How to check a large backpack?
When travelling on airlines based in the US with a large backpack, I prefer to carry the bag onto the plane as part of my hand baggage allowance. Most foreign flag carriers, however, have a significantly more restrictive hand baggage allowance. I was caught off guard by this one time on New Zealand airlines and received my backpack with multiple broken straps and clips. I managed to repair it, and I'm still using the same pack, but I would like to avoid so many broken parts in the future.
Once, when flying Alitalia (flight was actually booked through Delta) I carried plastic wrap to the airport, and wrapped the entire bag in it before handing it over to the airline. @jpatokal recommends putting it into a giant, heavy-duty garbage bag in his answer to this question.
- What are the pros and cons of using plastic wrap or a garbage bag?
- Can anyone recommend any other, more effective techniques?
It is most important for proper handling that the backpack have a very easy location to grab that is strong enough for grabbing, and that all the loose straps be tied or clipped together. I take the waist straps and wrap them around each other so that the shoulder straps are clipped into one bundle, and have never had any trouble.
Another good way to deal with waist straps is to pull them back the other way, and clip them tight on the *other side* of the backpack. Apparently waist straps are deliberately designed to double back like this so you can keep them out the way when climbing
From what I've seen of US air travel, it's just that most non-US airlines actually apply the the rules they've written down. The process in the US seems more like allowing the first people on to carry what they like, and those at the end have to make do.
@ChrisH Most US airlines, in my experience, don't give a weight restriction like most foreign flag carriers. The only restriction is on the size of the bag, and that restriction essentially boils down to; will it fit in the overhead bins? This is certainly true on Delta which I fly regularly.
@ChrisMueller I'd guess about 50% of airlines I've flown from the UK on apply a weight restriction in economy. The sizes given in numbers (if given) when I've flown inside the US seem to be widely ignored in favour of "will it fit?" (and not even "will it fit without taking up the whole locker?"). As a result I make sure my camera bag will push under the seat in front and avoid emergency exit rows on a flight where it could be an issue. As the question covers a "large" backpack it could easily go either way.
Once, when checking an external frame backpack onto a Virgin Atlantic flight I was offered a giant, durable, resealable (great for security checks), clear plastic bag. It was similar to a clear trash bag but thicker and had the airline's logo on it. It seemed like a good solution prevent any straps or hooks from getting caught in the baggage handling.
Since that flight I've found that most legacy airlines have these. I've often encountered check-in agents that didn't know their airline had these, but in every case they asked their colleagues or manager and discovered they did. I've never been charged for one. I've gotten these in Europe, Asia and North America.
Here's an example of a bag I caught a photo of coming off a Delta flight from Tokyo Haneda to Minneapolis:
Thanks for the answer. That sounds perfect since I don't really want to carry a duffle bag while I travel. Any experience getting one from Air India?
@ChrisMueller no experience with Air India unfortunately. Like I said every legacy airline I've asked for one has given me one.
I've also seen those handed out to people with buggies or prams or the like, if the checkin agent looks blank it might be worth asking for the bag to put a buggie / stroller / etc into, in case they only know of them for that use!
Some airports do *not* make these bags available for this purpose. An example is Geneva, where they have the bags, but there are environmental rules saying that they can only give them out for car seats, not backpacks. What has worked for me in general has been to buy a roll of packing tape and use it to wrap up all the loose parts of the pack.
I've traveled with a large backpack many times, though only in Europe, but every time the person checking me in offered it right away, I never had to mention those plastic bags myself. And yes, every single airline/airport had it.
can we buy these bags anywhere? what do you call them so that i can search for it? thanks!