Carry on bags can mean a multitude of things - duffels, backpacks, small suitcases, totes, a vast variety of styles, all of which typically include options with wheels for easier transport. While each serves its own purpose, it is essential to understand that, while there are federal regulations with their own definitions of what a ‘carry on bag’ is and what is an acceptable size, each airline has the right to determine the acceptable dimensions of carry on luggage.
Why Use A Carry On Bag While Flying?
Carry on bags are used for many different reasons. Some travelers prefer to use carry on bags in place of checked luggage as many airlines charge smaller fees, if any, to travel with a carry on. Many airlines allow their customers to bring both a personal item, such as a purse, briefcase or other small bags in addition to your carry on.
Other travelers prefer to keep their valuable or select items on them, rather than checking it in to be placed below the airplane. I also make sure I have spare clothes in my carry on in case my checked luggage goes missing. Carry on bags can also help save time for travelers who are in a rush or prefer to move through security quickly to get to their destination faster. With no checked bag, you don’t have to wait for your luggage in the baggage claim area. I’ve missed many buses during my travels because of this!
How Big Can A Carry On Bag Be?
All carry-on luggage must adhere to FAA requirements and measure no more than 22" x 14" x 9" in size. These dimensions include both the handle and wheels of a bag if it rolls. All carry-on items must fit under your seat or in a secured storage compartment. While this is a universally accepted size when visiting another country from the United States, individual airlines and other countries sometimes allow different sizes.
Which Airlines Allow The Standard Carry On Size?
You should always check with the airline you choose to ensure they haven’t changed any of their regulations and that your bag will be accepted. Trust me, you don’t want to be told at the airport that you can’t take your carry on bag with you! For your reference, below is a quick list of airlines that stick to the typical carry on size. But it never hurts to double check with your airline before flying.
- American Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Delta Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- United Airlines
- US Airways
- Virgin Atlantic
Airlines With Different Regulations
Most airlines have unique standards when it comes to international flight routes. While the size differences are often minimal, you certainly don’t want to find yourself at the airport with a bag that’s too big and has to be checked. Paying those extra luggage prices at the airport is like daylight robbery. On the contrary, some airlines allow carry on bags that are larger than the standard size and if you weren’t aware, you’ve missed the opportunity to bring a larger bag on board.
These are examples of airlines that have tighter restrictions for carry on luggage:
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada
- Air France
- Air New Zealand
- Korean Air
But, these airlines let you bring a slightly larger carry on bag on their flights:
- AirTran Airways
- Alaska Airlines
- All Nippon Airways
- British Airways
- El Al
- Frontier Airlines
- Japan Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Scandinavian Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- Thai Airways
- Virgin America
What Can You Pack In A Carry On Bag?
Carry on bags are great for tablets, cameras, laptops, chargers, books, and mostly all of your in-flight entertainment needs. I also pack a small cosmetic bag when traveling long distances for my toothbrush, paste, wipes, moisturizer, etc. If you are choosing to only travel with a carry on bag and prefer to leave your checked luggage at home, you’ll likely want to pack clothes, personal items, and anything else you may need on your trip.
However, if you plan on checking a bag and want to use your carry on for another purpose, it helps to know what you can pack while preparing for your flight. For example, even though liquids are restricted, you can generally bring your own food and snacks. This is great if you prefer your own snacks to the snacks offered at the airport. It is important to point out that any food considered a liquid is treated with the same restrictions as other liquids, which is 100ml each maximum.
Most electronics and personal appliances, such as flat irons and other hair tools, are also permitted on carry on luggage. I would also recommend keeping important items such as ID cards, credit cards, passports, and money in a separate, small ‘carry on’ like a purse - you don’t want these to go missing during your travels! The same applies for medications, medical devices, and even baby formula.
Items You Can’t Pack In Your Carry On
One of the most well-known carry on restrictions is related to liquids. Almost every liquid brought on a plane in your carry on luggage can’t exceed 3.4 ounces and must be kept in a clear, quart-size bag when going through security checkpoints. These restrictions can vary between countries, but every flight departing from the United States must adhere to these guidelines.
These restrictions also extend to creams, balms, gels, aerosols, and other make-up items. However, there are allowances for medications, but it is advised to get a note from your doctor - just in case. Other, lesser-known, restricted items include powder-like substances, which cannot exceed 12 ounces. Sharp objects, excluding personal razors, weapons, and guns are also not permitted on planes unless they are in a checked bag or follow the required safety standards.
Other self-defense items, such as pepper spray or mace, sporting equipment that can be used as a weapon, and tools are also prohibited from being kept in a carry on bag. Surprisingly, e-cigarettes and vaping devices are only permitted on carry on luggage. Most of these items contain lithium batteries, which can be flammable but are not allowed to be kept in checked luggage.