Most airlines allow using cardboard boxes as checked baggage. They also allow checking in items in their original packaging, for example, large TVs and bicycles.
The FAA, TSA, and other airport security agencies across the world also don’t impose any extra restrictions.
You only have to remember to stick to the size and weight restrictions for checked baggage. Most airlines require checked bags to be under 50/70 lbs and under 62 linear inches (height + width + depth). To get the exact restrictions, check your flight details or contact your airline.
Which Airlines Allow Using Cardboard Boxes as Checked Luggage
Some airlines don’t allow checking-in cardboard boxes on flights to/from South and Central America. But if you’re flying domestically or to other destinations, you shouldn’t have any issues with checking in a cardboard box.
- American Airlines: They allow checking-in boxes, but they may not be permitted on certain flights to the Caribbean, South America, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
- Delta: Boxes are allowed as checked baggage, except when flying to/from Mexico, Brazil, and Chile. On flights to/from Central and South America, boxes are only accepted if they’re factory-sealed.
- JetBlue: Using Cardboard boxes as checked bags is only allowed on domestic flights. The only exception is Cuba, and only between Jan 16 – Nov 15. Each customer can bring a maximum of 5 checked factory-sealed boxes.
- United Airlines: Checking boxes is allowed.
- Alaska Airlines: Checking boxes is allowed, as long as they aren’t marked with hazardous materials symbols.
- Canada Air: They don’t explicitly mention that using cardboard boxes is banned. A lot of people have checked-in cardboard boxes with Canada Air without any issues.
- Frontier: Using cardboard boxes as checked bags isn’t restricted with Frontier. Some people have reported doing it without any issues.
- Spirit Airlines: Bringing cardboard boxes as checked baggage is allowed.
- Southwest Airlines: They allow passengers to use cardboard boxes as checked baggage.
Dangers of Checking in a Cardboard Box
The airport security is authorized to open any checked bag to check its contents. This also applies to cardboard boxes. And when they perform inspections, they usually don’t do a very good job of re-sealing the box.
Cardboard boxes are also very likely to get damaged. In the cargo hold of the airplane, a lot of other bags may be placed on top of the box, which can squish them.
While they’re transported to the plane, they may be left out in the rain, which will weaken their structure.
And lastly, each airline employee at the check-in desk always has the final say on whether a checked bag will be accepted or not. A lot of people have reported that they weren’t allowed to check in their cardboard boxes even though the airline rules don’t ban them. So you might get unlucky and your cardboard box may not be accepted.
How to Keep a Cardboard Box Safe While It’s Checked In
To improve the durability of the box, you can cut out another layer of inner floor and walls from another corrugated cardboard box. You can also add styrofoam panels on the inside.
When packing the box, always pack it full and fill any remaining space with filler materials. Having empty gaps inside increases the chances of the box crushing under pressure.
Instead of regular tape, use duct tape. Tape all places with overlapping cardboard, and all corners from the outside. Also, do 2-3 passes around the whole box from each side to better hold its integrity.
To protect it from rain, use a plastic garbage bag or plastic wrap.
And lastly, remember to remove all stickers of hazardous or toxic materials, because they’re banned from aircraft. Of course, this only applies if you’re bringing safe materials.
Pros and Cons of Checking in Cardboard Boxes
- Cheaper than buying a suitcase or bag.
- Doesn’t add almost any weight.
- Can be a good option if you decide that you need to check something in at the last minute.
- More packing space compared to suitcases.
- The airline won’t be responsible for any damage to the box.
- Can get damaged by other bags or rain very easily.
- Difficult to carry to and from the airport.
- Airline employees and other passengers might give you weird looks.
- If inspected, the airport security will likely not tape it back together securely.
- Not recommended for expensive and fragile items.
Instead of a Cardboard Box, Use a Cheap Duffel Bag
Duffel bags are better options than cardboard boxes due to many reasons, and you can get a cheap duffel starting from 30$.
If airport security needs to inspect your bag, they can open and close it with ease. It’s also easier to pack into and can be reused for future trips. Duffels are also much easier to carry compared to plastic boxes.
And lastly, cardboard boxes always have to be exactly under the 62-inch size restriction. With duffels, you can usually get away with something slightly larger because they’re flexible.
Summing Up – Traveling With Checked Cardboard Boxes
Even though checking in cardboard boxes is allowed, it doesn’t mean that it’s always a good idea. They’re fragile and often cause problems with airline employees and airport security.
For simple items, like food or old clothing, this usually isn’t a problem. But we wouldn’t recommend using cardboard boxes unless you’re willing to lose/damage the items inside.
A better option is to use delivery companies like FedEx or DHL. They can deliver your package quickly, at moderate costs, and they pay much more attention to keeping your cardboard boxes intact.