Travelling can be stressful enough without having to worry about whether your luggage will make it safely to your destination. If you’ve ever agonized over which type of luggage is best for air travel, you’re not alone. Hard-shell or soft-sided – which do airlines really prefer?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: airlines tend to prefer hard-shell luggage over soft-sided bags. The rigid construction helps prevent damage to your belongings and reduces the need for gate checking.

But there are advantages to both types, so read on for a more in-depth look at how to choose the best luggage for air travel.

Hard-Shell Luggage: Durability and Protection

When it comes to choosing luggage, airlines often have a preference for either hard-shell or soft luggage. In this article, we will explore the benefits of hard-shell luggage and why airlines often prefer it.

Withstands Impact Better

One of the main advantages of hard-shell luggage is its ability to withstand impact. Unlike soft luggage, which can easily get dented or damaged, hard-shell luggage is designed to absorb shocks and protect your belongings.

Whether it’s being tossed around by airport handlers or stacked under heavy suitcases, hard-shell luggage provides an extra layer of protection for your valuables.

According to a study conducted by Luggage Hero, hard-shell suitcases were found to be significantly more resistant to impact compared to their soft counterparts. This durability makes hard-shell luggage a top choice for airlines, as it reduces the likelihood of damage during handling and transportation.

Less Prone to Bulging/Overflowing

Another advantage of hard-shell luggage is its ability to maintain its shape and prevent bulging or overflowing. Soft luggage, especially when overstuffed, tends to lose its shape and can become difficult to handle.

On the other hand, hard-shell luggage retains its form even when packed to capacity, making it easier for airlines to stack and store in overhead compartments or cargo holds.

While it’s important to pack your hard-shell luggage wisely and avoid exceeding weight limits, its sturdy construction helps maintain its shape and prevents it from becoming a burden for both you and the airline staff.

More Difficult to Break Into

In terms of security, hard-shell luggage offers an added advantage over soft luggage. The rigid exterior of hard-shell suitcases makes them more difficult to break into compared to their softer counterparts.

This can provide peace of mind when traveling, knowing that your belongings are better protected from theft or tampering.

While no luggage is entirely theft-proof, hard-shell suitcases are generally more secure due to their reinforced structure and built-in locks. This makes them a preferred choice for airlines concerned about the safety of passengers’ belongings during transit.

Soft-Sided Luggage: Flexibility and Storage

When it comes to luggage preferences, airlines often find soft-sided luggage to be a popular choice among travelers. This type of luggage offers several advantages, including flexibility and enhanced storage capabilities. Let’s take a closer look at why airlines often prefer soft-sided luggage.

Expands to Fit More Items

One of the key advantages of soft-sided luggage is its ability to expand and accommodate more items. Soft-sided bags are typically made from materials like nylon or polyester, which are known for their flexibility.

This means that when you need a little extra space to pack souvenirs or other items, soft-sided luggage can easily expand to accommodate them. This can be particularly useful if you’re someone who tends to bring back more than what you initially packed for your trip.

Easier to Store When Not in Use

Another benefit of soft-sided luggage is its ease of storage when not in use. Unlike hard-sided luggage, which can take up a significant amount of space, soft-sided bags can be easily folded or compressed, making them much easier to store in a closet or under a bed.

This can be particularly convenient for travelers who have limited storage space at home or for those who frequently travel and need to store their luggage between trips.

Lighter Weight

Soft-sided luggage is generally lighter in weight compared to hard-sided luggage. This can be advantageous, especially when it comes to airline weight restrictions and baggage fees. Lighter luggage allows travelers to pack more items without exceeding weight limits, saving them from additional charges at the airport.

Additionally, lighter luggage is easier to handle and maneuver, making it more convenient for travelers who are constantly on the go.

Airline Policies on Luggage Types

Size and Weight Restrictions

Airlines have specific size and weight restrictions for luggage that passengers are allowed to bring on board. These restrictions vary from one airline to another, so it is important for travelers to familiarize themselves with the policies of the airline they are flying with.

Most airlines specify the maximum dimensions and weight for carry-on luggage, as well as for checked baggage. It is common for airlines to have different limits for domestic and international flights.

For example, a popular airline may have a carry-on size limit of 22 x 14 x 9 inches and a weight limit of 40 pounds. Checked baggage may have a limit of 62 linear inches (length + width + height) and a weight limit of 50 pounds.

It is important to note that these limits can vary, so it is always recommended to check the specific airline’s website for their current size and weight restrictions.

Gate Checking Policies

Gate checking refers to the process of checking in a bag at the gate, usually due to limited space in the overhead compartments of the aircraft. Some airlines have strict policies regarding gate checking, while others are more lenient.

It is important to check the airline’s policy before arriving at the airport to avoid any surprises.

Most airlines allow passengers to gate check their carry-on bags free of charge. However, if the bag exceeds the size or weight restrictions for carry-on luggage, the airline may require it to be checked and charge a fee.

It is also worth noting that gate checked bags are usually returned to passengers at the gate upon arrival, rather than at the baggage claim area.

Fees for Oversize/Overweight Bags

Airlines often charge fees for bags that exceed their size or weight limits. These fees can vary significantly between airlines and can add up quickly if you are not careful. It is important to be aware of these fees and plan accordingly to avoid any unexpected expenses.

Some airlines may have a flat fee for oversize or overweight bags, while others may charge based on the excess weight or size. For example, an airline may charge a flat fee of $50 for bags that exceed the weight limit by 10-20 pounds, and an additional $100 for every 10-pound increment beyond that.

It is always a good idea to check the airline’s website or contact their customer service for the most up-to-date information on fees for oversize or overweight bags.

Choosing the Best Luggage for Your Needs

When it comes to choosing the best luggage for your needs, there are several factors to consider. Airlines have different preferences when it comes to hard or soft luggage, and understanding these preferences can help you make the right choice for your travels.

Consider Trip Duration and Activities

One important factor to consider when choosing luggage is the duration of your trip and the activities you will be engaging in. For shorter trips or trips where you will be primarily staying in hotels, soft luggage may be a convenient option.

Soft luggage is often lighter and more flexible, making it easier to maneuver and store. On the other hand, if you will be engaging in outdoor activities or traveling to destinations with rough terrains, hard luggage may provide better protection for your belongings.

Assess Your Packing Habits

Another factor to consider is your packing habits. If you tend to overpack or have a tendency to bring back souvenirs, hard luggage may be a better choice. Hard luggage offers more structure and can better withstand the pressure of overpacking.

Soft luggage, on the other hand, is more forgiving when it comes to squeezing in those extra items, but it may not provide as much protection for fragile items.

Balance Durability With Portability

One of the key considerations when choosing luggage is finding the right balance between durability and portability. Hard luggage is generally more durable and can withstand rough handling by airport staff, but it can be heavier and less flexible.

Soft luggage, on the other hand, is often lighter and more portable, but may not offer the same level of protection as hard luggage.

Ultimately, the choice between hard and soft luggage depends on your personal preferences and travel needs. It can be helpful to consider the specific requirements of the airlines you frequently travel with, as some airlines may have restrictions or preferences for certain types of luggage.

Additionally, reading reviews and seeking recommendations from frequent travelers can provide valuable insights into the pros and cons of different luggage options.


When it comes to deciding between hard or soft luggage for air travel, there are good arguments on both sides. Hard-shell materials like polycarbonate tend to hold up better to bumps and impacts, while soft-sided bags offer more flexibility for overpacking.

Ultimately, the best type comes down to your specific travel habits and preferences.

Focus on finding a bag in the optimal size and weight category for your airline, with features that make sense for how you pack. Safe travels!

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