Often a hotly-debated subject amongst flyers, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to each argument. But first, for those new to the game of flying or need a refresher, there are certain limits to what you can take, both in your carry-on (what you can physically take with you on the aircraft), and what you can 'check-in' (what goes in the cargo hold of your plane - under the floor of the cabin). See How much can I take on-board, and what do I have to check?
- The airline won't lose your bags! Always the scorn of travelers, lost luggage can be a real drag. And if this happens, the air carrier will do little to compensate you, except to deliver your bag to your home or hotel, often many hours or even days after your luggage was lost.
- When you get to your destination, you can just zip right through the airport to your rental car, taxi, or shuttle, and not have to wait endlessly for your bag to show up on that baggage carousel.
- If your flight is delayed (or canceled altogether) and you missed your connecting flight, you have your bags with you and are much more flexible. Perhaps there is another flight you can be re-routed to, or a flight going to a nearby airport. Remember, if you check your bags, those bags will stay on the scheduled flight (in most cases), even if that flight is delayed by hours and you can be re-booked on a different flight. The airline will simply send your bag on the originally-scheduled flight, requiring that you stick it out at your destination or return to the airport what that flight arrives (what a bummer!).
- Another advantage is that you keep your bag securely with you, thus eliminating the chance that your camera fails to zoom anymore after being zoomed into the cargo hold by a guy who used to work lugging concrete bags at construction sites, or worse, that it 'sprouted legs' and disappeared en-route to your arrival airport.
- You can take a lot more stuff. Since airlines restrict what you can carry-on board the airplane, you have to pack very carefully (read: don't take that kitchen sink). If you're traveling on a trip of a few days, you can probably get by carrying your bags on-board the flight, but if you plan to fly with lots of gifts and goodies, you'll be much better off checking your bags. See checked baggage limits.
- You won't have to fight 280 people for that elusive overhead bin space (the area above your seat that always seems to be 1 inch smaller than your bag). Since most business travelers tend to take shorter trips and hence don't check-in luggage, and they are priveleged to board before the rest of the masses, chances are the overhead bins might be full by the time you embark your flight, or, the only space available is all the way in the back over 49E, and your seat is in 12A (meaning you have to wait until all the passengers disembark at the destination airport to wait to get back and retrieve your bag at baggage claim.
As a very general rule, you can take one size-limited carry-on bag with you when you fly, not including a small laptop bag, backpack, or handbag. Alternatively, you can check two bags at the airport check-in counter. Bag size restrictions for carry-ons and weight-limits for checked-luggage are determined by each airline. See checked baggage restrictions or carry-on restrictions.
What happens if I am over the Checked-Baggage Limit?
If you arrive at the airport check-in counter with 12 bags of gifts for your nephews, be prepared to pay a hefty price. Airlines typically charge you to check bags that meet their size and weight limits (see checked baggage regulations). Anything over the limit can cost $75 or more per bag, so be aware! The ticket counter agent will be happy to take your credit card and charge you more than you spent on those gifts.
What happens if I carry my bags on-board, and there is no space?
You've made it to the airport, your flight is set for an on-time departure, and you've started the boarding process - only you're in the back of a long line of fellow passengers, and by the time you get on board, there is no space left in any of the overhead bins! Well what happens in that case is the flight attendants take your bag into the cockpit, where the pilot gets first dibs on your stuff...ok, what really happens is that they take your bag off the plane and check it in. So now you have to go to baggage claim when you arrive at your destination to pick it up at the baggage carousel. No big deal, right?