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This article explores the difference between what is a ‘small bag’ according to Ryanair rules, and how big of a bag you can actually get on a plane without paying extra.
- Ryanair is more lax about the ‘small bag’ dimensions compared to the pre-pandemic period
- Larger bags are ok as long as they don’t trigger a number or “red flags”
- Consider travel hacks to never pay extra for luggage
- Be ready to bin items or pay the luggage fee in case of zealous staff
- Monitor Ryanair practice as it might become more strict again
If you are a frugal traveler like us here at the Smart Travel Family, chances are you privately probaby travel with budget airlines like Ryanair and WizzAir. And – you, just like us, probably want to pay as little as possible for luggage on top of the airline ticket fee.
The problem with Ryanair and similar budget airlines in comparison to “regular” airlines, is that if you have more than one flight leg you have to pay the luggage fees for each of the legs. This usually multiplies the initially low fare that probably attracted your attention to Ryanair in the first place on such flight aggregators like Momondo (our favorite), SkyScanner, Google Flights and similar.
How Big of a Bag Can You Actually Get on Board on a Ryanair Plane?
Ryanair ‘small bag’ rules
Ryanair allows you to carry a small personal bag (40x20x25cm or 16 x 8 x 10 inches), which must fit under the seat in front of you. If you’re interested in volume, this is equal to 20 liters or 2880 cubic inches. To be honest, this is quite a small backpack that doesn’t fit a lot of stuff.
If you are flying with anything larger than that, in theory, you have to pay for at least cabin luggage. However, in practice you might be able to take on board a much larger bag if you follow some simple rules and travel hacks.
‘Small bag’ rule application in practice
The way Ryanair applies rules in practice changes over time, as many frequent budget travelers will attest. Ryanair staff at the gates were really zealous before the Covid pandemic, but appear to be much more lenient in the post-pandemic era, probably to keep travelers loyal and a bit more satisfied.
Knowing the current Ryanair practice, will allow you to take a larger backpack on-board rather than pay the additional ‘cabin luggage’ fee.
Most likely you will be able to take on board ‘cabin baggage’ size bag without paying the respective fee, if your bag:
- Has no wheels. As soon as there are wheels, you’ll have to pay.
- Is slightly under cabin luggage size.
- Is the sole visible bag. Conceal any additional smaller bags within the larger one or under your clothes.
- Is carried gracefully. Avoid giving the impression that the bag has something very heavy in it.
If you want to be more certain that you are not stopped at the gate and made to pay for oversize “small bag”, here are a few other travel hacks to consider.
Travel hack #1 – pack tight for the gate check, expand in the plane
Remember that Ryanair checks luggage only at the gate.
This means that you have to appear to have one tightly packed bag at this point in your journey. There is nothing that really stops you to put your belongings in two bags once you are in the plane for easier access. Similarly, it’s surprising, how many items you can pack put in your pockets while passing the gate check.
We almost always take along a collapsible travel bag when flying Ryanair.
Travel hack #2 – all travelers are entitled to a small backpack, even children
If you are travelling with children, chances are you can pay for very few or even no cabin luggage or checkin bags. This is because every traveller – even children – is entitled to their own free backpack, irrespective of who is carrying the bacpack (usually one of the parents). Most kids’ private stuff doesn’t take as much volume as that of adults, hence you can pack lots of common family stuff in the kids’ backpacks.
Travel hack #3 – small backpack for your laptop
If you travel with a laptop or other sensitive electronics, these might not let you pack your bag very tightly and force you to pay for extra luggage. Unless you do something about it.
Our solution has been to get a small thin backpack (like in the image above) just for the laptop and/or tablet. You can wear it under your coat. This allows you to really pack your backpack to the brim, and still avoid the luggage fees. Sadly, this tip will not work in summer or countries with warmer climates.
Travel hack #4 – god-level packing hack
While we haven’t tried this ourselves, seasoned hardcore budget travellers get special vests with a gazillion pockets just to get past the gate. After that they just stove the vest under the seat or the overhead lockers and enjoy their flight.
They do not have to pay for the vest because it counts not as a bag, but an item of wardrobe.
We advise against buying any of the bags advertised on Amazon and elsewhere that promise 100% compliance with Ryanair and WizzAir rules. Particularly, if its in the sub 50 EUR range. There are two reasions for this.
Firstly, the bags are usually of really poor quality. For the one we bought, a strap was loose upon receiving it and fell off after a single instance of use. Fortunatelly, we could return it for a full refund.
Secondly, it really doesn’t make sense to stick with the 20 liter volume if the policy is not enforced, and you can easily smuggle at leaste a 30 liter bag onboard.
If you want to be really cautious, consider using any good quality sub-30-liter backpack that will not fall apart after a few weeks. Kristaps is a big fan of his Mammut Nirvana 30l bag, and has never had problems with any of the budget airlines. It has superb zippers and its back can be fully opened for easy packing.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Always be ready for a particularly zealous gate guardian.
While the tips above work in majority of cases, if you want to be a person that uses travel hacks, there are risks involved. If gate staff ask you to pay for luggage that appears to be oversize, you have to be ready to either pay the 60-70 EUR fee… or you can discard some of your items in the nearby bin.
This is why when we employ the travel hack described in this article, we pack the least valuable items where they can be easily accessed so that we can quickly evaluate if we want to throw them away (which has never happened in practice).
If you have a particularly large backpack and there’s a real risk of you being stopped because of it, probably don’t board last so you have time to evaluate which belongings to discard and not have to pay.
Have something to share?
If you notice a change in the practice and a tendency to once again apply the rules strictly, please drop a comment below.