This article is the first in a three-part series on packing carry-on-only. Part Two: 7 Secrets to Packing Light and Part Three: The Definitive Carry On Packing List will be published over the next two weeks.
The first step to mastering carry-on-only packing is to know the rules.
Carry on luggage allowances differ by airline. Check your airline’s rules before flying. Just Google “[airline] carry on luggage” or “[airline] hand luggage.”
Always use the measurements from your airline’s website. Those measurements will be the most accurate.
Be wary of third-party sites that aggregate information for multiple airlines as their measurements may be inaccurate or outdated.
Carry On Luggage Size
The most commonly allowed size for carry on luggage is 45 linear inches (length + width + height).
Some airlines allow larger bags, but forty-five inches is a reliable baseline to use.
Airlines that give measurements by dimension typically allow bags up to 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Some airlines allow bags that are larger in one or more dimensions, but this configuration will meet the guidelines for most major airlines. We used these measurements to maximize packing space in the Tortuga Travel Backpack while still keeping it carry-on-eligible on most airlines.
Budget airlines like Ryanair are the most common exceptions to these norms. Cheaper airlines are often more strict with luggage size rules.
Check your favorite airlines’ rules before buying new luggage.
In addition to your carry on luggage, most airlines also allow one personal item, like a purse or laptop bag. Your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you.
Very few airlines publish size rules for personal items. United’s new baggage policy allows items up to 17 x 10 x 9 inches. If your airline doesn’t have specific size limits, use United’s rules as a guide to determine if your personal item will fit under the seat.