Why I’ll Never Fly Jetstar Airways Again

Have you ever heard of an airline imposing a 7 kg (15 lb) weight limit for carry-on items? I reckon I’ve read some fine print here or there, or seen those box outlines by check in counters with a sign asking “Does your carry-on bag fit in here?” (implying a maximum bag size). But in my 17 years of flying, I’ve never seen such a stingy carry-on allowance, much less seen a weight limit actually enforced for it.

Oh, but the fine agents at Jetstar Airways at Sydney Airport were taking no shit at 5am when I checked in for my 6:15 flight to Hobart (don’t worry, I’ve already made both mental and physical notes not to EVER book a flight that early again). Dazed and functioning on just a few hours of sleep, I stepped up to the counter and flopped my backpack down.

I don’t do mornings (or obey baggage limits).

“And now we just need to weigh your carry-on bag to make sure it’s under 7 kg”. Uh yeah, it’s definitely not, I told them. Had I been properly awake, I probably would have guffawed and been like HAHA yeah right, that’s a good one. “There’s a 7 kg limit total for all carry-on items. You’re going to have to put some things in your checked bag,” he sternly told me.

“But… but this is all my photography equipment. I can’t check it – it’s all fragile!” I stammered in disbelief. Is he for real right now?

“That’s the rule. We make no exceptions – everyone’s got some special needs. 7’s the limit.” Wow, way to make the customer feel appreciated.

“Can I speak to a manager, then? I really can’t check this gear.” I started getting desperate, nervous, irate.

“Sure, right there,” he pointed to a woman two counters down. “She’s got 11 kilos in her carry-on.”

“Oh no no no, 7 kilos only,” she shot back without so much as looking at me.

“Oh my god, I’m going to have a meltdown”. I felt my heart racing, my eyes tearing up. Was this really happening right now?

Sydney Airport

Photo credit: Sydney Airport
“Well that’s not going to help anyone,” he said without sympathy. OBVIOUSLY. Also: did he really just say that? ‘cause THAT’S not going to help, either. “Can you pack anything in the center of your checked bag?”. As if that would make my $2000 lens and $3500 camera immune to damage and theft.

“I… I guess?”. Admitting defeat, I ripped open the stuffed backpack I’d so diligently packed the night before and fumbled around to make room. In the center of the bag, obviously, taking this bugger’s sage advice. I fought back tears at the thought of anything happening to my expensive gear, especially at the start of a particularly photogenic trip.

Once all my bags were within the imposed weight limits, he finally handed me my boarding pass. “I know you have nothing to do with this policy, but it totally sucks”. It felt good to vent for a second.

“Well we can’t tell passengers how to pack their bags – they need to follow the rules and pack accordingly.” I felt like that merited no response on my part, so I grabbed my now-lighter carry-on and headed toward security without a word.

Australia flight

Really, Jetstar Airways? Really?

So, to expound upon the plain fact that THIS IS ABSURD – but mostly just so I can rationally vent for a hot second – I have a few thoughts on this debacle:

I totally get why an airline might instate a carry-on limit, especially a budget airline: to get passengers to pay for checked baggage, as opposed to everyone carrying on all of their things for free. I’m right there with them, because those people are the worst. They hog all the overhead compartment space. Mostly I’m just jealous, because I can never be a carry-on only kind of flier with all the extra photo gear I bring along with me.

The thing is: I’d prepaid for the maximum amount of checked baggage allowed, 40 kg, because I was originally planning on flying with all of my belongings from Sydney to Tassie and traveling on from there. I only used about half of it when I actually checked in. So if I paid to fly with an additional 40 kg on me, what does it matter whether that extra 4 kg goes with me as a carry-on or ends up in the cargo space? I’d understand if it made my carry-on bag larger, and hence took up more space on board. But my backpack retains its size and shape regardless of how much it’s filled, and it fit perfectly underneath the seat in front of me. Why not follow the usual rule of ensuring the carry-on bag fits within the allotted dimensions, rather than going by weight? Or barring that: can we just pretend like I weigh an extra 4 kg? That extra weight would certainly be allowed on the plane if it were on my body, so why does it matter if it’s in my bag instead?

I get that airport staff can’t take the time to make all these exceptions for all their passengers. So in lieu of that, wouldn’t it make more sense to instate rules that are fair and practical? Let passengers carry on bags that either fit underneath the seat or take up modest space in the overhead compartment. And if you actually want to enforce the rule, have all passengers try to fit their bags inside the max-dimension box frame upon checking in.

The worst part was that when we disembarked, I noticed some fellow passengers carrying both a backpack and a rolling suitcase with them off the plane. There was no way on God’s green earth that they met the 7 kg carry-on limit, which means some of the agents must have been more lenient. That shit sucks. If an airline requires its agents to be hard asses, they’d better ALL be hard asses and enforce the same rules.

Flying in Australia

Note: When I flew Jetstar Airways from Townsville to Sydney less than 3 weeks earlier, there was no mention of the carry-on weight limit. And when I flew Virgin Australia back from Hobart to Sydney 2 weeks later, they didn’t bother weighing my carry-on bag despite having the same ridiculous 7kg limit.

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

Where in the World is This?

  • Ashlea Wheeler

    Haha yep, this sounds exactly like Jetstar. I swore off them about 2 years ago after having delay after delay, time change after time change, and more trouble than I could handle with their crappy customer service. Now I don’t even look at the prices of Jetstar flights, I already know the savings won’t be worth it!

    • lindsaypunk

      AHH you were right when you told me to avoid them! I’d never had any issues previously, but this time was definitely a dealbreaker for me. WORST!!

  • Matthew

    I know that the limit is crap, but Virgin and Qantas allow 7kg plus ‘a small item’. In practice I’ve taken a camera bag with gear and a not-too-full backpack on both of the above and they don’t look twice. Tiger has 10kg flat.

    Interestingly, they made exceptions in their policy for violins/cellos recently, and when I asked them why musical instruments and not equally, if not more valuable, camera gear, they said “here’s a form to fill out if you think we need to change our policy”.

    I find it utter crap that they “moved their carry-on policy to be equal to other airlines in the region”, yet it’s now less than every other airline in Australia.

    • lindsaypunk

      UGH I know! Supposedly all (or most) carriers have that 7kg limit in Australia. I did notice the “one small item” allowance on Virgin, but I didn’t even need to use it. The most puzzling thing is that the baggage policy enforcement seems to depend on which airport you’re flying out of, which is RUBBISH but… what can ya do, other than stop flying with them?

  • Anne Sutherland-Smith

    Lindsay, I can totally appreciate your perspective on this. we have looked at Jetstar a few times but usually decide to use a different carrier. The one time I did book a flight I was so paranoid about checking each page of the booking to ensure that they hadn’t automatically added an optional item that I felt pretty stressed.

    • lindsaypunk

      OOH good point about all the add-ons they shove in your face as you go through the booking process. I think some are checked by default, so unless you uncheck them, you’re stuck with these extras. Smart but sneaky on their part. Yet one more reason to avoid Jetstar!

  • I’ve heard plenty of complaints about Jetstar. And it definitely sucks that the limit doesn’t seem to be equally enforced by all agents at all airports. THAT’S what would annoy me – seeing someone else on the plane with an extra item, or with more weight when I was singled out and made to look like s stupid girl who can’t follow directions. I feel for you!

    • lindsaypunk

      EXACTLY! It’s like, if I had been called up by a different agent to check in, would I have been treated the same way and subjected just as strictly to the rule? I highly doubt it, based on what I saw! Ugh, just so frustrating!

  • Hanis Amanina

    I haven’t fly with Jetstar but your point really make sense! I just imagine a 70kg woman with no carry-on bag compared to 55kg woman with 10kg carry-on. The latter is even more lighter than the first one.

    Perhaps, they need to consider making maximum weight that include body weight & the carry-on bag.

    • lindsaypunk

      That’s an excellent idea! I’d obviously be on board, but I feel like they’d be accused of discrimination for a rule like that. But really, what does it matter where you’re carrying the weight: whether on your body, in your carry-on, or in your checked bag? It’s all the same!

      • Hanis Amanina

        Hi again! :) i just know something. My friend said that one of the reason why they limit the weight of carry-on is because in case the bag fall from the overhead compartment, it will be not that heavy to fall onto the person below it. T_T

        • lindsaypunk

          OOOOH that actually does make sense! But then I wonder how they decided on 7kg being the cut off point. How does 6kg not cause significant damage but 7kg does, I wonder?

  • It used to be 10kg which was much better. Tiger Air has also changed their baggage policy to 7kg carry-on too. Always trying to make more money …

    • lindsaypunk

      I feel like 10kg is SOOOO much more doable than 7kg, even if it’s technically not a huge difference. I noticed Tiger was 7kg as well, but when I flew with them they didn’t weigh my overweight carryon… perhaps they’re less strict than Jetstar with it?

      • They are getting a lot stricter on Tiger now too but as with your experience, it can depend on the particular staff member

  • One_Mountain_Man

    OK – happened to me a few days ago in Melbourne at their pathetic new terminal at Tullamarine – and I’m an international traveler (reside in the US). My leather briefcase and enclosed items weighed in at 9 kgs. I also had a tote bag containing my neck cushion and noise-reducing headphones. Out of luck – $50 thanks or F Off – and all that after paying the max baggage allowance for 40kgs for checked bags, and I was under that limit. I will never fly Jetstar again – and even if I can’t get a flight on any other airline – I will drive a rental from Melbourne to Perth. FYI – I will tell everyone I know in the US of my experience.

    • UGH that’s terrible, so sorry you had to go through that! :( Admittedly, I’ve flown with Jetstar a few times since this incident and they haven’t weighed my carry-on like that again – so weird! It seems to be very random when they enforce the weight limit. What kills me is when we’ve paid for plenty of checked baggage, clearly not trying to sneak all our belongings into a small carry-on, and they still give us a hard time about it. WHY?!!

      • One_Mountain_Man

        Hi Lindsay: Yes, the carry-on baggage weight check is done at random. Just this time my flight drew the short straw. Heads up – when you’re in line at the gate and ready to board – and you see a couple of Jetstar staff pushing a set of scales toward the front of the line – then it’s “party time” – and they work their way down the line. For me I had my leather briefcase that weighed in at 9 kg (had my computer, reading material) which is 2 kg (5 lbs) over the 7 kg limit according to their scales, and a tote bag with my neck pillow and noise-canceling headphones. Despite having paid for 40 kgs baggage (and I was under), I was out of luck, so I had the check my $1,000+ leather briefcase that I had always previously carried with me on board – and it came out slightly damaged at the baggage claim at my destination – thank you Jetstar. I always get a window seat and I could see them wheeling out the “cart of shame” in Melbourne with the excess weight bags to the plane to be loaded into the baggage hold. I counted them and Jetstar made well over $1,500 ($50 at a time for each bag) for the “excess baggage”. Sorry – it’s a “safety” issue according to them, but the $1,500+ helps the bottom line, doesn’t it. Nice job Jetstar!!!! In addition, I don’t use the overhead bins; it’s just me, my leather brief case (goes under the seat in front) and my tote bag (probably weights 1-2 kgs) on flights. So I just turned the other cheek, paid the $50 – why argue with them, life is too short – and continued on with the rest of my day. Plan B would have been to abandon the flight and my 2 checked bags then would be required to be removed from the plane, causing a delay for everyone, but I wasn’t going to play that hand and be a “dick”. My experience is only very minor compared to other horror stories I’ve read about Jetstar where some passengers have been told to cough up hundreds if not thousands of dollars for “issues” related to their baggage. As I said before, I’m done with Jetstar, their new terminal in Melbourne sucks, and I will be flying back to Australia from the US in December, and I will be flying either Virgin or Qantas domestically.

        • Oh WOW, I haven’t yet seen the scales being moved down the check in line! How horrendous. Safety hazard my ass! I still fail to see the issue with having small electronic bags that may be slightly overweight, yet fit comfortably under the seat and therefore pose no risk of falling from overhead. I totally get wanting to make extra money and busting the folks who are trying to sneak everything onto the plane without paying for checked baggage, but c’mon – for those of us who pay to check all our non-electronics, it shouldn’t be such an issue.

  • Britney Van Antwerp

    Air Asia has the same strict policy. My husband and I managed to get on a flight with them last week, with both of our carry on bags overweight. Only to hear a message on board that they would be doing weight checks on our way OUT of the plane, and that anyone with bags over 7kg would be charged the fee for checked baggage.
    We paniced for a bit, and started pulling things out of our bags to put into our pockets. But then when we disembarked, there were no weight checks. Whew! It’s awful trying to fly with rules like these.

    • Whaaaaaat! I have never heard of an airline doing that before – so cheeky! At least they ended up not doing the weight check in the end, but still – so much unnecessary stress!

  • Bob Fairway

    What you want to do is hang back, don’t rush to be the first boarding on JQ, I usually just stand to the side of the thoroughfare next to the gate.
    You will see them diligently weighing carry on but then when the announce boarding they wheel the scales away, this is when I join the que, I keep my roller bag on the blind side from the counter and sneak on through. So far has worked every time for me.

    • This is brilliant, thank you! I’ve actually never seen them weigh bags at the gate, just at check-in which is where I got nailed. I HAVE done the *hide extra bag below the check-in counter so they don’t see it* thing with another airline before and it worked, so maybe I should have done that in this case.