Why buying luggage on the high street could mean a £50 fine

LuggageStores like M&S, Debenhams and BHS advertise some of their suitcases as 'cabin' luggage. But they may be bigger than your airline will allow!

Thinking of cutting your travel costs and ditching that suitcase for carry on luggage this summer? Check airline small print before you go shopping as some 'cabin' luggage sold by stores including M&S, Debenhams and Bhs could land you with a £50 fine at the boarding gate.
Only last week in Marks and Spencer (M&S) I spotted a 'size gauge' machine in its travel section. Just like those wire baskets easyJet and Ryanair use to check your cabin bag size, the sign above it claimed, 'if it fits within the gauge it's hand luggage'.

The size dimensions were clearly labelled as 56 x 45 x 25, which is ok for airlines like easyJet, but exceeds the measurements for cabin luggage with airlines including Ryanair, Thomson and Flybe by around 30%.

Now fair play, M&S staff aren't travel experts, so when I brought this up with a member of staff she admitted being unsure if the size limit applied across all airlines. Her cheery advice was, "You'll probably get away with it'', but having travelled on several budget airlines myself I'd say getting away with anything is very unlikely if not pretty impossible.

Ryanair charges a whopping £50 if your cabin luggage is too big (55 x 40 x 20 cm max) or too heavy by the time you reach the boarding gate and with Flybe it's £40.

When I contacted M&S's head office about this, they apologized, claiming the size machine was "very old and out of date" and would be removed. But even without its misleading size machine, it still sells what it calls 'cabin' luggage which would be refused by some airlines.

So how do high-street 'cabin' bags stack up?
Take M&S's Artemis small cabin rollercase which sells for £59. Its vital statistics are 55 x 35 x 20 and while this would make it on board budget airlines including easyJet and Ryanair, you risk being refused by Flybe whose limit is 50 x 35 x 23 or face a £40 fine to pop it in the hold.
Debenhams also sells a range of 'cabin' cases, but not all these are guaranteed to get past the boarding gate.

Take the Tripp Black Holiday Cabin Suitcase or the Tripp Raspberry Holiday 4 Wheel Cabin Suitcase. Both measure 55 x 36 x 22cm which is just over the dimensions allowed by airlines including Thomson, Ryanair and Flybe. And Tripp does admit it has had to pay out refunds to some customers who've returned the 'cabin' cases as they're too big for their airlines.

Yet Tripp claims to use the 'cabin' branding as it says its cases fit most airline requirements.
It's a similar story with BHS which has sells a cabin trolley bag which also exceeds the requirements for these airlines.

When is 'cabin' luggage truly cabin-sized?
While the majority of luggage advertised as 'cabin' luggage from high-street outlets like M&S and Debenhams would be fine for flights with scheduled airlines like British Airways and Emirates, as well as some budget operators like easyJet, that doesn't mean it is a 'one size fits all', multi-purpose bit of kit.

You might think you can get away with a few centimetres, (and if you're lucky and aren't asked to pop your bag in the airline size gauge machine, maybe you will), but most budget airline small print does state that any baggage measurements given are the absolute maximum and must include both wheels and handles.

In some cases you may find small print on the product label advising you to check airline requirements, or as with Debenhams if you hunt around on the website you may this hidden away in a separate 'customer service' section rather than alongside products.

John Lewis however does go big on this and has a banner across the luggage page on its website advising customers to 'check the weight and size' restrictions with your airline before you travel'.

So who's liable if your airline fines you?
What happens if you believe that what you're buying is 'cabin' luggage but later find it's too big to take on the plane? You could have a case for 'breach of contract' says consumer solicitor Dawn Woodhouse from Irwin Mitchell.

This should mean a refund from the store if you realise before you fly. And if your oversized 'cabin' luggage means you're forced to pay a fine, you may also have a case against the store for 'consequential loss' and a case to claim back both a refund on the case plus the cost of the fine.

To avoid any unnecessary hassle, I'd suggest ignoring any promises made by the stores and instead check with your airline first. And if you're buying in person, take a tape measure to double check those measurements.

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