Your Personal Item Size Cheat Sheet

Published September 17, 2023

Written by:

Jessie Beck

Jessie is a writer, editor, and content marketer who covers travel gear and adventure travel. She’s called many places home...

Edited by:

Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta

Fred Perrotta is the co-founder and CEO of Tortuga. His first backpacking trip to Europe inspired him to start the...

The Tortuga Promise

At Tortuga, our mission is to make travel easier. Our advice and recommendations are based on years of travel experience. We only recommend products that we use on our own travels.

Even light packers sometimes need a second bag. You don’t “one bag” every trip you take. Just because you need to bring a bit more stuff doesn’t mean you’re willing to pay for or deal with checked luggage. So you bring a personal item to supplement your carry on travel backpack or suitcase.

While personal item size restrictions vary across airlines, most airlines consider a small backpack, purse, briefcase, or laptop bag to be a personal item. These must always fit under the seat in front of you. Many airlines restrict passengers to one personal item and one carry on bag. 

Underseat Bags
  • Personal-item-sized
  • Fits under the seat
  • Comfortable to carry
  • Built to last
Shop at Tortuga

Unfortunately, even if you travel as lightly as possible, you can still get in trouble with airlines for bringing too much onboard. Between ultra-restrictive basic economy fares and budget airlines charging for carry on bags, it’s increasingly important to know what qualifies as a personal item—and what doesn’t—when you fly.

To make things more challenging, measurements differ from one airline to the next.

To spare yourself from last-minute scrambles and unwanted baggage fees, you need to know what actually counts as a personal item. In this article, we’ll break down in-cabin luggage restrictions across popular airlines and bag recommendations if you’re in the market for a new one. We’ll start with some basic definitions.

What’s the Difference Between a Carry On and a Personal Item?

A carry on is your main piece of luggage which you bring onboard the airplane and store in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you (if you don’t have a second bag). Carry ons may also be called hand luggage. Airlines’ have more generous size and weight guidelines for carry ons. Think of a maximum-sized travel backpack or a roller suitcase.

A personal item is your secondary bag which you bring onboard the airplane and store under the seat in front of you. Your personal item may be a purse, laptop bag, backpack, tote, or any other small bag. Think bag, not luggage. Airlines’ are more strict with the size and weight of your personal item if they even publish rules. Most importantly, your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you.

You can, in general, bring one carry on and one personal item with you onto the plane. The exceptions to this rule are the basic economy fares now offered by both major and budget airlines. Basic economy fares are typically cheaper but only include one personal item. You’ll have to pay extra for your carry on. Some budget airlines even make you pay for any carry on.

You can travel with only a personal item, either out of necessity (Basic Economy) or choice (for extremely light packers).

Read the Carry On vs. Personal Item guide for more on the differences between the two luggage formats.

Checked luggage is any additional bag or suitcase which you give to your airline to carry in the luggage hold—not the cabin—of the plane. Airlines’ rules are most generous for checked luggage, but you will have to pay for each item that you bring.

Tortuga believes in carry-on-only travel and won’t be covering checked luggage in this article.

What Counts as a Personal Item?

Most airlines define a personal item as a purse, briefcase, or laptop bag. A small backpack, duffle, or tote is also acceptable if it fits under the seat in front of you. Suitcases are usually not considered personal items regardless of their size.

The TSA does not publish a definition for personal items, so you will have to rely on the rules of thumb covered in this article along with specific guidance from your airline.

For a standard or premium economy ticket, you’re allowed one personal item and one carry on bag free of charge. Basic economy fares and budget airlines charge for carry on bags, making your personal item the only piece of luggage you get to bring for free.

Carry on restrictions are more generous for business and first-class tickets but are the same across all economy fares (basic, standard, and premium).

Below, you’ll find a table of personal item sizes by airline and region. After each region, I’ve summarized the smallest, largest, and most common size ranges.

Personal Item Sizes by Airline

Now that you know what a personal item is, the next question is, “How big can a personal item be?”

The rule of thumb is that it must fit under the seat in front of you. But most of us don’t know exactly how big that seat is. You should also consider how much leg and foot room you’ll want to have versus how much you’re willing to sacrifice for your personal item.

Personal item size restrictions are not the same on every airline. If you’re flying on multiple airlines within a single trip, your planning can get complicated.

Most airlines will base their size limits on the total size of your bag, not just the weight in pounds like checked bags. Some airlines only give a guidance on “linear inches,” i.e. the sum of the length + width + depth of your bag.

A limit of 40 linear inches could also be expressed as 18 x 14 x 8 inches.

Use the chart below to compare personal item size restrictions for economy fares across the popular international and regional airlines. Remember to always double check the size restrictions on your airline’s website before flying.

North American Airlines’ Personal Item Sizes

AirlinePersonal Item Size (in)Personal Item Size (cm)
AeromexicoNot specifiedNot specified
Air Canada17 x 13 x 6 in43 x 33 x 16 cm
Alaska AirlinesNot specifiedNot specified
Allegiant Airlines16 x 15 x 7 in41 x 38 x 18 cm
American Airlines18 x 14 x 8 in45 x 35 x 20 cm
Avianca Airlines17.5 x 14 x 8 in45 x 35 x 20 cm
Delta Air LinesNot specifiedNot specified
Frontier Airlines18 x 14 x 8 in45 x 35 x 20 cm
Hawaiian AirlinesNot specifiedNot specified
JetBlue Airlines17 x 13 x 8 in43 x 33 x 20 cm
JSX (JetSuiteX)17 x 13 x 11 in43 x 33 x 28 cm
Southwest Airlines18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 in 47 x 34 x 22 cm
Spirit Airlines18 x 14 x 8 in45 x 35 x 20 cm
Sun Country Airlines17 x 13 x 9 in43 x 33 x 23 cm
United Airlines17 x 10 x 9 in43 x 25 x 22 cm
WestJet16 x 13 x 6 in41 x 33 x 15 cm
Minimum16 x 10 x 6 in41 x 25 x 15 cm
Maximum18.5 x 15 x 11 in47 x 38 x 28 cm
Mode17 x 13 x 8 in43 x 33 x 20 cm

Even the North American airlines that specify personal item sizes don’t have consistent numbers.

Allegiant Personal Item Size

Allegiant Airlines allows every passenger to bring one free personal item onboard.

Your Personal Item (like a purse, briefcase, or a small backpack) must be stored completely underneath the seat in front of you.

Maximum dimensions are 7 x 15 x 16 inches (17.8 x 38.1 x 40.6 centimeters)

American Airlines Personal Item Size

American allows one personal item and one carry on.

Your personal item like a purse or small handbag must fit under the seat in front of you. Dimensions should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm).

Diaper bags (1 per child), soft-sided cooler bags with breast milk, child safety seats, strollers and medical or mobility devices don’t count as your personal item or carry-on.

Delta Personal Item Size

Delta Airlines allows each passenger one carry on bag and one personal item free of charge.

As examples, Delta suggests:

  • 1 purse, briefcase, small backpack, camera bag or diaper bag
  • 1 laptop bag (computers cannot be checked, unless directed to by security)
  • 1 item of similar or smaller size to those listed 

Note that you can bring one of the above, not one from each category.

In addition to your carry on and personal item, Delta allows the following additional items:

  • A jacket and/or umbrella
  • Food or drink purchased past the security checkpoint
  • Duty-free merchandise
  • Special items like strollers, wheelchairs, child safety seats or assistive devices like crutches

Frontier Personal Item Size

On Frontier Airlines:

Personal items can be no larger than 14” tall, 18” wide, and 8” long. Personal items must  fit completely within the personal item portion of the bag sizer. Think purses, totes, computer bags, briefcases, diaper bags and kids backpacks!

JetBlue Personal Item Size

On JetBlue Airlines, all fares include one personal item to be stored under the seat in front of you.

This could be a purse, daypack, laptop bag or approved pet carrier. Personal items cannot exceed 17″ L (43.2 cm) x 13″ W (33 cm) x 8″ H (20.32 cm).

Southwest Personal Item Size

Personal-type items include purses, briefcases, cameras, food containers, or laptops (case included).

Your personal item must be stored under the seat in front of you, fitting within 18.5 x 8.5 x 13.5 inch dimensions.

A friendly reminder: If your personal item does not fit under your seat, you will be asked to place it in an overhead bin.

In addition to your personal item and carry on, Southwest Airlines allows the following:

  • A child restraint device for a ticketed child with a reserved seat or when complimentary, available space exists.
  • Assistive/mobility devices for individuals with a disability. There is no limit to the number of assistive/mobility devices a Customer can bring onboard the aircraft.
  • Outer garments or other wearable articles of clothing.
  • Food for consumption during flight contained in disposable packaging.
  • Walking canes or umbrellas.

Spirit Personal Item Size

Spirit Airlines charges extra for carry ons and checked luggage but allows one free personal item.

Personal item (e.g., purse, small  backpack, etc.): Dimensions must not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) including handles and wheels.    

United Personal Item Size

On most United Airlines flights, you may bring one carry on and one personal item.

Your personal item should fit underneath the seat in front of you. The maximum dimensions for your personal item are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 centimeters x 25 centimeters x 43 centimeters).

Additionally, you can bring the following on board, free of charge:

  • A jacket
  • An umbrella
  • Reading material
  • Food or merchandise that you buy in the airport
  • Assistive devices (such as a collapsible wheelchair, cane, crutches, medical device for prescription medications, or portable oxygen concentrator)
  • FAA-approved child restraint system or safety seat
  • A diaper bag
  • A breast pump
  • A camera
  • A pet carrier (service charges apply for in-cabin pets)
Laptop Backpack

Protect your laptop when you fly.

  • Personal-item-sized
  • Easy to pack
  • Comfortable to carry
  • Built to last
Shop at Tortuga

European Airlines’ Personal Item Sizes

AirlinePersonal Item Size (in)Personal Item Size (cm)
Aer Lingus13 x 10 x 8 in33 x 25 x 20 cm
AeroflotNot specifiedNot specified
Air France16 x 12 x 6 in40 x 30 x 15 cm
Alitalia17.5 x 14 x 8 in45 x 36 x 20 cm
British Airways16 x 12 x 6 in40 x 30 x 15 cm
easyJet17.5 x 14 x 8 in45 x 36 x 20 cm
Iberia 16 x 12 x 6 in40 x 30 x 15 cm
Icelandair16 x 12 x 6 in40 x 30 x 15 cm
KLM16 x 12 x 6 in40 x 30 x 15 cm
Lufthansa16 x 12 x 4 in40 x 30 x 10 cm
Norwegian Air Shuttle15 x 12 x 8 in38 x 30 x 20 cm
Ryanair16 x 10 x 8 in40 x 25 x 20 cm
SAS Scandinavian Airlines16 x 12 x 6 in40 x 30 x 15 cm
Swiss Air Lines16 x 12 x 4 in40 x 30 x 10 cm
Turkish Airlines16 x 12 x 6 in40 x 30 x 15 cm
Vueling16 x 12 x 8 in40 x 30 x 20 cm
Minimum13 x 10 x 4 in33 x 25 x 10 cm
Maximum17.5 x 14 x 8 in45 x 36 x 20 cm
Mode16 x 12 x 6/8 in40 x 30 x 15/20 cm

European airlines’ under seat luggage guidelines are more consistent but also more restrictive than those in North America.

Asian Pacific Airlines’ Personal Item Sizes

AirlinePersonal Item Size (in)Personal Item Size (cm)
AirAsia16 x 12 x 4 in40 x 30 x 10 cm
Air ChinaNot specifiedNot specified
Air New ZealandNot specifiedNot specified
ANANot specifiedNot specified
Asiana AirlinesNot specifiedNot specified
Cathay Pacific16 x 12 x 6 in40 x 30 x 15 cm
Cebu Pacific AirNot specifiedNot specified
China AirlinesNot specifiedNot specified
JAL (Japan Airlines)Not specifiedNot specified
JetstarNot specifiedNot specified
Korean AirNot specifiedNot specified
Malaysia AirlinesNot specifiedNot specified
QantasNot specifiedNot specified
Singapore AirNot specifiedNot specified
Thai AirwaysNot specifiedNot specified
Virgin AustraliaNot specifiedNot specified

Middle Eastern Airlines’ Personal Item Sizes

AirlinePersonal Item Size (in)Personal Item Size (cm)
El Al Israel Airlines15 x 12 x 7 in38 x 30 x 18 cm
EmiratesNot specifiedNot specified
Etihad Airways15 x 9 x 7 in39 x 23 x 19 cm
Saudia AirlinesNot specifiedNot specified

Most airlines in Asia and the Middle East—even those that allow a personal item—don’t publish size guidance. I told you this was confusing.

Summary of Airlines’ Personal Item Sizes

TypePersonal Item Size (in)Personal Item Volume (L)Personal Item Size (cm)Personal Item Volume (L)
Minimum13 x 9 x 4 in8L33 x 23 x 10 cm8L
Maximum18.5 x 15 x 11 in50L47 x 38 x 28 cm50L
Median16 x 12 x 723L40 x 30 x 19 cm23L
Mode15.6 x 12 x 6 in18L40 x 30 x 15 cm18L

This final chart summarizes all of the airlines’ personal item sizes. The variety of sizes is clear. The maximum dimensions allow a bag over 6X the size that the minimum dimensions do. Finding a perfect bag that would measure up on every single airline is impossible.

How Strict are Airlines About Personal Items?

As long as your bag fits under the seat in front of you, you can probably get away with a bag that’s slightly over your airline’s size guidelines.

However, just as the size restrictions vary by airline, so does their enforcement of those restrictions. United probably won’t force you to measure your bag because it seems a bit over the limit. RyanAir absolutely will. In general, budget airlines are stricter about enforcing personal item limits and eager to upcharge you.

The most important thing is to be sure it will fit under the seat, especially if you’re bringing both a personal item and a carry on. If the overhead bin is full, and you can’t fit your personal item under the seat in front of you, you might be asked to check one of your bags (and to pay the checked bag fee, of course).

The Best Personal Item Bags

If you’re buying a new bag to be your personal item, you have some flexibility on size but should limit your choices to smaller, secondary bags. Whether you plan to fly with just a personal item or to bring one in addition to your carry on, these bags will meet the under seat guidelines and are made for travel.

Tortuga Laptop Backpack

Tortuga Laptop Backpack

Dimensions: 19.1 x 10.8 x 7.1 inches

At 19.1 x 10.8 x 7.1 inches, the Laptop Backpack is a smidge over the personal item size restrictions for most airlines, but—as long as it’s not packed to the brim and still fits under the seat in front of you—shouldn’t be a problem.

While it won’t pass for every flight, this laptop backpack is a great option if you’re only flying with a personal item like on a budget airline or basic economy ticket. The Outbreaker Laptop Backpack has plenty of organization, a padded section for your electronics, and a large, front opening for easy organization.

Outbreaker Travel Daypack

Tortuga Daypack

Dimensions: 17 x 11 x 6.5 inches

A bag you can use both in transit and at your destination, the Tortuga Daypack fits within most airlines’ personal item size limits. 

This daypack was made to pack flat into a larger bag so that you have the option of using it as a personal item or stowing it if you plan to “one bag.”

Baggu Duck Bag

Baggu Duck Bag

Dimensions: 15.75 × 11 × 4.75 inches

Baggu’s bare-bones Duck Bag is a better personal item than carry on because it only has one small pocket for organization. If you’re using another bag as your carry on, the Duck Bag is a great option as your secondary bag.

I especially love carrying the Duck Bag alongside a travel backpack, since it has strap options to carry it either on your shoulder or to hold it with your hands. The Duck Bag is sturdy, affordable, and doubles well as your main purse while at your destination.

Herschel Strand Duffle

Dimensions: 17 x 12 x 5.5 inches

Herschel’s Strand Duffle can fit a lot as your secondary piece of in-cabin luggage at 28.5L of carrying capacity.

The duffle has a full-zip top to keep your stuff packed away, as well as outer and side pockets for quick access while in-transit.

While personal item size restrictions vary across airlines, most consider a purse, laptop bag, briefcase, or small backpack to count as a personal item. They must always fit under the seat in front of you. 

If you’re looking for a personal item bag that will fly across all airlines, try to find one that stays under 34 total inches. This will give you the most flexibility across airlines—whether you’re traveling with a carry on and a personal item, or trying to make it work with a personal item on a budget airline or basic economy fare.

10 Expert Tips to Avoid Carry-on Bag Fees on Budget Airlines

To help you navigate the tricky world of budget airline fees, we’ve gathered ten invaluable tips from seasoned travel bloggers and advisors. From learning how to maximize your personal item allowance to the savvy strategy of joining an airline’s frequent-flier programs or co-branded cards, these experts share their best advice for avoiding carry-on bag fees.

  • Maximize Your Personal Item Allowance
  • Utilize Compression Bags and Stackable Luggage
  • Pack Small Items and Split Your Load
  • Check Airline Restrictions and Plan Strategically
  • Choose an Airline Alliance and Meet Dimensions
  • Invest in a Compact Carry-On and Pack Efficiently
  • Use Compact, Under-Seat-Sized Roller Bag for Business
  • Always Check Airline’s Baggage Fees
  • Pack Spare Batteries in Personal Item
  • Join an Airline’s Frequent-Flier Program or Co-Branded Cards

Maximize Your Personal Item Allowance

Utilize your personal item! Most airlines will suggest laptop bags or small purses, but do not be fooled. Check the policy for the dimensions and bring the largest bag you possibly can. 

When I am traveling, I always bring a large backpack and leave a little bit of space. This is in case my carry-on bag is too heavy, and I need to shift some of my items around, or if I want to bring back some souvenirs from my trip!

Faith Czarnecki, Travel Advisor, Travelista Travels

Utilize Compression Bags and Stackable Luggage

When you want to keep your luggage costs to a minimum, make sure you are thoughtful with what you’re packing. Consider compression bags that allow you to roll out the air in your items so you can get more into a smaller space. 

I also like to own stackable luggage pieces. Check out your airline’s measurements for carry-ons and use the luggage pieces that meet the maximum dimensions. Don’t leave unused space empty!

Robyn Kravitz, Travel Agent, Unlocking the Magic Travel

Pack Small Items and Split Your Load

Pack items that look small, regardless of their weight. While you can never guarantee that a penny-pinching budget airline won’t force you to weigh your bag, they’re much less likely to force the issue for a backpack or duffel bag than they are for a roll-aboard suitcase. 

Another tip is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Many budget airlines allow a carry-on and a personal item, allowing you to further lighten the load of each bag.

Robert Schrader, Travel Writer and Photographer, Leave Your Daily Hell

Check Airline Restrictions and Plan Strategically

As a mom and family vacation expert, I get asked this question all the time. The first step is to check ahead of time with your airline for restrictions or fees for checking extra items. Some airlines will allow families traveling with children to bring an additional carry-on bag per person, incurring no additional charges, like a diaper bag.

Once you know what restrictions are in place for bringing a carry-on bag on board, it’s time for some strategy planning! For families traveling together, each family member should bring one small item that will fit into their own designated space. Try using only a personal item, like a purse or backpack. 

If possible, leave bulky items like coats in your checked luggage to save space for your truly essential items, such as diapers, medicines, passports, or electronics. This will reduce the amount of “stuff” needing space onboard, sacrificing nothing essential for your trip.

Jo Larsen, Travel Blogger, Best Family Beach Vacations

Choose an Airline Alliance and Meet Dimensions

Carry-on bag fees can be incredibly frustrating for many passengers. While I always urge frequent travelers to choose an airline alliance and frequent-flier program to be loyal to and earn elite status to avoid fees, this isn’t always possible. 

Some airlines have become extremely strict in enforcing carry-on bag limits. The most important thing to do is to make sure that you have a carry-on bag that fits the dimensions allowed by airlines. This is usually standardized, and while airlines sometimes weigh carry-on bags, that’s super rare. 

Be sure to take the time to find out what the limitations your airline imposes on the type of ticket you’re holding, and try to stick within those. But usually, the dimensions are what matters. If you’re holding a comfortable bag that fits in the sizers, it’s unlikely to be questioned or weighed by the gate agent.

Giovanni Hashimoto, Travel Blogger, Travel Spill

Invest in a Compact Carry-On and Pack Efficiently

As a female traveler, I avoid carry-on bag fees on budget airlines by investing in a versatile, compact carry-on bag that meets the airline’s size requirements. This way, I can ensure I have adequate space for my essentials without exceeding the limits. 

I also pack efficiently, using packing cubes to maximize the available space and keep my belongings organized. Furthermore, I wear my bulkiest clothing items, like boots or a heavy jacket, during the flight to save space in my bag. By being strategic about my choice of carry-on luggage and packing methods, I can enjoy a hassle-free and budget-friendly travel experience.

Hammer Tsui, Travel Blogger, A Fun Couple

Use Compact, Under-Seat-Sized Roller Bag for Business

One effective tip I have for avoiding fees for carry-on bags on budget airlines, especially when traveling for business, is to invest in a compact, under-seat-sized roller bag. These bags are specifically designed to fit under the seat in front of you, which typically doesn’t incur additional fees on budget airlines. They provide enough space for essentials like a laptop, documents, and personal items while keeping you within the airline’s carry-on size limits.

To ensure I don’t get my personal item charged, I use a foldable tote or backpack as my personal item. These can easily fit under the seat, and I pack them with items I might need during the flight, such as snacks, reading material, or my travel essentials kit. By carefully selecting compact and versatile luggage options, I can adhere to budget airline regulations without incurring extra fees while traveling for business.

Tim White, Founder, milepro

Always Check Airline’s Baggage Fees

Every budget airline has its own rules for how much baggage you can bring and how much it costs. So, to avoid any nasty surprises, always double-check this information before a trip. You can usually find it by searching online for the airline’s name and “baggage fees.” Also, always wear your bulkier clothes on the plane instead of packing them in your luggage.

Sarah Wilson, Travel Blogger, Life Part2 & Beyond 

Pack Spare Batteries in Personal Item

I always have to travel with my tech for my work, and these are not items I feel safe putting in my checked baggage. To avoid paying for a personal item, I purposely put all my spare batteries in it. Since we cannot put these under the plane and I have cameras and portable batteries for laptops and devices, they allow me to take the bag for free. 

When I show the airline staff each of my relevant devices and the spare batteries for each, they are happy to allow me to proceed with my regular carry-on and my personal item with no extra fees.

Michelle O’Donnell, Travel Blogger, Brit Adventures Travel Blog

Join an Airline’s Frequent-Flier Program or Co-Branded Cards

As a business traveler who is often on the move, I’ve found that nothing works better than joining the airline’s frequent-flier programs or getting a co-branded credit card. While you can try to pack lighter and smarter, it’s challenging when your travel duration is long. This is why it helps to leverage perks like free carry-on bags or even a free additional bag that budget airlines like Lufthansa and KLM offer to their frequent flyers. 

This step alone can help you save money and avoid any baggage hassles on your trips, ensuring a seamless experience.

Peter Lucas, Owner, Relocate to Andorra

Jessie Beck

Jessie is a writer, editor, and content marketer who covers travel gear and adventure travel. She’s called many places home and traveled to 45+ countries.

She now lives in San Francisco with her husband where she splits her time between traveling, adventuring outdoors, and cooking (okay, eating).

Read more from Jessie

Bring everything you need without checking a bag.

Find the perfect pack for your next trip

Shop Travel Backpacks Take the quiz