Hand-luggage-only packing tips

Woman hand luggage

If you want to get in and out of the airport with minimum faff (not to mention expense), then avoiding baggage check-in and flying with hand luggage only is the way to go. With fiddly security rules and weight restrictions to take into account, a little advance prep can go a long way to smoothing your airport experience. Here's some advice on how to keep travelling as light and stress free as possible, as well as a comprehensive guide to baggage allowance.

What can you take in your hand luggage?

Airlines that only allow one bag really mean just one bag and can be stringent in enforcing it. This means your handbag, change bag or any duty free will often have to fit into one carry-on.

Make sure you can remove anything you'll need during the flight from your bag easily, or wear an outfit with lots of pockets, just in case there's a problem and you end up with your hand luggage in the hold or several seats away in an overhead locker.

And we all know how these rules are subject to quite spontaneous change, so it's worth keeping an eye on the Government's hand luggage restrictions website.

Luggage weight restrictions

Once you've crammed your whole life into a single bag, the fun's not over – further restrictions mean you should be prepared to have your bag weighed.

If you'd like to be completely prepared, one well-prepped Mumsnetter recommends investing in a home travel-scale. It's also worth checking how much your bag weighs empty; some wheeled bags weigh a couple of kilos before you've even started packing.

How to pack when you've only got hand luggage

If you're going for the one-bag approach, how do you maximise the amount you can fit in it? The secret is to be a smart packer, as demonstrated by this ultra-savvy guide from the New York Times on fitting a veritable catwalk of clothing into a single bag.

But if this is beyond you, Mumsnetters recommend other tips and tricks, such as taking bras without underwires because they roll smaller, using small vacuum bags to compress your clothes and packing microfibre towels instead of normal ones as they're less bulky.

Child airport

Capsule wardrobe for warm-weather holidays

Try this Mumsnetter-approved pared-down packing method:

  • Pack three outfits, plus one for the evening
  • Take just flip flops, and one other pair of shoes
  • Stuff your toiletries and underwear inside the shoes you just packed
  • Wear your fourth outfit to fly in (if you turn up naked at check-in, they may object – and you'll have no useful pockets for the flight if your cabin bag ends up in an overhead locker miles away)

Restricted items you can't take on an aeroplane

The infamous 100ml liquids rule is still with us, which means you'll be forced to discard any bottles in your carry-on bag that exceed 100ml, even if the bottle isn't full.

And be clear which toiletries constitute a liquid – for instance, lipstick, deodorant and toothpaste are all counted. Directgov has a helpful guide to taking liquids in your hand luggage.

All your 100ml containers have to then fit into a single one-litre plastic bag. Some Mumsnetters have a stock of resealable clear freezer bags or pencil cases – worth considering, especially since several airports charge you £1 for the plastic bags. But do ensure your bag is definitely resealable in case you have to open it at check-in.

Baby milk and food are exempt from the 100ml rule, but you're only allowed to board with 'sufficient for the trip' (there's no set rule on how much this is) and you may be asked to taste it when going through security. Bon appetit.

Finally, medicines and tablets are all fine to take through security (as long as they're not in containers bigger than 100ml) but you can't take anything sharp onto the plane (although razors are OK), so check children's pencil cases for scissors and pencil sharpeners.

Getting through airport security

This can be one of the most irksome aspects of flying, but savvy packing can make it less stressful.

Child trunki

If you're bringing an iPad or laptop on to the plane with you, for example, make sure you haven't carefully buried it under three or four layers of tightly packed clothes – security will make you dig it out to place in a separate tray when scanning.

And while it may be a smart move to wear your clumpiest boots through the airport to save on your weight restriction, be prepared to take them off at security. If they've got fiddly laces, it might be worth unlacing them while waiting in the queue.

Airline baggage allowances

Here's a rough guide to what some of the main airlines will and won't allow, but double-check before you fly as these may change.

It's also worth remembering that there is no guarantee your 'cabin' baggage will actually be allowed in the cabin. Quite often space is limited and those who have paid extra for priority boarding could potentially nab all the space in the overhead lockers, meaning your bag gets put in the hold. Unfair yes, but worth being prepared for. Ensure anything you need to have in-flight can be taken out and kept on your person. But on the plus side, if your bag is not oversized then you won't have to pay for it. And if you are one of those people who has forked out for priority boarding, then if the cabin space does get full – you might get out of having to put your luggage in the hold. So swings and roundabouts, really.


  • Max size: 40 × 20 × 25cm Weight limit: None stated
  • Fees for excess: Up to £40 (depends on your route and size of the excess)
  • Handbag allowed? No
  • Change bag allowed? Yes, up to 5kg, when an infant (23 months or younger) travels on adult's lap with dimensions: 45 × 35 × 20 cms


  • Max size: 56 × 45 × 25cm Weight limit: None stated
  • Fees for excess: Up to £50 (depending on the size of the excess, and if it's charged at bag drop or at boarding gate)
  • Handbag allowed? Only if you're an EasyJet Plus cardholder, FLEXI fare, Upfront or Extra passenger. Otherwise, you can take on one bag of duty free shopping
  • Change bag allowed? Yes, up to 45 × 36 × 20 cm, when an infant (up to two years) travels on a parent's lap

British Airways

  • Max size: 56 × 45 × 25cm Weight limit: 23kg
  • Fees for excess: £65
  • Handbag allowed? Yes, one additional bag up to 40 × 30 × 15 cm
  • Change bag allowed? Yes, infants under two are allocated one cabin bag

Virgin Atlantic

  • Max size: 56 × 36 × 23cm Weight limit: 10kg (more for Upper Class)
  • Fees for excess: From £45 – £140 depending on excess
  • Handbag allowed? Yes
  • Change bag allowed? Yes, up to 6kg for an infant under 2 years

Thomas Cook

  • Max size: 55 × 40 × 20cm Weight limit: 6kg
  • Fees for excess: £50-£70 (depends on the route and if bought in advance)
  • Handbag allowed? Yes, or a laptop bag
  • Changing bag allowed? No, all essentials are to be within your main cabin bag

Aer Lingus

  • Max size: 55 × 40 × 24cm Weight limit: 10kg
  • Fees for excess: £12-£45
  • Handbag allowed? Yes, or a laptop bag up to 25 × 33 × 20 cm
  • Changing bag allowed? Only instead of a handbag


  • Max size: 55 × 40 × 20cm Weight limit: 5kg
  • Fees for excess: £13-£18
  • Handbag allowed? No, separate bags aren't allowed
  • Changing bag allowed? No