I do now.

I'm pretty well set on giving the Rick Steves 20-inch rolling carry-on a shot and see how I like it. Been looking at the similar Lipault version, but I keep coming back to RS. Maybe it's that drinking the Kool-Aid thing ;-)

Posted by
15717 posts

Let me throw you a curve ball and suggest another bag:

Eagle Creek No Matter What Flatbed Duffel 20

There is also an optional backpack attachment if you want to have that option:

Quick Snap Strap:

I have the bag and recently took it on a couple of short trips. Holds a lot and stands up.

I'll be reviewing it on my website in a day or so.

Posted by
232 posts

I used the RS 20 inch for our trip to Italy last year. Loved it. You can fit everything in it for a two week trip and you'll laugh when you see how small it looks in the overhead bin compared to the other bags there!

On our way to FCO we flew Alitalia which I was told could be really strict on carry on sizes so I packed my clothes in cubes then put them inside a soft tote bag (like the "don't tell Rick" bag on this site) inside the 20 inch bag that way I figured if they made me check my bag I could take out the tote bag and have all the things I really needed in a less convenient but small bag without having to repack a bag on the floor of the airport.

Not only did the Alitalia gate agents not give me a second glance they let one family on with one of those GIANT Lego sets, you know the ones that are too big to even fit in a Toys R Us bag. So it depends on who is at the gate!

Posted by
981 posts

Gretchen, did they weight your bag. I have never used a carry on before. I'm nervous about exceeding all the restrictions. I think I will still purchase this bag even if checked, as I will have to carry my bag on an off trains, etc. but I don't want to be fooling around at airports. We have a direct flight from JFK to venice. Coming home we fly from Naples >Rome > U.s.

Posted by
789 posts

Just a quick update. I bought the Rick Steves 20-inch carry-on and used it this week on our 4-night holiday trip to San Antonio (it became a 5-night trip after our flight home from DFW was canceled, but that's another story).

I was very pleased with the bag. It easily held everything I needed, with room to spare. I figure I should be able to pack in a similar fashion for our 10 days in Europe -- I'll just plan on washing stuff during that trip.

I used the RS packing cubes and had no trouble fitting one large and two small ones. I had five shirts in the large one and it would have held more. I put four days of underwear in a small cube and it was pretty full. I used the second small cube essentially as a toiletry bag, as the one I usually use wouldn't fit in the suitcase very well. So I definitely needed to think about how I was packing, but I can see this bag working just fine for Europe this summer.

I also carried on my camera-bag backpack with the DSLR, iPad, earphones and other stuff to use on the plane. I may look to find a lighter day bag for this purpose, as the backpack is kind of bulky to lug around.

Bottom line is that the RS carry-on was quite satisfactory. It's just as light as advertised, rolls easily and is constructed of what seems to be durable fabric. The zippers aren't the smoothest I've ever used. I had no trouble at all with them, but this could be a weak spot down the road.

Posted by
1221 posts

However . . . our return flight from Paris was handled by Air France, even though it was technically a Delta flight.

Whose name was on the tail of the airplane? (Whose 'metal' as the Flyertalk folks would say?)

Air France does handle check-ins and other ground staffing for Delta 'metal' flights at CDG as well as their own AF/KLM flights. I've got an AF boarding pass from there even though it was a Delta proper flight, so it could actually have been a case of the ticket agents going by the wrong rulebook in this case.