It took a lot of work to get Air France to answer this one.
Air France has one of the oddest baggage policies I’ve ever seen. Their current policy for 2015 seems to date back to 2013.
It dictates three classes of baggage – checked baggage, hand baggage (carry-on luggage), and a personal item. In economy, you get one of each. In premium economy, and above, you usually get multiple checked and hand baggages, but still only one personal item.
What is so confusing, is the last part – the personal item. Most airlines have broad definitions that say it can be any item that fits under the seat. Air France gets extremely particular. It says you can take a “laptop, camera, or handbag.”
A majority (or at least, a plurality) of male travelers use either a backpack or a laptop case as an auxiliary to their carry-on suitcase – neither of which exactly falls in the context of a “laptop” or a “handbag”. It’s subjective. Travelers don’t want subjective. They want clearly defined.
Searching online, I found several threads and sites that ask the same basic question – can I take a backpack and use it with my laptop as the “handbag”, or does that count as the “hand baggage” instead. Most suitcases conform to the 158 cm (25x35x55 cm) standard. So if the backpack counts as a “hand baggage” in addition to your suitcase – boom! Overcharge.
I feel like I’m flying on Frontier. With Frontier or Ryanair, you know there’s a psychology in being overly firm and charging for extras – it’s part of their business model. Right down to the gate tagging of your carry-on.
Not finding an answer, I took to social media. It’s what all the new kids are doing. I asked @AirFrance – and got cryptic answers. Calling Air France gave the same, almost word-for-word cryptic answers. Finally, I boiled it down to the the most yes/no 140 characters that I could:
@airfrance But does the laptop have to go unprotected to count as a personal item? Can it be in a case/backpack under seat as personal item?
— Christopher Price (@chrisprice) February 8, 2015
And here’s the answer I got:
@chrisprice Your laptop may be in its case and cand be placed under the seat if you like. It will, however, be + secure in overhead space
— Air France (@airfrance) February 8, 2015
It’s very clear to me that Air France dodges answering this question, so that gate attendants can use their discretion. And charge people accordingly to force them to check baggage. If backpacks were clearly defined, people would either be outraged at their exclusion, or get away with stuffing 25-30 pounds under their seat.
What annoys me the most though is that Air France doesn’t just use clear language, like most airlines, to define a personal item as anything that fits under the seat. Common sense should win the day, especially on an international carrier that you’re paying four figures to fly on.
So bottom line – You may want to print this article, and show it to the Air France people at the gate. Because this is the first, firm answer that I could find on the subject. Yes, a backpack or laptop case (with a laptop in it) can count as the “accessory”. But, only if it will clearly fit under the seat. Do not overfill the bag, or the gate check may result in an added charge or your suitcase getting checked (for a fee, of course).
P.S. One important epilogue. In reading all those threads, I did notice that Air France gate attendants tend to weight the accessory along with the carry-on bag. So when packing, make sure you weigh both your backpack/laptop-case/briefcase and your suitcase together!
As a follow-up, I did have to fight Air France on my departing flight to get the bags approved as carry-on.
The size of my carry-on backpack was fine, but when combined with the carry-on suitcase, it overweighed. I was not overweight in combined carry-on/checked, but Air France weighs each separately.
They asked me to check my backpack, or my suitcase. I pointed out that I could not, because both were full of electronics that were flagged as carry-on only in their checklist.
A mini-standoff resulted. I said I was fine to check my backpack, provided Air France noted it had electronics in it, and that they were requiring me to check it. Many conversations in French then ensued, presumably so I couldn’t interpret what was being discussed.
Finally, I had to unzip the suitcase, and out of a scene in the Matrix, demonstrate that it was indeed, full of laptops. The same reaction occurred at the check-in counter when it was opened up.
Ultimately the manager approved an exception, seeing as they weren’t comfortable with demanding that I put a suitcase full of laptops in checked bags.
This story points out how insane checked bag rules are getting. It’s becoming impossible to attend a technology trade show, and demo there, with these checked (and onboard) bag rules.
The return flight went much more smoothly, mostly because I left the exception sash that was affixed to my bags on them, for the entire trip.
Thank you so much for this article! I’m a student going abroad to Ireland for half a year with Air France very soon, and I was really worried when all I saw on the website was “hand baggage + accessory”, seeing as I need to carry my laptop with me for homework. This was very helpful, and I really appreciate you publishing this on the internet for Air France flyers to see.