I tend to plan obsessively over our trips, a fact I am sure Sharon will confirm for you in 3..2..1… (Note from Sharon….Huh? What? Oh. Him? OCD? Um….what’s the word I’m thinking of? H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks YESSSSSS!)
I’d rather worry about something ahead of time, possibly unnecessarily, instead of dealing with an avoidable problem while on vacation in a foreign country. I’ll make sure we have the proper credit cards, arrange to have cash ahead of time or know where the ATM will be when we arrive and will have planned how we’re going to get to and from all of the locations on our trip.
Planning the travel parts of the trip is the easy part. I just know how we’re going to get to the airport and make sure that our bags are within the weight limits. I have a luggage scale that works to keep us within the guidelines.
But what if you don’t know what the guidelines are?
I’m not referring to being ignorant and just showing up with a bag. No, I’m talking about when all the information you find gives you different answers.
I’m obsessive about checking our baggage allowance because I am aware that, unlike the U.S. domestic flights where all they care about is if your carry-on bag is the correct size, in Europe, they also weigh your carry-on bag to see if it’s the within the weight limits allowed. Each airline has differing bag allowances and I wanted to make sure we were planning accordingly.
We don’t fly on intra-Europe flights very often (which is one of the main reasons we’ve never had to fly on Ryanair). However, it was necessary for us to get from London to Salzburg, Austria and as it turned out, I picked the one day of the week when British Airways didn’t fly a direct flight between the two cities. I found a ticket using ITA Matrix (now owned and slowly being dismantled by Google) on the now-bankrupt Airberlin. Not being very familiar with Airberlin, I booked the flights through Expedia, whose website found the same flights for the same price I found on my search. While not an optimal routing (London – Berlin – Salzburg), I was getting us to where we needed to go.
It was about a month out when I started looking at the baggage restrictions. The flight from London to Berlin was on a British Airways flight being operated as a code share with Airberlin. For those not familiar, that means everything is done by British Airways but Airberlin is allowed to sell tickets and assign it their own flight number. As per Wikipedia:
A codeshare agreement, also known as codeshare, is an aviation business arrangement where two or more airlines share the same flight. Sharing, in this sense, means that each airline publishes and markets the flight under its own airline designator and flight number as part of its published timetable or schedule.
So we were flying on an Airberlin ticket but our first flight was on British Airways and then we were connecting to an Airberlin flight. I hope I haven’t lost you yet.
On Expedia’s website (the ones that sold me the ticket), it said that I should look at the website of the airline to find out the baggage allowances for checked and hand baggage. OK, which airline is that? The one who sold me the ticket, the one I was flying on for the first flight, or the airline I was connecting to? My obsessive planning tendencies were starting to kick into overdrive. I went to the airline websites but that just made things worse.
British Airways allowed a very generous 23kg cabin bag as well as 23kg for a handbag/laptop bag. We’d have no problems with these guidelines.
The information from Airberlin wasn’t so great. The max weight of the hand baggage was only 8kg and the laptop/handbag could only be 2kg (that’s a little under 4 1/2 pounds)
The last thing I wanted was to check in for our flight in London and then get stopped in Berlin when boarding our connecting flight because our bags were too heavy. I can’t speak any German so I didn’t want to try to explain how I tried to find out in advance about the luggage guidelines but couldn’t get an answer from anyone. There was also no way I could see us getting our hand baggage under the Airberlin weight limits.
I decided to reach out to the internet for help. I wrote to Stefan from Rapid Travel Chai to see if he had any insights. I knew from reading his blog that he has booked flights all over the world on different airlines using tickets purchased from different many websites. I figured if anyone might know the answer, he was the best person to ask. I wrote out an abbreviated version of the story above in an email and he sent me back this (very helpful) answer:
Here is a good summary of the convoluted rules: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g41707-c211983/Newton:Massachusetts:Baggage.Rules.For.Multi.Airline.Trips.html
Marketing carrier should be ‘Most Significant Carrier’ on your ticket which will govern checked baggage.
In practice for hand baggage, the carriers will enforce what they are accustomed, which would be their own rules. If you are not checking baggage or using the counter you should be able to keep a low profile. Stuffing heavy things in pockets or in a duty-free or another shopping bag can also help. On connection I doubt you would be hassled, if so, for instance at the gate, you can say you flew on BA and they approved the carry-on. At most, they should check it for free. Also good to pick up from BA or another one of those “approved cabin baggage” tags.
I followed his advice by getting an “Approved Cabin Baggage” tag from British Airways for my handbag which would easily fit under my seat but would almost assuredly be over 2kg. I also prepared my “dumb tourist” face if questioned and if it was OK to fly here then why is it too heavy for the connecting flight.
It was time for the moment of truth. When landing in Berlin, we had to walk to a different terminal and re-clear security to get to the Airberlin gates for our flight. I was worried because if these gates were only for one airline, they would know what the baggage limits are. I’d already gone this far, what was I going to do? My anxiety was beginning to grow but there was no turning back now.
We went through the security gate, placed our bags on the x-ray and waited. No questioning. No anything. They didn’t seem to care at all about the weight of the bags. OK, now on to the gate area. Maybe the gate agent would be weighing the bags there? Nothing happened. We carried our bags onto the plane. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Then I was finally able to relax and enjoy the amazing scenery on our flight from Berlin to Salzburg.
I realize that all of my worryings ended up being over nothing at all. However, I don’t consider the whole thing a waste of time. I learned to look at baggage allowances before booking a ticket for flights outside of the U.S. I also learned to look to see if a flight I’m booking contains a codeshare flight. I might have done better if I booked the ticket through British Airways instead of Airberlin; at least they had a more generous baggage allowance. Really, who has a bag that weighs less than 5 pounds? Is there anything in it?
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary