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Your Guide to Personal Item and Carry-on Sizes

By Molly Weinfurter


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If you’d turn up at the airport with an oversized carry-on or personal item, you’d most likely have to pay unexpected luggage fees. To avoid paying them, you should learn what counts as a personal item, what carry-on, and what checked luggage.

Your Guide to Personal Item and Carry-on Sizes

What Counts as a Personal Item?

A personal item is a small bag that airlines allow you to bring on the flight. It has to be stored under the airplane seats. Most travelers use a small backpack or a purse as their personal item. You don’t need to show it at the check-in desks at the airport, but it will have to go through security to scan it for any prohibited items.

What Counts as Carry-on Luggage?

Carry-on luggage is another type of hand baggage that you’re allowed to bring on the flight. Carry-ons can be slightly larger and heavier than your personal item. During the flight, you have to store them in the overhead bins along the main aisle. Like personal items, they also need to go through the x-ray scanners at airport security. You can use any type of bag as your carry-on, but most people use small suitcases. 

Personal Item vs Carry-On Size

Most carry-ons have to be under 22 x 14 x 9 inches, whereas personal items under 16 x 12 x 6 inches.

It depends on which airline you’re flying with because each airline has different rules. For carry-ons, the size dimensions are similar among airlines, but for personal items, they’re widely different for each airline. That’s why when choosing a personal item, a flexible bag is preferred. That’s because it will fit under most airplane seats, regardless of the exact space underneath.

In volume, personal items typically range between 10-25 liters and carry-ons between 25-40 liters.

Personal Item And Carry-On Size Restrictions by Airline

Airline Name Personal Item Size (Inches) Carry-on Size (Inches)
Aer Lingus 13 x 10 x 8 21.5 x 15.5 x 9.5
Aeromexico None 21.5 x 15.7 x 10
Air Canada 17 x 13 x 6 21.5 x 15.5 x 9
Air France 15.7 x 11.8 x 5.8 21.6 x 13.7 x 9.8
Air New Zealand None 46.5 linear inches
Alaska Airlines None 22 x 14 x 9
Allegiant 18 x 14 x 8 22 x 16 x 10
American Airlines 18 x 14 x 8 22 x 14 x 9
Avianca 18 x 14 x 10 21.7 x 13.8 x 9.8
Breeze Airways 17 x 13 x 8 24 x 14 x 10
British Airways 16 x 12 x 6 22 x 18 x 10
Delta Airlines None 22 x 14 x 9
Frontier 18 x 14 x 8 24 x 16 x 10
Hawaiian Airlines None 22 x 14 x 9
Iberia 15.7 x 11.8 x 5.9 21.7 x 15.7 x 9.8
JetBlue 17 x 13 x 8 22 x 14 x 9
KLM 15.7 x 11.8 x 5.9 21.7 x 13.8 x 9.8
Lufthansa 15.7 x 11.8 x 3.9 21.7 x 15.7 x 9.1
Ryanair 15.7 x 9.8 x 7.9 21.7 x 15.7 x 7.9
Southwest Airlines 16.25 x 13.5 x 8 24 x 16 x 10
Spirit 18 x 14 x 8 22 x 18 x 10
Sun Country 17 x 13 x 9 24 x 16 x 11
United Airlines 17 x 10 x 9 22 x 14 x 9
Viva Aerobus 18 x 14 x 8 22 x 16 x 10
Volaris None 22 x 16 x 10

Personal Item vs Carry-On Weight Restrictions

Your personal item and carry-on should weigh as little as possible. That’s why it’s essential to compare the weight of the bag when buying a new personal item or carry-on. Ideally, you should only choose the lightest ones to leave more room to bring more things.

Most airlines don’t restrict the weight of their passenger’s personal items and carry-ons. But ones that do, restrict it to 15-51 lbs. Budget airlines have stricter weight limits compared to more expensive ones.

Personal Item And Carry-On Weight Restrictions by Airline

Airline Name Personal Item Weight (Lbs) Carry-on Weight (Lbs)
Aer Lingus None 15-22
Aeromexico 22-33 (carry-on + personal item) 22-33 (carry-on + personal item)
Air Canada None None
Air France 26.4-40 (carry-on + personal item) 26.4-40 (carry-on + personal item)
Air New Zealand None 15.4
Alaska Airlines None None
Allegiant None None
American Airlines None None
Avianca None 22
Breeze Airways None 35
British Airways 51 51
Delta Airlines None none
Frontier None 35
Hawaiian Airlines None 25
Iberia None 22-31
JetBlue None None
KLM 26-39 (carry-on + personal item) 26-39 (carry-on + personal item)
Lufthansa None 17.6
Ryanair None 22
Southwest Airlines None None
Spirit None None
Sun Country None 35
United Airlines None None
Viva Aerobus None 22-33
Volaris 44 (carry-on + personal item) 44 (carry-on + personal item)

Personal Item vs Carry-on Fees

Personal items are always included in your fare price free of charge, whereas carry-ons sometime require a small fee. It depends on the airline and the flight class that you choose.

When flying with cheaper flight classes (economy or basic) or with budget airlines, you’ll usually have to pay a 5-50$ fee. The fees are typically lower for European budget airlines compared to American ones (5-20$ compared to 50-100$).

Personal Item And Carry-On Fees by Airline

Airline Name Personal Item Fee Carry-on Fee
Aer Lingus 0$ 0-5.99€
Aeromexico 0$ 0$
Air Canada 0$ 0$
Air France 0$ 0$
Air New Zealand 0$ 0$
Alaska Airlines 0$ 0$
Allegiant 0$ 10-75$
American Airlines 0$ 0$
Avianca 0$ 0$
Breeze Airways 0$ 0-50$
British Airways 0$ 0$
Delta Airlines 0$ 0$
Frontier 0$ 59-99$
Hawaiian Airlines 0$ 0$
Iberia 0$ 0$
JetBlue 0$ 0$
KLM 0$ 0$
Lufthansa 0$ 0$
Ryanair 0$ 6-36€
Southwest Airlines 0$ 0$
Spirit 0$ 68-99$
Sun Country 0$ 30-50$
United Airlines 0$ 0$
Viva Aerobus 0$ 0$
Volaris 0$ 0-48$

What Bags to Use as Personal Items and What as Carry-Ons

As your personal item, we recommend using a small 15-25 liter backpack. But in theory, you can use any bag as your personal item, including handbags, tote bags, messenger bags, duffel bags, small wheeled suitcases, or even shopping bags. Using a small backpack is the best option because it’s really easy to carry around, it can fit a lot of stuff inside, and it’s lightweight. It’s also flexible, which will allow you to store it under most airplane seats.

You’re allowed to use any bag as your carry-on – backpacks, duffel bags, totes, musical instruments, professional gear, and others. But for carry-on luggage, we recommend using a small suitcase under 22 x 14 x 9 inches. This will allow you to easily move it around when walking in the airport and the city. Being this size will also ensure that it’s within the size requirements of most airlines.

What to Pack In Personal Items and What in Carry-Ons

When packing your hand luggage, the main idea to keep in mind is that your personal item will be more accessible during the flight. That’s because you can keep your personal item in front of you under the seat, while your carry-on needs to stay in the overhead bins. Personal items are also more protected because they’re always in your eyesight.

If you’d pack something that you’d need during the flight in your carry-on, you’ll have to stand up, walk past everyone if sitting in the window seat, reach to the overhead compartments, and search your carry-on from an awkward position.

Here’s what items you should be packing in your personal item:

  • Valuable items
  • Fragile items
  • Snacks
  • Books, e-readers
  • Laptops, tablets, headphones
  • Medicine
  • Neck pillows, sleeping masks

And here’s what you should be packing in your carry-on

Which Items Don’t Count Towards Your Hand Baggage Allowance

Some airlines allow bringing other items that won’t count as your personal item or carry-on. This includes umbrellas, jackets meant to wear during the flight, camera bags, diapers, a book to read during the flight, a small container of snacks, child safety seats and mobility devices, breast milk, and a breast pump. These rules are different for each airline though, so you should read up on the specific rules of the airline you’ll be flying with before the flight.

Duty-free items purchased at the airport also don’t count towards your hand baggage allowance. You can buy a bag or two of duty-free perfume, alcohol, sweets, and other items from duty-free shops, and you’ll be allowed to store them in the overhead bins. In addition to that, no liquid restrictions apply because they’ve already been inspected by the security agents before entering the airport stores. The liquid restrictions don’t apply only on the first leg of the flight. After exiting the airport, they’re treated as regular items. The only thing to remember is that you need to keep your receipt to prove that these are indeed duty-free items.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Strict Are Airlines About Personal Item and Carry-on Sizes?

From my own experience, the airline employees ask to use the measuring boxes only for passengers whose bags look way over the limit. Softside suitcases, backpacks, duffels, and other bags that are only 1-2 inches above the limit are allowed most of the time. Still, it’s a good idea to measure your luggage before the flight to make sure that you are within the limits.

What Items Are Not Allowed in Personal Items and Carry-Ons?

There are several items that are banned from hand luggage. This includes liquids in bottles over 3.4 oz (100 ml), corrosive, flammable, and oxidizing substances (for example, bleach or butane), sharp items, power tools, and other dangerous items that could be used to harm other passengers during the flight.

Can Personal Items Have Wheels?

Officially, personal items can have wheels. But some people have reported that their wheeled underseat suitcases weren’t allowed, even though they were below the size limits for personal items. That’s because, in the end, each airline employee has the final say of which bags are allowed and which aren’t.

Wheeled suitcases also aren’t flexible, so if they’re over the limits, they might not fit under the seats and will have to be stored in the overhead bins. On fully booked flights, this might be a problem. We would recommend against using wheeled personal item suitcases, and instead use a flexible bag, such as a small backpack.

Can I Bring Two Personal Items or Carry-Ons?

Airlines don’t allow passengers to bring two personal items. But, some airlines do indeed allow business and first-class passengers to bring two carry-ons in addition to their personal items. Some of these airlines include Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, and a few others. With other airlines, if you’d bring two carry-ons, the other one would have to be checked in at the gate for higher fees.

Summing Up: Traveling With Personal Items vs Carry-Ons

On most flights, you’ll be able to bring a small personal item and a larger carry-on free of charge. I’ve found that by using a 20-22 inch suitcase in combination with a 20-25 liter backpack, I can pack everything that I’d need for a multi-week vacation. If you aren’t bringing too many things, then you should also be able to travel with this combination of baggage and avoid paying expensive baggage fees.

About Molly Weinfurter

Molly Weinfurter is a freelance writer and editor that specializes in family, travel, and animal-related topics.

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