To Stay Off the Naughty List: Adhere to Carry-On Rules for Smooth SA Business Travels this Holiday Season

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JOHANNESBURG – The holiday season sees many a business traveller jetting off with visions of snagging festive gifts during spare moments between meetings. But pause before stuffing your carry-on with artisan wine and gifts for the kids. The Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) is tightening its hand baggage regulations for enhanced compliance and safety during the festive season.

Gone are the days of breezily boarding your last Cape Town flight of the year with just your laptop and a tote overflowing with Stellenbosch wine bottles. Be prepared for heightened screening of overloaded carry-ons at the gate. With only one 7kg bag plus a slim laptop case permitted in economy cabins, the pressure of ‘what to pack’ in your carry-on is on.

Many South African travellers are used to flying domestically with just their carry-ons, especially as airlines started charging for checked bags. ACSA’s stricter rules may force some passengers to begrudgingly consider paying check-in fees again if they’re flying domestically, warns Bonnie Smith, GM Corporate Traveller. It’s worth weighing up an extra prepaid bag versus bulging carry-on fees,” she says. “A 20kg checked bag is around R155 online but R350 at the airport. An overweight carry-on bag penalty can be up to R250.”

The tightened domestic allowances are just one piece of the puzzle. Those hoping to take advantage of long layovers to hustle in some last-minute holiday shopping also need a clear grasp of their airline’s international baggage policies.

Excess baggage fees could land you in a very un-festive financial situation, so adhering to them will require a touch of creativity and channelling your inner Marie Kondo to declutter your luggage. Rather than fork out for surprise overweight bags onsite, Smith suggests planning ahead.

“Every kilogram over your maximum weight allowance for your class of travel could set you back between $25-$50.” Instead, ask your travel manager to pre-book additional check-in baggage, Smith stresses. “Most airlines offer 50-60% off rather than check-in desk rates.” Following this advice lets you maximise shopping opportunities without paying painful penalties.

Navigating What You Can and Can’t Bring on the Plane

And what about those little surprises for friends and family you’ve tucked into your luggage? You don’t want to be on the naughty list for carry-on violations. Whether flying internationally or domestically, the universally accepted liquid restrictions enforced by the US Transport and Security Administration (TSA) also apply at all South African airports. Have any containers over 100ml readily accessible in your transparent 1-litre zip bag when going through security. If toy weapons, sports gear like baseball bats, and snow globes were on anyone’s gift wish list, they’d fall foul of the rules. And if you want to add a festive touch, Christmas lights are fine as long as they’re decorations rather than functional bulbs.

Most critically, do not wrap gifts in luggage! ‘Unwrap on request’ rules allow potentially nosy staff to inspect anything suspicious. Instead, transport goodies in handy gift bags, keep receipts visible, and if declare items like alcohol. And finally, as the prospect of holiday generosity sparks, avoid transporting gifts, treats or other packages from strangers while travelling. At best you’ll cause security headaches. At worst, legal ones.