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What can I hand carry on board my flight?

June 30, 20159 minute read
hand carry, luggage

All airlines allow passengers to carry limited quantities of baggage on to the aircraft with them. Long gone are the days when people could happily carry on as much as they could lift and there is a lot more standardisation within the airline industry now. However, there are some subtle difference and while we can’t really tell you which ones are more relaxed about weight, dimensions and number limits, we can tell you which ones are very strict. Even then, this may vary between different airports so the best plan would be to follow the guidelines to enable you to hand carry whatever is most important and pack everything else in your checked baggage. You are unlikely to win a heated argument at the boarding gate and may find your precious items sent to the baggage hold and even pay more to have them there.

While most airlines seem to have settled on 7kg as a common weight, there is some flexibility in what is included and what extra you may take with you. Further down the page, we’ve done a check of a few airlines as a comparison. In addition, there is some movement towards a common set of guidelines for the dimensions of carry-on bags and although these are not regulations, a number of airlines have adopted these guidelines. For our story on these IATA guidelines, follow this link.

To understand the various items generally carried in your hand-carry bags, apart from a change of clothes, we’ve got a few tips to help de-mystify the whole process.

UPDATE 9th May 2020

Economy Traveller is monitoring the latest restrictions on the carrying of electronic devices (including cameras) larger than a average sized mobile phone. This information will be updated as and when there are announced changes.

What is a LAG Bag?

A ‘LAG bag’ is a clear plastic bag (preferably zip-lock for your convenience) no larger than 1 litre in volume. A zip-lock food bag of this size will do fine. LAGs are defined as Liquids (moisturiser, hand sanitiser etc), Aerosols (hairspray, perfumes etc) and Gels (lip balm, toothpaste etc) which must be in containers of 100ml or less and all must fit within the clear bag described above. Some airports may also ask about any powder (medication or bath powder) you may be carrying.

One important thing that Australian travellers need to know is that Vegemite (or Marmite for New Zealanders) is considered a Gel and unless it’s a tiny tube, you must pack it in your checked bag or have it taken away from you.

If you are travelling domestically, you may not need to produce your LAGs for inspection. However, International travellers will certainly need to have them ready for checking. Whether you are actually asked to show the bag varies by departure airport and destination – some want to visually inspect, others don’t, others say you may leave in your carry bag as it goes through the scanner.

What counts as a handbag?

There’s a lot of flexibility in what may be considered a handbag. This writer has, for a number of years, carried a camera bag/handbag which will hold a DSLR camera, phone, purse and a small laptop, along with a ‘main bag’ without any problems. This is probably the easiest way of coping with the rules, especially if your main piece of baggage can fit the other things you need and still keep you within the weight limit.

Two of the manufacturers I have tried successfully are Lowepro (they also have a number of designs that can double as a document case for your laptop) and Kelly Moore, both of which which make bags which look like handbags / manbags and don’t draw attention to the fact that you have a camera inside, a good security feature for any traveller, male or female.

How can I make sure I’m within the weight limit?

The easiest way to ensure you are within the weight limit is to buy a small luggage weighing scale. There are a number of these on the market which are often sold in departure area shops or on board aircraft. We have a Balanzza luggage scale which has served us well for a number of years.

As a general rule, your hand luggage must fit under the seat in front of you or in an overhead locker. The dimensions in airlines’ guidelines will generally cover different sizes and if the item won’t go in the overhead locker, it must fit beneath the seat.

Travelling with an infant

Baby food and other baby needs are generally allowed if they are for consumption during the flight. These are usually considered part of the allowable weight as children not holding their own ticket don’t have their own allocation. Some airlines are more flexible in this area and it is advisable to check with your carrier when making the booking.

Duty Free Purchases

The carrying of Duty Free purchases varies by departure airport and destination. As an example, if you are flying into Australia you may only take on board duty liquor and perfume bought in your last port of call. For example, if you purchase the item in Hong Kong and transit in Singapore, it will be taken from you and not returned when you board your flight to Australia. You may only take what you have purchased in Singapore. Allow enough time to make your purchase (at least an hour ) as it will be delivered to you at your boarding gate.

In any case, duty free purchases must be in Security Tamper-Evident Bag (STEB). In many airports these will only be delivered to you at the departure gate. (i.e. you may not take them with you after purchase to carry to the departure gate yourself)

Food and water / drinks:

  • Domestic flights – it is usually permissable to carry a small drink with you, but generally not when boarding an international flight.
  • Medication – properly labelled prescribed medication, or in packaging with manufacturer’s name or pharmaceutical label.
  • Frozen food must be properly packed and is included in the weight limit.

Items you may not hand carry

Your carrier and departure airport will probably have a list of prohibited items, however, this list will certainly include items that are sharp (blades, pocket knives, scissors, including nail scissors), firearms, flammable materials or liquids (can burn easily). You are allowed to take lithium batteries which are used in cameras etc and a spare or two. Anything larger than those would need advice from the airline. Basically, use common sense – if it could injure people if mishandled, don’t take it.

Airline Specific Details

[table style=”table-striped”]
Airline Weight allowance Maximum Dimensions (Main piece) Additional items Things to note Additional information
Qantas  7 kg Domestic

1 piece 105cm bag  plus 1 x 185cm non rigid garment bag or 1 x 115cm bag


1 piece 115cm bag  or 1 x 185cm non rigid garment bag

one small personal item e.g. handbag, laptop computer in slim case, overcoat, small camera, a reasonable amount of reading material or a small amount of duty free goods (international flights) Bulky items may be carried if they fulfil the weight/dimensions criteria, otherwise an extra seat must be purchased. e.g. diplomatic or courier bags, larger musical instrument, artwork or technical equipment Additional information Qantas
Jetstar  7kg 1 piece
56x36x23cm or
Soft Suitpack
1 small item, e.g.  handbag, Pocket book or purse, Coat, Umbrella, Approved duty free goods (international flights only) Strictly enforced with charges for extra made at departure gate Additional information Jetstar
AirAsia  7kg One piece

Maximum dimensions 56x36x23cm

1 laptop bag or 1 handbag Quite strictly enforced. Liquids, aerosols & gels in clear bag for international flights. Additional information AirAsia
Singapore Airlines 7kg One piece, linear measurements not to exceed 115cm in total one small personal item e.g. handbag, laptop in case, document bag, Maximum dimensions 40x30x10cm

overcoat, camera/camera bag, umbrella, walking stick if needed or a small amount of duty free goods.

Subject to checking during check-in or prior to boarding Additional information Singapore Airlines with a handy list of items you can take into different countries – also see Restrictions
Emirates 7kg 55x38x20cm total linear measurement not more than 114cm One piece only, either handbag or laptop bag  Rules are very specific. In addition, there are restrictions on duty-free items to certain destinations Emirates Additional information
Qatar Airways 7kg including laptop bag 50x37x25cm personal items such as one ladies handbag or small briefcase widest choice of additional items Qatar Airways Additional information
Royal Air Maroc 10kg 55x40x20cm

Linear measurement not exceeding 115 cm

Laptop or other valuables


Must fit under the seat or be stored in the luggage compartment. They must also be well packaged. Some pets including support animals. Royal Air Maroc Additional Information
British Airways Varies with operator 1 handbag/laptop bag (max. 23kg, up to 40 x 30 x 15cm) 1 additional cabin bag (max. 23kg, up to 56 x 45 x 25cm)

Infants (under 2)
1 cabin bag for items required during the flight (max. 23kg, up to 56 x 45 x 25cm)


Your bags must fit into the baggage gauge at check-in (including handles, pockets and wheels).

The weight limit applies to each bag; it isn’t possible to cannot be split across multiple bags.

You must be able to lift your bags into the overhead locker by yourself.

British Airways Additional Information

Delta and American Airlines have similar guidelines. Neither mentions weight restriction other than the requirement that you must be able to lift the bag yourself into the overhead locker. However, if you are travelling out of certain non-US airports, there may be airport specific restrictions.
Now you know all this, why not try a trip where you take only what you can hand carry? We have some TIPS to help.

# camera bags, carry-on baggage, LAG bag Liquids Aerosols & Gels
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This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I use a foldable walking stick sometimes. Can this come on board with me? I won’t be able to stand up if I get very stiff from sitting for long periods.

    1. You should be able to take it on board with you, but advise the check-in people. They may ask you to pass it to the crew to hold for you. It might not be a bad idea to get a doctor’s note to explain your need, just to make this easier both with the airline and any airport security checks. You could also call your airline to confirm their policy.

  2. Can I take my walking stick on board Qatar airway to Australia .i have wheel chair assistance but need my walking stick to use toilet

    1. It should be allowed, but we suggest you pass it to a member of the cabin crew (just like an umbrella). Just buzz them when you need it. But it would be best to confirm this with Qatar agents when you arrange your wheelchair assistance.

    1. It would depend on the context. If it’s packed for your baby who’s accompanying you, it should be fine. However you’ll need to keep it where it’s easy to show to security staff for checking on the way out. If it’s a whole tin (or more) and you have no baby with you, you’ll probably need to be prepared for questioning at the airport security.

        1. It should be OK, if you have it ready for the security to check. They may ask you to open it. (Don’y forget to close it tightly afterwards!)

  3. I have 2 giraffe statues that are fragile. Can I hand carry them on Qantas and American Airlines traveling to America?

    1. It would depend on the size and what other hand carry items you have. They would need to be carefully packed, I’d suggest a reinforced box, with those very environmentally unfriendly packing polystyrene shapes in all the spaces and around them. It’s probably a good idea to call your airlines to check if they can be passed to the cabin crew during the trip. (Like a stroller or wheelchair etc)

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