Cabin Crew Members Reveal Their Tips for Packing the Perfect Carry-On

Packing with a carry-on is an art, and who better to ask how to become a master packer than those that work at 39,000 feet? Cabin crews will fly to Australia with nothing but a holdall, so they're experts at travelling light. "We only ever get around 48 hours on a long-haul layover, so we normally take just a carry-on unless we plan to shop or it's an unusually long trip," one flight attendant tells us. Another recalls doing a nine-day trip in Singapore with just a carry-on, proving ruthless packing isn't as hard as you might think.

Scroll below to see a flight attendant–approved guide to packing for a long-haul flight.

Pack Versatile Items

"Mini GHDs live in my suitcase!" one long-haul flight attendant tells us. "For the winter, I have a Uniqlo down jacket; they cost about £60 but fold up like a sleeping bag and take up no room compared to normal, bulky coats. I tend to pack one pair of jeans, a couple of T-shirts, a smarter top for the evening, trainers and maybe heels depending on the destination. Liquids can be problematic, so save space in your liquids bag by getting a stick deodorant as opposed to a roll-on or spray, which have to go in the liquids bag."


(Image credit: Getty Images)

Prepare for Delays

Cabin crews know better than anyone that there's always a risk you'll be delayed or have to stay out longer than expected, so while they need to have a tight edit for a carry-on, one flight attendant tells us she always brings one extra outfit in case. "I always take a spare outfit, so I have options or in case I get stuck somewhere," she says. "But other than that, don't go too overboard, or you'll end up taking loads of things you never end up wearing."

What to Look Out for With Your Bag

"For your carry-on bag, fabric cases are better, as they are less likely to get damaged and they can expand," one attendant tells us. "If I'm packing heavily or bringing back items from shopping, I will also expand my bag. Try when you first pack to have it on the smallest setting, and then you can expand it when needed. All crew members carry a topper—this is a small bag that sits on top of your main carry-on case, and most of the major airlines see this as part of the main bag. It means you can have all the things you need to handle like your passport, liquids for your checks and other bits like a book without having to mess about with your big case."


(Image credit: FameFlynet Pictures)

Wear Your Smartest Items

Every flight attendant we spoke to had the same tip—dress up to fly. "Flying is supposed to be glamorous, and when we fly as passengers on staff concessions, we ourselves follow a strict dress code. However, it is completely acceptable and wise to bring something to change into on a long haul. For the flight, I always take leggings and a top," one said. Each attendant told us that dressing up can be a key to getting upgraded.

Use Mini Bags to Order Your Case

"When I pack I always roll anything that won't crease, to maximise the space in your case," another attendant told us. "I also use makeup or pencil cases. One case has all my wires in, so my phone charger, international plugs, headphones and then another bag has my razor, toothbrush and all those non-liquid cosmetics bits. Then I use bigger ones for things like swimsuits. It's watertight, so I can be at the pool till just before pick up and don't have to worry about them being dry."

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Emma Spedding