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Baggage Vocabulary Demystified: Definitions and Examples!

Baggage Vocabulary Demystified: Definitions and Examples!

Different Luggage Types


Anyone planning to travel by air is guaranteed to be confronted with a large number of “baggage terms”. It is not always easy to understand exactly what is meant by the seemingly trivial terms hand luggage, onboard luggage, excess luggage, free luggage, sports luggage, special luggage and so on. Therefore, I would like to give you a brief overview of the different types of baggage with examples of the items permitted in each case. Let us start our journey through the jungle of baggage and luggage terms!


Baggage vs Luggage

Let us first have a look at the difference (if any) about the terms Baggage and Luggage because you will be confronted with those two terms all the time.

What is the difference between baggage and luggage? Let us have a look at some dictionary definitions: First of all the definition of luggage:


suitcases, trunks, etc.; baggage.

NOUN mass noun

1 Suitcases or other bags in which to pack personal belongings for travelling. ‘upon landing, we waited and waited for our luggage’

1.1 Past experiences or long-held ideas and opinions perceived as burdensome encumbrances. ‘carrying emotional luggage from the past’ Origin Late 16th century (originally denoting inconveniently heavy baggage): from lug + -age.

Now let’s have a look at how those two dictionaries define the term baggage:


1 trunks, suitcases, etc., used in traveling; luggage.

1.1 the portable equipment of an army. things that encumber one’s freedom, progress, development, or adaptability; impediments: intellectual baggage that keeps one from thinking clearly; neurotic conflicts that arise from struggling with too much emotional baggage.

NOUN mass noun

1 Suitcases and bags containing personal belongings packed for travelling; luggage. ‘we collected our baggage before clearing customs’ as [modifier] ‘a baggage allowance’

1.1 The portable equipment of an army. ‘the artillery and baggage rumbled along the road’ More example sentences

2 Past experiences or long-held attitudes perceived as burdensome encumbrances. ‘the emotional baggage I’m hauling around’

3 [dated count noun] A cheeky or disagreeable girl or woman. ‘she was a mercenary little baggage’

So what is the difference of those two after all? Well, it is hard to tell them apart. Both Luggage and Baggage are obviously referring to suitcases and trunks. 

But not only that. Both terms can be used metaphorically for burdensome encumbrances: “emotional luggage” or “emotional baggage”.

One aspect that we haven’t seen so far is the fact, that there are regional differences when it comes to the use of luggage and baggage. It seems that Luggage is rather American English, while Baggage is preferred in British English.  But even in this regard, there is no absolute consensus. When doing a Google Search for “luggage” and for “baggage” both on ONLY US Sites and ONLY UK Sites, it turns out that both terms generate millions of search results in BOTH US and UK sites.

If you are interested in this topic, you might want to have a look at the following threads:

baggage vs luggage

What is the difference between  luggage and baggage – Merriam Webster Dictionary

Discussion on Stack Exchange English


Hand Luggage/Board Luggage/Carry-on Baggage/Carry-on Luggage

Hand Luggage


With regard to air travel, the terms hand luggage, board luggage, carry-on baggage and carry-on luggage all refer to the luggage/baggage that you are allowed to take on board (in the cabin). Usually, this includes a regular large piece of hand baggage such as a rolling suitcase or a large backpack as well as a smaller piece of hand baggage such as a laptop bag or a handbag.

These “small” hand luggage items are referred to as “personal items” by the airlines. How many of these personal items you may bring depends on the airline in question. Detailed information can usually be found on the airline’s website, usually on the same page where the hand luggage regulations are generally listed.

There are almost always restrictions on the size and weight of large carry-on items.  The maximum dimensions vary depending on the airline. With many airlines, for example, the size of the large piece of hand baggage may not exceed 115 cm (addition of L x W x H, i.e. the three dimensions). How large/long each of the dimensions may be is also specified precisely in most of the cases. As far as the weight of (large) hand luggage is concerned, most airlines weigh between 6 and 8 kilograms.

However, there are exceptions and a few airlines, for example, have not defined a maximum weight for hand luggage (easyJet, for instance). In these cases, you only have to make sure that you do not exceed the maximum permitted dimensions.

Even for smaller hand luggage (so-called personal items), there are sometimes requirements regarding size and sometimes also regarding weight. But by no means always. Often the flight companies also specify a maximum weight, which applies to the large and small hand luggage in combination.  You will also find this information on the page with the general hand luggage regulations.

In addition to the personal items, every passenger is usually allowed to bring other items on board, the so-called accessories. These items include umbrellas, coats, crutches, walking sticks and duty-free bags with duty-free goods that you have purchased at the airport.

There again, what accessories you can bring onboard depends on the airline you are flying with. These items are often limited to one piece. At least this is what is stated by the airlines in most cases. In practice, more than one such item may be tolerated by the airline.

Music Instrument as (hand) luggageMost airlines also allow smaller musical instruments to be taken into the cabin as hand luggage. Musical instruments that are not violating the hand baggage allowance (weight, dimensions) can be brought onboard the aircraft. If you bring a musical instrument as a hand luggage piece onboard the aircraft, you are not entitled to bring another large piece of hand luggage free of charge.

For larger musical instruments, such as Cellos, most airlines will only allow the transport in the cabin, if you booked an item seat for the instrument on which you can deposit your musical instrument. An Item Seat is usually a normal passenger seat that must be booked in addition to your seat. The cost of this seat is generally the same as for your own seat.

Massive musical instruments such as a harp or a double bass cannot be transported in the cabin. For these instruments, you will need to add checked baggage to your booking and ensure that the instruments are well packed and protected. The carriage of those instruments takes place in cargo hold.

In addition to regular hand luggage (a large piece of hand luggage and, depending on the case, a small piece of hand luggage (personal item) and sometimes one or more accessories), there is also special equipment that can be brought on board free of charge.

This category includes medical equipment that you need for the trip (Attention: Proofs in the form of prescriptions/receipts or certificates from your family doctor must usually be presented), so that you may bring such medical equipment on board.

For families, sufficient liquid baby food is also allowed for the entire flight. In certain cases, families may also bring an additional hand luggage bag weighing up to 5 kilograms on board (if permitted, you can find this information in most cases in the Hand Luggage (Regulations) section of their airline).

There are also some restrictions regarding hand luggage which limit the type and quantity of certain items carried in hand luggage. The airlines distinguish between dangerous items (also called dangerous goods) and restricted items. Dangerous objects are not allowed on board. Some examples are explosives, fireworks, torches, flammable, oxidizing and radioactive materials, as well as any kind of weapons and objects that could be used as such. However, certain airlines (primarily in Europe) allow smaller sack knives with a blade length of up to 6 centimetres to be carried in hand luggage.

As far as liquids are concerned, they are not prohibited on board in principle, but there are strict rules for liquids, which must be followed in any case. These rules are applied worldwide, and in this area, there are relatively few exceptions and differences in handling between the various airlines. The rules for liquids on board are as follows: Each person may carry liquids in a plastic container with a maximum volume of one litre.

The liquids must be transported in containers that do not exceed a capacity of 100 ml per container. In case of doubt, the capacity of the container is always decisive and not the effective filling level. So you cannot transport a hairspray with a capacity of 250 ml just because it is almost empty.

The transport of pets is also permitted by many airlines. Depending on the size, weight and special regulations of the respective airline, the pet can be transported in the cabin or the cargo hold. As a rule, there are charges for the transport of pets. However, there are also airlines that do not transport pets at all, such as easyJet and other low-cost airlines.

However, registered guide and companion dogs are an exception with easyJet. In all cases, these types of dogs are allowed in the cabin, and the transport is usually free of charge.


Checked Baggage/Cargo Baggage/Main Baggage

Checked Baggage


The counterpart to hand baggage is checked baggage, also known as cargo baggage or main baggage. Checked baggage, as the name implies, must be checked in at the check-in counter and is transported in the hold of the aircraft. The permitted weight and the maximum dimensions differ depending on the airline. Most airlines allow checked baggage up to 20 – 23 kilograms.

For economy flights, the number of suitcases allowed is usually limited to one piece in most cases, while First and Business customers are often allowed to check in a second suitcase at no extra charge (up to 32 kilograms per suitcase, depending on the airline).


Free Baggage Allowance

The term free baggage refers to the amount of baggage that may be carried per person without incurring additional costs. Accordingly, free baggage usually includes both hand baggage and checked baggage.

How much can be transported effectively (without surcharge) depends in many cases on the type of ticket. While in economy class often only one large piece of hand baggage is allowed, on First and Business flights two large pieces of hand baggage may sometimes be carried on board.

The same applies to checked baggage. The limit for the maximum number of baggage items that may be carried is based either on the piece concept or the weight concept.

If the carrier relies on the piece concept, you may only carry a certain number of pieces of luggage with a certain weight per piece of luggage. The weight of the baggage may not be redistributed according to your mood. In this case, you must, therefore, observe the defined maximum weight per suitcase/baggage item.

With the weight concept, the airline specifies a maximum weight, which may be carried per person at no extra charge. In contrast to the piece concept, the weight may be divided between several pieces of luggage and sometimes even several passengers within one booking (e.g. travel with family).


Excess Baggage

In contrast to free baggage, excess baggage is the baggage that a passenger carries in excess of the free baggage allowance. For the transport of excess baggage, the airlines charge fees, which must be paid either at the airport or via the Internet. Prices vary depending on the carrier. However, in most cases the fees are considerable, and you should, therefore, try to avoid excess baggage at any cost.

If you travel with animals, which is limited to cats and dogs with most airlines, you will also be confronted with the term excess baggage, as most airlines charge animals as excess baggage. Either the usual excess baggage tariffs are charged, or excess baggage tariffs specifically applied to pets are charged.

Transporting pets in the cabin or the cargo hold is usually very expensive and costs between 20-400 euros per leg, depending on the distance, weight and size of the pet. Generally, transport in the cabin is cheaper than in the cargo hold.

But by no means, everything can be simply declared and transported as excess baggage at the airport. For example, most airlines refuse to transport baggage weighing more than 32 kg. To transport such baggage, you must, therefore, contact a forwarding agent in your area. In addition to limiting the weight, it is also customary to limit the maximum permitted dimensions. For example, KLM does not transport objects larger than L + B + H than 406 cm (159 inches).


Overweight Baggage/Overweight Luggage

The terms Overweight Baggage and Overweight Luggage can be used in two different situations:

First of all, it is used to talk about the baggage that exceeds the free baggage allowance (and in this context, it is, therefore, the same as excess baggage).

Secondly, airlines sometimes also use this term to talk about the baggage that is just too heavy to be carried at all. In Europe, the maximum weight of allowed checked baggage is 32 kilograms. If a bag is more than 32 kilograms, it may not be transported.

Outside of Europe, the free baggage allowance for checked baggage is equally set at 32 kilograms, however, in some cases, heavier baggage up to 45 kilograms may be carried, but it will be classified as overweight baggage if heavier than 32 kilograms. You will find a good example of that at American Airlines


Bulky Baggage (also Oversize Luggage)/Special Baggage/Sports Baggage

Special Baggage


Last but not least, the term Bulky baggage, also oversize(d) luggage, is often used. Bulky baggage is usually the baggage which (e.g. due to its size or condition) may not be transported via the automatic baggage container system.

Most airlines regard sports baggage in particular as bulky baggage (especially due to its dimensions, shape and increased weight).

Some airlines allow such special baggage (another term that often appears in this context) to be transported free of charge within the permitted free baggage allowance.