Many planes allow the use of ULD containers to store hold luggage: such luggage is placed into the containers, then the containers are stored in the hold of the plane.

There are many advantages to this, as explained here: Why is luggage required to be loaded in containers?

However, some airlines do not use ULD containers even when that is possible. I have in mind Easyjet on their A320-family planes, which don't use containers, at least on some flights, even though the planes definitely can handle them.

What could be the possible reasons for this? Given the high emphasis on saving every single penny they can, I suppose they have tried both approaches and come to the conclusion that not using ULDs is actually somehow cheaper than using them, which seems counter-intuitive:

  • it should take longer to load and unload luggage one by one than just move containers in
  • more manipulations increases the risk of damage to the luggage

Possible reasons I can guess at (but not verify) are:

  • loading the containers is actually not so much faster, with containers possibly getting stuck or some similar problem?
  • loading containers requires more equipment, and turns out to be more expensive for this reason
  • it depends on the amount of luggage being carried?

Does anyone have any insights on this?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Not sure, but it might have to do with the infrastructure. Companies like Easyjet often operate between smaller airports that lack the necessary facilities for loading and unloading ULD's. In such cases it could be less efficient to use them. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2016 at 10:39
  • $\begingroup$ @RobVermeulen, I've seen this on LGW-TLS flights, and I expect both airports to be equipped for ULD handling. Of course, they may pick a standard procedure for all flights if some airports are not capable of handling ULDs. $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Jan 25, 2016 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ @mins, I already linked to that question, and all the answers are in favour of using ULDs, while I'm trying to understand why some airlines don't use them. $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Jan 25, 2016 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ The ULD add extra weight in some way, while using luggage nets should not add any significant load. Furthermore maybe loading and unloading time of smaller aircrafts isn't such a matter at all. A B747 or A380 carry 410 to 550 passengers at once, while a A320 carries only 100 to 200 passengers. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Jan 25, 2016 at 13:51
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ One thing to note with Easyjet (and other low-cost carriers) is that they discourage hold usage entirely: a large proportion of low-cost carrier passengers will take hand luggage only, as there is often a surcharge for a hold bag. As such, they carry smaller numbers of hold baggage items than other carriers $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Jan 25, 2016 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


In addition to the reasons given by @aeroalias, cargo containers also waste space.

From the A320/321 Operator's Manual: A320 container layout

The A320 can hold up to 7 containers. The A319/320/321 do not use the standard LD3 containers. They use the slightly smaller AKH container. enter image description here

Each of these has a volume of 3.7 m3, so seven of them totals 25.9 m3. When bulk loaded the A320 has 37.28 m3 of cargo space. That's almost 44% more room.


There are some siuations where it is better to load the luggage individually than in ULDs.

  • The airports served by the flight should have the necessary infrastructure to handle them. As an example, a number of carriers have outsourced their ULD logistics, which are available only in a few (usually long haul) destinations.

  • The ULDs are fast and economical (compared to putting luggage directly) only if there is some minimum amount of luggage. For short routes, the use of ULDs may not offer any significant benefits compared to direct loading due to the amount of luggage. Plus, the ULDs themselves add (some) weight, which should be small compared to the luggage carried.

  • Another thing is that for connecting flights (i.e. only a few passengers are transferred), it is better to have the luggage in the hold rather than in ULDs as the transfer time required would be lower (U don't have to open the ULD to get their baggage).

I suspect the main reason is economics. This presentation talks about the pricing of ULDs and describes two rates:

  • A base rate for use of each ULD.

  • An another rate for weights above the allowable weight.

So, if the airline is 'renting' the ULD (as I suspect most of them are), it doesn't make sense for them from an economic point of view to 'rent' an ULD unless the amount of luggage is above some threshold value, which is satisfied only in long routes or the number of passengers is more. So, low cost carriers may totally skip using ULDs and charge their customers for extra luggage to discourage them from carrying it (they can use the space and weight for cargo instead, though I'm not sure about it).


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