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A Guide to Carry-On Luggage Size Restrictions

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The majority of airlines allow passengers to bring one personal item and one carry-on,’but travelers should always check their airline’s website for specific information.

Illustration by Emily Blevins; Jeffery Cross; Kelsey McClellan; SuperJet International/Flickr; Max Pixel

The majority of airlines allow passengers to bring one personal item and one carry-on,’but travelers should always check their airline’s website for specific information.

You’ve booked your ticket. Your internet browswer is overflowing with recommendations for hot spots, restaurants, and public transit hacks for your final destination. There’s just one thing left to do: Pack your bags.

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Even if you have packing a suitcase down to a science, you’ve probably had at least one run-in with bulging carry-on luggage that won’t fit into the overhead bin as a flight attendant glares at you. Even worse, you may have been forced to gate check when your hard-case roller didn’t fit snugly in the dreaded measurement box. Did the airline website understate how seriously gate agents would take size limits, or did you flat-out forget to check? Don’t let your next airport experience put a damper on your vacation before it starts.

Here are the frequently asked questions and carry-on sizes for major domestic and international airlines to ensure everything rolls smoothly.

What counts as a carry-on?

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Most major domestic and international airlines allow economy passengers one carry-on and one personal item. (Business- or premium-class passengers are usually allowed more.) Generally, a small rolling suitcase, duffle bag, or even a larger backpack will count as a carry-on bag. Garment bags count as carry-ons, as long as they follow the dimensions specified by the airline. For instance, American Airlines allows passengers to carry on a soft-sided garment bag up to 51 inches in lieu of a standard piece of luggage.

By law, airlines are required to allow passengers to substitute a small musical instrument for a carry-on bag as long as it fits under the seat or in the overhead compartment. Travelers may want to choose a preboarding option to ensure there is space for the instrument, which is not guaranteed. Travelers can purchase a seat for larger instruments, as long as the instrument adheres to the airline’s size and weight guidelines. Military bags and sports equipment are also allowed as carry-on luggage, although bigger equipment–such as surfboards, golf clubs, and hockey gear–may be charged the standard checked baggage fee, depending on the airline.

Carry-on luggage size chart

All sizes in the chart below are listed in inches, and all weights are listed in pounds. Some airlines, especially budget airlines, only allow passengers one piece of carry-on luggage (and no personal item) or make a second piece of carry-on luggage available for purchase. The numbers in the chart pertain to travelers flying economy. Travelers flying first, premium, or business class are sometimes allowed to bring an extra piece of carry-on luggage or add more weight to their bags. As always, check your airline’s website for additional information.

Carry on size chart across different airlines. All sizes are listed in inches, and all weights are listed in pounds.

What is a personal item?

A personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. Purses, small handbags and backpacks, briefcases, and laptop backpacks and bags usually make the cut. Some airlines allow diaper bags, cameras, and duty-free merchandise–or items purchased within the airport–in addition to a carry-on and personal item.

How do you measure your carry-on luggage?

Luggage size restrictions vary from airline to airline, but standard measurements for major domestic airlines, such as United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, are 22 x 14 x 9 inches, including handles and wheels. Some airlines display size limits in linear inches, such as 45, which is the summation of the length, width, and height of the bag.

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Although weight limits are not always listed, many airlines do have restrictions to ensure that travelers are able to cart their own luggage around and lift it into the overhead compartment. International carriers use similar dimensions, although exact size and weight fluctuate. Many budget airlines, both domestic and international, have strict guidelines for the number and size of carry-on baggage. Always check the websites of individual airlines before heading to the airport.

What can you pack in your carry-on and personal item?

Carry-on luggage must pass through airport security and, therefore, cannot include dangerous materials or excessive amounts of liquid. TSA’s rule of thumb is 3-1-1. Liquids can be a maximum of 3.4 ounces (100 ml) per item, they must fit into a quart-sized plastic bag, and each passenger is allowed one quart-sized bag. Carry-on luggage cannot contain cutting instruments, explosives, or flammable materials. Some of these prohibited items are allowed in checked bags. Be sure to check your airline’s website for specific information on what you can and cannot pack in your carry-on.

>>Next: The Avid Traveler's Guide to Buying Luggage

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