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Fly smart: how to hold on to your cabin luggage

Flying to Durban for the July?

06 July 2018 - 13:04 By wendy knowler
File photo.
File photo.
Image: 123RF / Martinkay78

If you‚ like growing numbers of frequent flyers‚ prefer to pack only a carry-on cabin bag - to avoid the theft risk of checking luggage in and the time-wasting schlep of dropping off that suitcase and then collecting it on the other side - best you know the rules to avoid potential disaster.

Thanks to online check-in‚ the first time airline staff get to see you and your cabin luggage as you’re about to enter the plane.

So if you don’t want the bag you packed as cabin baggage to be taken from you and put in the hold‚ where it may be tampered with‚ make sure it’s neither too big nor too heavy.

Airlines pay precious little compensation for clothes stolen from check-in luggage - they work on an international formula based on weight - but in the case of “valuable items” placed into cabin luggage‚ they take no responsibility whatsoever for any losses.

Think laptops‚ cameras‚ jewellery - and money!

Melini Moses recently told ConsumerLive of an experience her mother-in-law had after being made to check in the bag she had intended to take on board a Mango flight as cabin baggage.

In her case‚ she’d checked in the ‘retro’ way - at the airline’s airport check-in counter - and was asked to pop her intended cabin luggage on their scale.

As it weighed more than 7kg‚ she was forced to part with it. A cable tie was attached to the bag’s zips‚ but that proved to be a useless theft prevention measure. When she was reunited with her bag at Joburg’s OR Tambo International Airport‚ a gold chain had gone missing.

Of course‚ she should have removed the chain when she realised that she was unable to keep the bag with her‚ but as Moses points out‚ many people find it embarrassing to have to open their baggage in public in order to scrummage around to retrieve items.

It’s far worse being made to part with your bag at the entrance to the plane‚ where people are even less likely to want to unzip their intended cabin bag and reveal its contents to fellow passengers in order to remove “valuables”.

“Each passenger is allowed one piece of cabin luggage - in addition to a handbag or laptop bag - of no bigger than 56cm by 36cm by 23cm and weighing nor more than 7kg‚” Mango told me. “This ruling shall be rigidly enforced.”

But be warned: because so many people are choosing to fly with cabin luggage only‚ those overhead bins fill up fast‚ so if you don’t make sure you’re near the front of the boarding queue‚ your bag could end up in the hold anyway due to lack of space on board.

“Should the overhead compartments be improperly filled with heavy luggage‚ they can sporadically open in the event of extreme turbulence‚ and that could result in an injury‚” added Mango’s marketing head Benediction Zubane.

Similar restrictions and policies apply on all the other domestic airlines:

  • BRITISH AIRWAYS & KULULA: Cabin luggage must be no bigger than 56cm by 36cm by 23cm and weigh no more than 7kg. And even if your bag does conform‚ it could still be diverted to the hold due to lack of space in the overhead bins‚ on the “LOFO” principle: last on‚ first off.

  • FLYSAFAIR: Cabin luggage size and weight limit: 7kg‚ not exceeding 56cm by 36cm by 23cm. If your bag doesn’t conform and ends up in the hold‚ you’ll be charged a fee because the airline charges for check-in luggage.

  • SAA: The national carrier has the same cabin luggage size limits as its competitors - 56cm by 36cm by 23cm - but allows its passengers an extra kilogram: maximum weight is 8kg.


So you’ve checked in online‚ and you’ve got cabin luggage only‚ avoiding both the check-in and bag-drop queues at the airport. But your bag could end up in the hold anyway if you don’t:

1. Measure and weigh - make sure your cabin bag/suitcase is no bigger than 56cm x 36cm x 23cm‚ including the wheels‚ and weighs no more than 7kg (8kg in the case of SAA).

2. Get into the boarding queue early to make sure your bag scores a spot in the overhead bin.

3. If you are not at the front of the queue and you have a small case on wheels‚ carry it by the handle in a “this is so light” kind of way to avoid the attention of the ground crew at the plane’s entrance‚ who are looking for cabin bags to divert to the hold.

4. If your bag is diverted to the hold‚ take the time to remove your most valuable items‚ as the airline takes no responsibility for items such as money‚ jewellery and electronics in checked-in luggage.