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Airlines like Air Canada and WestJet are now charging a $25 fee for your first checked bag when traveling in Canada and the U.S. Which means more and more travelers are bringing carry-on-only to avoid the extra charges. And because of this, airlines are getting even stricter about the requirements for carry-on luggage.

kenneth cole 19.5 wheeled upright luggage.jpgWhat You Need to Know

Carry-on size and weight restrictions are fairly consistent, though there are slight variations. For example, Air Canada allows bags that are 9 x 15.5 x 21.5” in size (wheels and handles included) and 22 lbs., while WestJet’s stated required dimensions are slightly smaller at 21 x 9 x 15”. Both airlines also permit an additional personal article, which could be a purse, briefcase, backpack, or laptop bag. For Air Canada, that item must be no larger than 6 x 13 x 17” and up to 22 lbs.; for WestJet, it’s 16 x 6 x 13” and “light enough” to be placed in the overhead bin.

Keep in mind that both airlines still make certain exceptions for a second standard item if it’s for an infant (diaper bag, for instance), stroller, child restraint, or mobility device. But if you’re carrying something like a tennis racket, camera bag, garment bag, or instrument, these items won’t skate by unnoticed – they will count toward your one standard or one personal item.

Ladies, good news is that Air Canada will also permit a purse on top of a standard and personal article, but only if it measures 10 x 12 x 5.5” or smaller. So grab the clutch for your trip and leave the oversized purse at home.

Be Prepared If You Have to Gate Check

Interestingly, WestJet notes that its Encore flights have smaller overhead bins, which means even if your carry-on meets the aforementioned requirements, if the bins are full, you may be required to gate check your bag anyway.

If you’re carrying a laptop or digital camera in the bag, always pack it in a separate sleeve or pouch inside the case in the event that this happens. This way, you can quickly slip it out and not worry about cradling your unprotected MacBook for the whole flight.

tumi alpha extended trip expandable 4 wheel luggage.jpgIt’s a good idea for this reason to also make sure your bag has a luggage tag, like the Tumi Prism so that you can easily identify it among the others after the flight.

Also, be mindful of where you store particular items in the bag. Most suitcases have a convenient front pocket for quick access. If you don’t also have a purse or briefcase, keep items you’d rather not part with during the flight, like your passport, boarding pass, wallet, jewelry or expensive electronics, in these pockets so you can quickly grab them before handing the bag over.

If you’re looking for high-class and high-fashion, the Tumi Alpha 2 20″ Extended Trip Expandable 4-Wheeled Packing Case  has protective bumper guards, which is especially useful in case you don’t actually get to carry it on, and a large lid pocket to hold all the grab-and-go items you want. In fact, it even has pockets specifically for a passport and ticket.

When You Pay

If you do end up needing to check a bag, keep these parameters in mind.

WestJet

WestJet will only charge $25 for a first checked bag on Econo fares to destinations within Canada and between Canada and the U.S. If you fly using a Flex fare, you can still check a first bag for free, and those flying Plus can check two bags. Of course fares are typically higher for those flights. Rewards program members who qualify for the Silver tier can also check a bag at no cost, and Gold members can check two. WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard holders are also exempt from the $25 fee.

tumi prism luggage tag.jpgAir Canada

The $25 fee will apply to customers paying the Class Tango fare for travel on or after November 2, 2014 on domestic flights within Canada and to and from the Caribbean and Mexico. Passengers have had to pay a fee for a first checked bag on U.S. transborder routes since 2011. Similar to WestJet, the fee does not apply to Flex and Latitude fares, nor Altitude Prestige, Elite and Super Elite members, Star Alliance Silver and Gold members and customers purchasing Air Canada Vacations packages. Business Class customers can still bring two checked bags, regardless of destination.

Avoid Surprises

To avoid a surprise charge, or being forced to check your bag last minute, keep in mind the following tips.

Measure Your Luggage Before Buying
If you’re buying a new suitcase, ask the salesperson to confirm if it meets the size requirements for carry-on. Most luggage that does will be labeled as such. And, as noted, when comparing models, also consider the weight of the case itself.

tumi electronics luggage scale.jpgThe Kenneth Cole 19.5” 4-wheeled upright luggage meets the requirements for both aforementioned airlines. And it’s made of durable ABS with molded corner impact resistance and flexible top and side handles so you can easily hoist and shove it into that overhead bin without a worry.

Pack Light

It goes without saying that you should try to pack as light as possible. But if you’re like me and feel the need to cram your suitcase full of stuff even for an overnight trip, invest in a luggage scale so you can ensure you don’t go over before you even leave the house. Tumi’s Luggage Scale is easy to use: just place it on the bag, lift, press one button, and it’ll show the weight on the digital backlit display, in either pounds of kilograms. It can handle up to 100 lbs., which means you can use it for checked luggage as well. Don’t forget, you can incur extra charges with that, too, if it exceeds the weight limit.

Layer it Up

I like to wear layers to the airport, or hold my jacket or sweater instead of putting it in my carry-on to help minimize weight (you can always shove it in the bag once you’ve cleared the check-in counter.) Hey, if you’re wearing it, they can’t say anything!

Proper Weight Distribution

If you have a carry-on and personal article, try and distribute the weight between the two. For example, I’ll typically throw my electronic device chargers and toiletry kit in my purse to help reduce the weight of the carry-on. If you get stopped because westjet 20 wheeled expandable cabin trolley.jpgone bag is a pound or two over (yes, I’ve actually seen this happen), just transfer a few items over to the other bag until the scale drops enough to let you get by. It sounds ridiculous to have to do, but it’s a simple way to get you through without having to check anything or pay the fees.

Under-pack

Don’t just pack light – under-pack if you can. It’s happened before where I’ve packed my luggage to the brim only to enjoy an unexpected day of shopping while away, and ended up over-stuffing my suitcase to a point that it would surely tip the scales. Try not to pack too close to the 22 lb. limit; leave some wiggle room so if you buy a new pair of shoes, clothing, or gifts for the family, it doesn’t end up costing you $25 just to get them home.

It’s for this very reason that I love expandable luggage, like the WestJet 20” 2-wheeled expandable cabin trolley, which can gain an extra 2” if you’ve managed to pick up a few items along the way. Another benefit of this particular model, by the way, is that the wheels are recessed, which means a particularly rule-abiding agent can’t get out the measuring tape and charge you for protruding wheels that might take the dimensions over the limit.

delsey helium extreme lite expandable luggage set.jpgGet Lightweight Luggage

It’s worth considering the weight of the luggage itself: if you’re a notorious over-packer like me, try to find the most lightweight piece of luggage possible.

The Delsey Helium Extreme Lite Expandable 3-Piece 4-Wheeled Spinner Luggage Set comes with 28” and 24” suitcases, and a carry-on friendly 19” upright version that all expand up to 2”, but are super lightweight – the carry-on weighs just 3.4 kg.

Another ultra light option is the WestJet 3-Piece 4-Wheeled Spinner Suitcase Set which is made of polycarbonate composite, which allows for a reduction in weight. The carry-on is even lighter than the Delsey Helium at just 3.35 kg. And in the event that you have to check it anyway, it comes in some bright colour options so you can easily spot it once you de-board the plane.

Bottom Line

Airlines might be getting stricter about enforcing compliance with carry-on restrictions. But with a little preparation, and grabbing the right gear, you can beat them to the punch, have all your bases covered, and comfortably carry everything you need onto the plane without a second look.

Check out Best Buy’s diverse selection of luggage online, including many that meet carry-on requirements. 

Top image source: The Independent

 

 

Christine Persaud
I am a tech expert and journalist with 17+ years of experience in trade and consumer tech journalism. I write for a number of technology, business, parenting, family, and lifestyle Websites, blogs, and magazines. A self-professed lover of tech, I'm also a passionate foodie who loves to cook and bake, a TV junkie, and proud mother to an 8-year-old son.