Can a small suitcase be a carry-on item on your flight? Every airline has its own policies, and carry-on item allowances are more generous for business and first-class passengers, but most commercial airlines will allow passengers at least one free carry-on item and one free “personal item” that they can take on board their flights. 

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In order to conserve overhead baggage bin space, passengers are generally instructed to place their carry-on items in the bin overhead and their personal items underneath the seat in front of them. Carry-on items are generally defined as small suitcases, backpacks, duffel bags, etc., that fit within an airline’s size restrictions. The most important rule of thumb to remember when it comes to carry-on baggage is that it needs to be able to fit in the overhead baggage bin reasonably.

As stated, airlines make their own baggage policies, but generally speaking, The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) states that carry-on bags shouldn’t be larger than 22 inches long, 14 inches wide and 9 inches high (55 x 35 x 22 cm), including handles and wheels (45 total linear inches/114 total linear cm (l + w + h)). Airline representatives are given the purview to decide if something is a reasonably sized carry-on item or not, and whether it may need to be checked. There are rarely if ever, airlines that will impose weight restrictions for carry-on luggage. 

If you’ve ever wondered what you can or can’t “get away with” when you fly in regard to carry-on items, read on for more clarification. I’ll answer questions I commonly hear on this topic and give you the relevant information you need to travel smarter.

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What Qualifies As a Carry-on Item on a Flight?

Technically speaking, any piece of luggage that you carry on board  your flight is considered a “carry-on bag.” Most airlines allow one piece of carry-on luggage that can fit in the overhead luggage bin, plus a “personal item” (a smaller item, like a briefcase, computer bag, purse, handbag, diaper bag, crossbody bag, small backpack, etc.). Remember that your carry-on item must be able to reasonably fit in the overhead baggage bin.

What Size Can Your Carry-on Item Be on a Plane?

The TSA has offered up guidelines stating that a carry-on item should not exceed 22 inches in length, 14 inches in width, and 9 inches in height/55 x 35 x 22 cm (45 linear inches/114 linear cm total (l + w + h)). Airline representatives are given the purview to decide if a particular carry-on item is oversized and whether it may need to be checked. Remember, if your carry-on item fits reasonably in the overhead bin above your seat, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. 

What Happens If Your Carry-on Item Is Too Big?

Most airlines won’t strictly verify your carry-on item’s size, though many have “sizers” you may be asked to put your bag into to see if it will fit within prescribed size guidelines. What ends up happening will depend on what airline you’re flying and what their policies are in this regard. Keep in mind that if your carry-on item is too wide/thick and doesn’t fit in the overhead baggage bin, that flight attendant may check your item for you, and a fee may apply. 

What Is Not Allowed in a Carry-on Item on Your Flight?

Essentially, anything that could potentially be brandished as a weapon. Sharp objects (e.g., scissors (excluding nail scissors), knives, straight razors, safety razor blades, etc.). Self-defense items like pepper spray or brass knuckles are also prohibited, along with liquids/gels/lotion items that exceed 3.4 oz/100 ml. 

Liquid toiletries/items need to be packed neatly into a re-sealable clear Ziploc-style plastic baggie, like these gallon size baggies. Your baggie can’t be any larger than 7.8 x 7.8 inches (20 x 20 centimeters).

You’ll find plenty more information here on our TravelontheFly site about what items you are and aren’t allowed to bring on a plane with you.

You can also verify these requirements with the TSA’s website

What Size Bag Will Fit In an Overhead Luggage Bin?

To find a bag that will fit under an airplane seat, you’re looking for something that measures 22” x 14” x 9” or less. Remember, as long as your item fits in the bin overhead, you should be fine.

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This Travel Pro bag could be the last carry-on bag you ever purchase! 

Are Airlines Strict With Carry-on Items?

Most airlines are at least somewhat strict about carry-on item size, as they are looking to maximize available onboard storage space. As long as it reasonably fits in the overhead luggage bin, you should be just fine.

Carrying Additional Items Onto Your Flight

What if you have extra items you’re traveling with, in addition to your carry-on bag and personal bag. No worries about bringing “extra” small items on board your flight, like a jacket, book, blanket, umbrella, duty-free items, reasonably sized stuffed animal, food/drink purchased past the security checkpoint, crutches, strollers, camera, etc. 

Small items like these don’t count as additions to your “one” carry-on and personal item. 

How does the TSA Check Carry-on Items?

How does the TSA check your carry-on items you’re bringing on board with you? All items are checked/Xray-ed as you go through airport security, to make sure no one is bringing on board anything dangerous.

Is a Backpack Too Big For a Carry-On Item?

Your backpack shouldn’t be considered too big for a carry-on item as long as you can reasonably fit it in the overhead luggage bin. Oversized items brought on board may need to be checked at the gate, and you may be charged a fee.

Can I bring a Duffel Bag and a Backpack As a Carry-on?

If you’re trying to count your duffel bag AND your backpack as one carry-on item, then no, you cannot bring both items on and count them as one. But you can bring either your duffel bag or backpack as your carry-on bag, and count the other one as your personal item. Remember, they need to fit in the overhead luggage bin and underneath the seat in front of you.

Can I Put My Purse Inside My Carry-on Item?

Purses are typically considered personal items all by themselves. Still, if you can fit it into your carry-on bag or in your personal item, and then fit the bag either overhead in the luggage bin or underneath the seat in front of you, you should be fine.

So, Can a Small Suitcase Be a Carry-on Item?

Most airlines allow passengers to travel with a carry-on bag and a personal item free of charge. If it doesn’t fit into the overhead bin over your seat, or underneath the seat in front of you, then definitely not. 

The TSA’s size guidelines are technically that carry-on items should not exceed 22 inches in length, 14 inches in width, and 9 inches in height/55 x 35 x 20 cm (45 linear inches/1114 linear cm total (l + w + h)). Small suitcases, backpacks, tote bags, crossbody bags, and duffle bags are acceptable as carry-on or personal items. Consider investing in this great carry-on bag that offers you long-lasting value at a budget-friendly price, or in this Travel Pro bag that you’ll love!

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