For most airlines in the USA
Carry-on: One small suitcase and a personal item such as a purse, computer bag, brief case or tote, as well as a coat or jacket, reading material and food for the flight can be brought with you onto the plane. (See link below about carry-on luggage for detail of what a small suitecase is.) There are exceptions – Spirit Airlines is one: you can only take a personal item on for free. A suitcase or bag that you carry on will be an additional charge – possibly per leg of the trip.
Checked Luggage: There is a charge for your first checked bag and all other bags plus they have hefty charges for overweight or oversized suitcases. (See links below for comparisons of airline charges for checked luggage.) Another exception (a positive one this time) is Southwest Airlines, which does not charge for your first two checked bags.
Because so many airlines now charge to check your first bag, many people take their suitcase on the plane. This has led to a problem with there not being enough overhead space on the plane. So some airlines will ask for volunteers to check their bag at the gate. This usually occurs as you are boarding the plane. They have another trick as well, some airlines give priority boarding to people with no carry-on luggage (i.e. no luggage to put in the overhead bins, only small items that can go in the seat-back or under the seat in front of you).
So if you prefer to not pay the fee to check your luggage, you should try not to be the last to board the plane because you will wander up and down the isle opening and closing very full overhead bins trying to find someplace to store your suitcase.
I prefer to pay the fee and check my only suitcase because I usually have a computer bag and it’s too much to hassle with both.
We learned our lesson about packing light on our first trip to Europe in 1999. We didn’t follow travel expert Rick Steves’ advice (see link below) to pack light and only take one carry-on sized suitcase each. We took one rather awkward suitcase for both of us. It was a beauty! It was square on the bottom and had shelves and some space in the piece that unzipped. The only problem was, that it didn’t fit on the conveyor belt at Heathrow airport (I can still see the gate person pushing and pulling the monster, trying to get it turned so it would go down the belt). Then the timeshare that we rented in Germany was on the second floor, which was reached via a narrow black wrought-iron spiral staircase. Fortunately my husband had a strong back.
So when we took our kids to Europe in 2007 for almost 3 weeks, we did better: one carry-on sized suitcase each plus a backpack. Well, except for me – my suitcase was 26” ( just 4” taller than a carry-on) because I had all the “family” items like the laptop, the good camera, itineraries and print outs and travel guides and so forth.
and my husband and daughter both had carry-on sized bags along with a backpack.
When we had 7 hours to spend in London, we only had to put my suitcase in left-luggage before we took the double decker tour bus around town. From London we went to Dublin then to Lisdoonvarna (in Ireland) to Glasgow to Crief (in Scotland) to Newcastle UK and took the train to London then the Chunnel to Lille France and drove to Normandy then drove to Gennep Netherlands (to visit friends near Nijmegen) then finally to Amsterdam and home.
Whew! It was worth it to pack light.
In 2012, when we went to Dublin for St Patrick’s day, I finally did good: one carry-on bag and a small day bag, which my little purse fit inside. (No laptop! A first for me.) Since I’m from Colorado and we wear fleece vests and because I like to wear layers that I can remove in public, I took a vest along with my lined raincoat on the plane with me. My husband is more comfortable wearing long underwear (which is lighter to pack) so he took that along with a nice jacket. Personally, my biggest challenge is always shoes.
I wanted to take my knee-high boots, so I just wore them on the plane and shoved them under the seat in front of me while I was sleeping. Plus I knew we would be walking a lot, and I don’t wear tennis shoes (trainers) so I “needed” two other pairs of shoes. (Women will know what I mean.) And since it’s cool in Dublin in March, I needed heavier long sleeved shirts. And it all fit in my little carry-on suitcase.
Oh wait – my first time being good was actually my brother-in-law’s wedding on the island of Turks & Caicos. It was only for a long weekend, but it was a wedding, so I needed dresses and shoes for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. I managed to get my clothes, make-up, and paraphernalia plus three pair of shoes/sandals and flip flops in one carry-on- sized bag. The big bonus there was that when you checked your luggage to go home, they charged a per person fee just to leave the country. Since we were both doing carry-on -> we avoided the additional fee.
My inspiration (Rick specializes in travellers going to Europe, but it is about packing light and still a worth-while read) http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/pack-light.htm
Here are some links from the U.S. Government site for regulations about what you can pack and carry on:
Here are some links with information about baggage fees by airline
Note: This is for comparison only. You should check the individual airline’s website for the actual charges and restrictions before you fly.
And here is one for carry-on luggage
And in case you’re interested, here is our initial itinerary for our trip to Europe in 2007