by Lindsay Taub
Traveling internationally can be stressful. Even with extensive planning, unexpected annoyances can create turbulence. The friendly skies may be smooth sailing once you're in the air, but much of the frustration can occur before you even reach the gate. Since 2001, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the United States, as well as security agencies in other countries, has tightened restrictions on what passengers can carry in their luggage. The key to having a hassle-free airport experience is to be prepared and know airline luggage policies before you travel.
Size: Luggage and bags today are often stylish but not always practical. With international travel, your best option is to choose bags with a standard shape and size. Most airlines will allow passengers to check two bags: both not to exceed 62 inches. Maximum size is measured by the bag's total circumference, meaning the total number of inches in length, width, and height combined. Most airlines do not charge a fee for the first checked bag on international flights, but many charge fees for the second bag.
Weight: Airlines have limited the weight of checked baggage on international flights to 50 pounds. While it is still possible to check a heavier bag, passengers face excess baggage charges, depending on the airline and the actual weight overage. However, passengers flying business or first class, or passengers with a high status in their frequent flier program, may be given a reprieve from excess baggage charges. When purchasing your ticket, you may want to figure these charges into your travel costs and your choice of airline carrier.
Safe packing: Airport security electronically screens every passenger's baggage before it is placed on an airplane. But there may be occasions when an X-ray image is inconclusive and the suitcase will be physically inspected. Many passengers feel safer locking their luggage for international travel, and it is legal to do so. However, choose a lock that is TSA-approved. TSA locks can be opened by security officers using universal master keys so that your lock does not have to be cut, and your luggage will be safe throughout your travels. The TSA also has an extensive list of prohibited materials for both checked and carry-on baggage. Check the list before you pack to avoid being tied up at security checkpoints.
Carry-on luggage: The maximum size for carry-on luggage is 45 inches circumference. For example, a suitcase that is 22 by 14 by 9 inches totals 45. Make sure to measure with your own tape measure or ruler, as dimensions listed on the retail tag may refer to the bag's interior rather than the exterior. If there are pockets, wheels, handles, or compartments on the outside of the bag, these must be included in the measurements. Additionally, most airlines limit the weight of your carry-on, a few to as low as 11 pounds. Some wheeled carry-on suitcases can weigh as much as 14 pounds when empty. When purchasing a carry-on for international travel, make sure to pick one that has plenty of pounds to spare.