Hacks for Clients Packing for Long Flights | TravelResearchOnline


Hacks for Clients Packing for Long Flights

In the time since most of your clients have flown, there have been some significant changes. Many relate to travel documents, disinfectants, and masks. Whereas all that was previously required was a passport and airline ticket, now they may have to supply vaccination data, testing information, health inventories, and reservations for many of the restaurants and entertainment experiences they’re planning to enjoy.

All travelers will require masks, possibly a medical-grade one to use on flights where some flyers are not vaccinated, and a light-duty one to wear outside in crowds. Also, many fliers will want to carry wipes for use on restrooms and seat surfaces.

By summer, many nations and likely some states will require virtual health passports, meaning that smartphones will be essential to display them. On long flights, smartphones will add charging cords or power bricks to the list of needed “stuff.”

Travel Documents

As we’ve already discussed, clients will have to travel with a folder of paperwork for a two to three-week vacation. Suggest that your clients make a copy of the critical pages of their passports, visas, tickets, and vaccine & testing records—which they should place in a Ziplock plastic bag. Also, suggest that they take a photo of each of the docs to store on their phones and backup everything to the Cloud. Ditto for any of the reservations they make.

Finally, suggest that they carry their passports, visas, COVID docs, and their smartphones in zippered or Velcro inside pockets of what that they will be wearing. We’ll be discussing travel vests later, which I strongly recommend.

Onboard Luggage Sizes

Most airlines permit a passenger to take a carry-on bag and a “personal item” such as an under-seat bag, computer case, tote bag, etc. If they are in the more expensive seats, they may also be permitted to take additional items.

A carry-on bag is usually limited to 22″ long x 14″ wide x 9″ deep. The airline enforces this limit by making bags fit inside a frame with these dimensions. If it’s within the size limit, but it doesn’t fit in the frame, it’s probably because your clients have overpacked it. Always have them carry a fold-up, zippered, nylon tote bag that they can sling over their shoulder or check if their baggage is overweight. Many travelers favor soft-sided “spinner” bags with four wheels, since they provide flexibility in fitting solid objects into them and roll easily in airports.

The “personal item” is most commonly an under-seat bag that can fit under the seat in front of them. The suggested size limit is 16” long x 12” wide x 8” deep. Some European airlines limit the depth to only 6”, but these lines will usually permit larger bags, if they fit under the seats of the plane your guests are on.

I’ve been using an inexpensive Samsonite under-seat spinner for the last five years. It has probably traveled more than 100,000 miles with absolutely no damage. It’s 13” wide; so, if you’re in an aisle seat, you may have to slide it under your partner’s middle or window seat to permit it to fit. At worst, you can place it in the overhead compartment, but try to put it across from your seat where it’s always within sight when someone opens the overhead bin.

Onboard Weight Limits

Weight limits vary depending on whether your clients are flying on domestic or international flights, and in which cabin class they are ticketed. On many international flights, particularly those in Asia where the planes need to carry more fuel, carry-ons are often limited to 15 pounds (7 kilos). If the flights are full, passengers may be limited to 15 pounds for all the pieces they bring into the cabin.

If you’re over this lower limit and in Economy, ramp agents will sometimes insist that you ship some luggage pieces as baggage. Warn your clients not to agree to do this, if the items destined for the baggage compartment include medical equipment, medications, travel docs, laptops, computers, or expensive photo gear. Have your clients insist on transferring this equipment to a single bag they can carry into the cabin. Tell them to be very polite and soft-spoken but to involve the captain or ramp supervisor if necessary.

The greatest chance of having baggage stolen, damaged, or lost is when it’s transferred below at the last minute. If the agents offer to put the bag in the cockpit or a closet in the cabin, that’s a fine solution. On most domestic flights, the weight standards are more generous. Here the limit is often 22 pounds (10 kilos) for the carry-on bag and no weight limits for the personal item, if it fits under the seat in front of the one they are in.

Use Three-Tier Packing

Suggest that your clients separate the items that can ruin their trip if someone steals them or they’re lost. These are articles they can’t readily replace. For most clients, these will include documents, medications, medical devices, a laptop, a “go-to” camera and lens, chargers for electronic devices, and expensive jewelry. Call these the Tier One items. They should go in the under-seat bag that is never more than a few feet from your clients. But remember, they only have about 15-pounds with which to work on most international flights.

Tier Two Items are those your clients will need during the first two or three days of the trip. These items usually include a toiletry bag, 2-3 days of clothing, and other PC or camera equipment. Tier Two things should go in the carry-on bags. If your clients are away for less than a week, suggest that these and the personal items may be all they may need. This will permit them to save at least 30-minutes by bypassing the baggage carousel when they leave the terminal.

Tier Three is all the remaining items that will go “down below.” Many couples combine their Tier Three stuff on many two- or three-week trips so that they need only one piece of shipped baggage. It also helps if the under-seat bags can ride on top of the carry-on bags when your clients are going through the terminals.

If any bags are lost or damaged, insurance will reimburse travelers when they have been gone for 2-3 days. Unless you are crazy wealthy, you shouldn’t travel without all-risk insurance, even in this (almost) post-COVID age.

Digital Baggage Scales and Blue Tooth Locator Tags

Two great going-away gifts you can buy for clients are a digital luggage scale with a hook that holds a bag’s handle ($12), or a set of four Apple AirTags ($29). The digital baggage scales are vastly improved from the ones sold several years ago. They will be handy when your clients are packing and repacking their bags for their return flights. If the bags are overweight, your clients may decide to pack their dirty clothes and shoes into the zippered nylon tote and check them as an additional baggage piece.

I wrote a brief review of the AirTags several weeks ago. Your clients can hide them inside each baggage piece. If your luggage is lost at the airport or stolen, these can help you find them by enlisting the assistance of several billion Apple enthusiasts. Be sure to protect expensive camera gear and laptops as well.

Travel Vests

If your clients are going to travel comfortably with all the stuff they need to bring with them, they should invest in travel vests. The best ones have lots of roomy pockets and vented backs that don’t get clammy when your clients sit in an airline seat. Travel vests should be lightweight, and have several inside pockets secured with zippers or Velcro. When flying, the inside pockets are ideal for carrying your clients’ passports, wallets smartphones, masks, and other essential items, even when they’re sleeping.

You can also pass the vests through TSA scanners without unpacking all the contents. When your clients are at their destinations, the vests can serve as pickpocket-resistant outerwear and avoid carrying backpacks or purses. Many photo enthusiasts, who don’t rely solely on smartphones, will sling their favorite camera/lens combo over a shoulder and stuff their remaining camera gear into the vest. Depending on the company that sells them, the same vests may be advertised as travel, work, gardening, fishing, shooting, or hunting vests. In many cases, the vests are identical except for the seller and the label.

Vests should be comfortable when fully loaded and when your clients are seated. The features to look for are sturdy zippers and Velcro flaps; some gusseted pockets for larger items; and inside pockets for wallets, passports, and phones. Advise your clients to select vests made with lightweight fabrics the are comfortable onboard a plane or in desert heat; and roomy enough to be worn on top of heavy sweaters in colder climates.

I favor “work vests” made by Duluth Trading Company (www.DuluthTrading.com) and the RFID 15-Pocket Traveler’s Vest made by Magellan’s (www.Magellans.com). Both companies offer no-questions-asked returns (See my headshot taken in Australia in my Duluth vest). The Magellan’s vest inside zippered phone pocket is large enough for my Apple 12 Pro Max; and its mesh back and padded shoulders are great for flights and photography.

A travel vest from either firm is usually in the $60-$80 range. I’d be cautious of any vests selling for less than $50, unless they’re name-brand closeouts or your clients have tried them on when they’re loaded with travel gear.

By the way, no one has ever weighed my vest before I entered a jetway. This is another hint that you might suggest to your favorite clients.


Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. He writes a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s read by more than 80,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is steve@sruisesandcameras.com.

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