You’ve decided on your destination. Your dive travel specialist has made all the arrangements for you to have a stress free vacation. You leave in just a couple of days, but before you can stretch out in that hammock on the beach, first you have to deal with the dreaded airlines’ baggage check and making it through security with little hassle from TSA. Well, in order to minimize the stress of dealing with the airport before getting to your dream destination, it is best to be prepared and know the restrictions you face baggage-wise before you go.


Gone are the days of free checked baggage with most airlines when traveling domestically in Economy Class. Most charge a minimum of $25 for that first checked bag and fees go up from there for additional baggage.  If you’re not careful, that great low air fare you thought you snagged will go up in smoke with baggage fees.  So in order to avoid this, most of us are now trying to cram as much as we can into our carry-ons, but be careful there too. The airlines have caught on to this and are becoming more strict about carry-on baggage allowances as well.  Be especially careful to make sure which Economy class you booked.  If you booked BASE Economy, you won’t be allowed to have carry-on. 

Thankfully, when traveling internationally, most airlines allow you at least one free checked bag, but once again beware the strict restrictions on weight. And if you think you are going to pack that extra weight in your carry-on, think again because many airlines have low weight allowances even on carry-ons.

The good news in all of this is that most airlines, whether traveling domestically or internationally, allow economy-class passengers one carry-on bag plus one “personal item”. Personal items are defined as a purse, briefcase, backpack, laptop bag, musical instrument case, or other small bag. In addition, most airlines will allow you to carry a jacket, umbrella, camera, limited amount of duty-free merchandise, or other hand-held items such as reading material, as well. When traveling with your spouse or partner, make sure to take full advantage of the one carry-on plus personal item per passenger, even if it means one of you is carrying a practically empty bag. You can always use the extra space on the return home for all those goodies you gathered, or the damp clothing that is adding weight to your checked baggage.

Keep in mind when it comes to baggage, that size does matter. When trying to determine whether or not your bags fit into the size restrictions, use this handy-dandy guide below along with a measuring tape and some basic math to figure out where your bags stand. Both carry-on and checked bags must fall within certain combined linear measurement allowances (length + width + height) to be allowed on airplanes. For most carry-ons, the maximum linear measurement is 45″ (14″ x 9″ x 22″). Personal items are often limited to 36″ (9″ x 10″ x 17″). Checked bags are generally limited to 62 linear inches.

And of course, let’s not forget weight. When it comes to carry-ons this can vary quite a bit, so you will want to double check with your airline.  On average though, for checked bags, 50 lbs is the standard allowance for most airlines. As a quick reference, you can my Carry-On/Checked Baggage Guidelines I have assembled.  Just click here to get your own copy.  Make sure to get yourself a handheld luggage scale to verify the weight of your bags. Don’t forget to give yourself some wiggle room because sometimes those airport scales add a few ounces to the bag you just weighed so carefully at home. And make sure to take that scale with you for when it’s time to come home and you have to juggle those items you just had to have between your bags to meet the weight limits.


Now let’s talk about getting through security before getting that carry-on on the plane. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has tried to make it as simple as 3-1-1 to  get you through security without a hitch. Liquids or gels in a container greater than 3.4 oz will have to be packed in your checked bags. Otherwise, you are allowed liquid/gel containers 3.4 oz or less, in 1 quart-size clear plastic baggie per person. 

Items under these restrictions may include shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, lip balm, shaving cream, etc. For more information on what you can put in your carry-ons, check out the Transportation Security Administration website:

Important Reminders

  • Pack your photo ID, medicines, prescriptions, cash, keys, jewelry, electronics, and cameras in your carry-on baggage — not your checked baggage. (For scuba divers, this should also include your dive computers, too.)
  • Make sure all prescriptions are in their original container with the prescription label. Do not put them in a pill box when traveling.
  • If you are carrying gifts onboard, make sure they are unwrapped for easier security clearance. All carry-on baggage is subject to inspection by TSA.

Some simple tips for speeding up your passage through the lines: 1) Wear shoes which are easy to slip on and off (avoid laces), 2) Keep your metal jewelry and accessories to a minimum (guys avoid those big belt buckles), 3) Have your liquid baggies easily accessible to pull out and put in the x-ray trays, 4) if you are like me and have a detachable wide-angle lens for your camera, pull it out of your bag and put it in the tray for screening, unless you want your bag to be searched, and 5) when you get through x-ray, grab your trays and move out of the way. There are generally tables and benches at the end of the line to reassemble yourself. Please do not cause a big backup taking your time putting your shoes back on just as they come out of the machine, that is unless you want the passengers behind you to become irritated.

And don’t forget, to avoid all this TSA inconvenience, you should check into the TSA Precheck program, or for international travel, the Global Entry program.  These programs will help save you a lot of pain and suffering.

So before you go on your next be trip, just take some time before you get to the airport to be prepared. It will make the beginning of your trip more enjoyable and not diminish the excitement of getting to that great destination awaiting you.

Like what you’ve read? Want to learn how to better enjoy your scuba diving vacation? Maybe you’d like to travel with Delightful Departures on an upcoming adventure? Become part of the Delightful Departures community. Discover different destinations and travel tips in our biweekly newsletter.  In addition, you’ll receive our Diver’s Packing List just because.  Join today.

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