Luggage Size Guidelines You Need to Know for Your Next Flight

No matter what kind of trip you have coming up — an impromptu vacation with the girls, a business trip or a romantic getaway — there is always the matter of what (and how) to pack. If you’re a seasoned traveler, you know how important it is to be prepared if you want to avoid inconveniences like extra baggage fees and rearranging your luggage in the middle of check-in.

From your checked luggage to your carry-on and personal item, airlines keep a close eye on sizes and weights. Plus, you’re sharing the overheard bins with lots of other travelers, so it’s important to be considerate. Not to mention, you’re going to have to lug those bags through the airport, so you want to keep things as manageable as possible!

Luggage size allowances differ slightly across airlines, and the type of ticket you purchased will also play a role. Whether you’re on a strict budget or not, no one likes surprises at the airport, so we put together this handy luggage guide to help make sure you — and all your belongings — make it on the plane and to your destination.

Personal Items

A personal item is a small bag you’re allowed to bring onto the plane in addition to your carry-on bag. It should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you because you can’t have anything on your lap or spilling out into the aisles when the plane is taking off or landing. Common personal items include a purse, small backpack, briefcase, laptop bag or tote bag.

Your personal item is perfect for carrying things you’ll need easy access to during your travels. This might include your passport, a protein bar, your phone, laptop or tablet, any medications and a good book or magazine.

Carry-ons

A carry-on bag could be anything from a large backpack to a duffel bag to a small suitcase on wheels. As long as it fits inside the airline’s overhead bin, you can make it work as a carry-on bag. If you’re trying to avoid paying for checked luggage, you’ll want to make sure your carry-on doesn’t exceed the size allowed—and doesn’t contain anything that isn’t allowed in the cabin of the plane such as liquids over 3.4oz. The standard domestic carry-on luggage size is 22” x 14” x 9” and 22 lbs. but always check your airline for their exact regulations because they can vary slightly.

Your ideal carry-on bag depends on how long you’re traveling, what you’re bringing, where you’re going, and of course, your personal preferences. You want something that is functional and roomy enough for everything you need ... and it doesn’t hurt if it’s cute too!

What you pack in your carry-on bag depends on whether you’re also bringing checked luggage. Even if you are packing most of your clothes in your checked luggage, it’s smart to throw a few necessities into your carry-on because there’s always a small chance your luggage could be lost or delayed. You don’t want to be stuck on a week-long beach vacation with only your comfy plane pants and a hoodie.

What about the kids?

Traveling with kids adds a whole other layer of packing questions. Most airlines allow a carry-on and a personal item for each traveler. That means you don’t have to share that precious carry-on space with your child’s stuff too. A backpack is a great carry-on for kids because they’ll be able to pack and carry it themselves which is perfect, because, let’s face it, you have enough to carry as it is!

If your child is over two years old, you'll have to purchase a seat for them, and they'll receive the same baggage allowance as any other traveler. If your child is under two, he or she can sit on your lap for the duration of the flight. In that case, you'll be allowed one diaper bag, a collapsible stroller and a car seat. You can also choose to check the car seat and it won't be counted in your checked baggage allowance. As always, check the airline website before you head to the airport because exact regulations will vary.

Checked Luggage

Purchasing a plane ticket used to always come with at least one free checked bag. That’s no longer a guarantee, so before you get excited about a cheap ticket, make sure you double check the baggage restrictions. You could end up having to pay for a checked bag — which is fine if you plan for it. But if you didn’t realize, you’ll end up paying for your checked bag at the airport, and that’s the least affordable way to go, especially if your bag doesn’t fit into the size and weight restrictions.

Always double check your airline’s website before packing your bags, but the general size restrictions for checked luggage on most airplanes are:

  • 62 linear inches total
  • 27” x 21” x 14”
  • 50 lbs. or less

If your bag weighs more than the standard allowance, you may still be able to bring it, but you will be charged, so consider whether five pairs of shoes are really necessary (if they are — we totally get it, no judgement!)

Your checked luggage is where you should pack the majority of your clothing, shoes and toiletries. Throw any souvenirs you picked up on your trip into your checked bag too. It's always a good idea to bring along an extra packable tote or duffel bag just in case you do a little more shopping on vacation than your luggage can handle (we've all been there!). Anything you aren’t sure will make it through security and into the cabin of the plane should be fine in your checked luggage. Again, always check the regulations for your airline if you’re unsure about anything. It’s always better to be over informed!

Specialty Items

Large, non-collapsible strollers are not permitted in the cabin of many U.S. flights. You will be able to check your stroller at the gate and also request to have it brought to your arrival gate at your destination, so don’t worry about having to carry your child through the terminal.

If you have a large car seat you absolutely can’t leave behind, you can always check it. Bringing a car seat on board is a little more complicated. Some budget airlines have smaller than average seats and won’t be able to accommodate a large car seat. Although the FAA doesn’t require any child under 2 to have his or her own seat or fly in a car seat, if your child would be more comfortable in their car seat, consider buying a smaller seat that is designed for air travel.

We know airports are no one’s favorite place, but if you’re as prepared and organized as possible, you’ll be able to zip through check in, security, boarding and be on your way to your destination!

If you have any questions about the best luggage to buy for a particular trip, our associates are always available to offer advice. We’re travel lovers at Vera Bradley and we love a good luggage-related challenge!