Airline Personal Item Bag

Is a duffel bag acceptable as long as it meets the dimension limitations? For example: American Airlines allows 36 linear inches, and British Airways allows 40 linear inches.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7675 posts

As long as it meets size specs, it can be a backpack, computer bag, giant purse, cardboard box, or whatever.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

Are you asking about your carry on, or your so-called "one personal item" in addition to your carry on? If you mean your carry on - as long as you can stuff it into the test box (if one is used), nobody cares what kind of shape it is. However, if you are planning a large carry on bag, plus a 40 inch duffel bag, then I wish you luck (and will be glad I'm not on your flight). Go check your airline's website - they'll spell it out in detail. You may get away with exceeding their dimensions/weights, but don't count on it.

Posted by Jill
Santa Maria
88 posts

I did check out the guidelines, but United is unclear. AA is 36 linear inch. BA is 40. Yes, I'm bringing a 45 linear inch carry on. And because I always stow the personal item underneath the seat in front of me, should not inconvenience other passengers.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

From United's web site: "The maximum combined linear measurement (length + width + height) of carry-on bags must not exceed 14 inches x 9 inches x 22 inches (23 x 35 x 56 cm) or 45 linear inches (114 cm)." Seems pretty clear to me. As long as your bag doesn't exceed any of those dimensions, you should be fine.

Posted by Margaret
Nashville, TN, USA
451 posts

Jill,
If you will be doing a connector flight to your main departure airport, you may be on a small feeder jet for the first leg. Even though carry-on/personal item limits maybe the same, you will need to be prepared to give up your carry-on at plane side and then pick it up at plane side, since they will store the larger carry-ons under the plane on the small planes. So, what I'm getting at is if you are only taking one bag in which you will put valuables or your wallet, etc., you might consider having a smaller bag within that bag that you can take out quickly should you run into a circumstance like that. This is also good advice for when you are flying on a large transAtlantic plane, just in case overhead space limitations mandate that some passenger have to quickly have those bags that would have normally been allowed, quickly checked. Bottom line: be prepared to quickly grab out those small valuables that you absolutely don't want to lose. I stuff my travel purse into a tote bag for my personal item, then I have a Rick Steves' rollaboard that is my carry-on. Electronics go in a tote bag for my spouse, along with medicines, etc. What is in the carry-ons (that might have to go under the plane) are not the real valuables.....keep those in something that would pass as a large purse, tote, etc.

Posted by Nicholas
Seattle, Washington, United States
282 posts

Sure. Even if it's not, airlines in the US don't religiously enforce carry on limits. European carriers, on the other hand, often do. Be aware that there are often weight limits as well. For example, with Lufthansa (not to single them out), there is a 8kg limit. Over that (and they check), and they will require you to check it. RyanAir is notorious for playing "gotcha" with carry ons. Unless it's purse sized, I wouldn't bother trying to carry it on to a RyanAir flight.
Other tricks in the US: Checking your bag at the gate is free on many airlines when the bag is a marginal carry on (but let's not abuse this). Food does not count as a carry on or personal item. Bags seem to fit better when wheels are facing out (and up). Empty bottles get through security just fine (just fill it with free tap water on the other side. A lot of bottled water is just tap water anyways).

Posted by Jill
Santa Maria
88 posts

To David: I neglected to mention that UA is clear on the 45 LI carry on, but not the dimensions of the personal item bag. To Margarite: Yes, I'll be taking the cropduster to make my connection. Already been introduced to the gate check for the 45 LI bag. :-)
I need a PI bag large enough for my laptop. The sleeve dimensions are 15.2"X 1.7"X 10.5". I suppose I should rephrase my question: Which type of personal item bag do you recommend for carrying a laptop with extra room for other valuables? I'm not interested in laptop bags, and I use a sleeve.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1836 posts

I fly often and have seen every possible happening at the gate. From no one paying any attention to passenger's carry-ons/personal item/computer bag to making passenger's put their items into the wire rack for measurement with those too big to fit into the rack being forced to check it in at the gate either for free or for a charge. I have seen this on both US flights and when flying to/from Europe. I travel with a 21" roller bag and one of his tote bags, sometimes checking the 21" bag and sometimes not, depending on what I have packed in it. I also take a 17" computer in a heavy duty computer bag and have never been questioned about the computer bag. I flew from SF to SEA May 29th on Alaska and the gate personnel were asking for volunteers to bring up their "carry-ons" for free gate checking. Seems like the plane was very full and they were concerned that, with so many folks using carry-on to avoid checking fees, that there would not be enough overhead room for everyone's stuff. They did get a few volunteers but too many passengers still brought way to many/big items onto the plane which resulted in some "brain dead" passenger trying to cram a too large duffel bag into the overhead bin above me that was already full and he did manage to get it in by smashing two of our "tote bags" that we had to put up top as we were in an emergency row.
I just wish every airline would adopt uniform policies and enforce the wire rack before boarding.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

Jill, airlines (including United) don't specify dimensions for your "personal item". United does, however, provide a list of what's OK. You can find details here: Home > Travel information > Baggage information > Carry-on Baggage You'll be fine with your laptop/sleeve and other small collection of personal stuff, as long as you keep the size of the container reasonable. Figure "small daypack" and you'll be fine. Note that some airlines have stricter limits (especially on low cost carriers).

Posted by Jill
Santa Maria
88 posts

Thank you, David, for the clarification. I usually don't fly with United, but will be doing so in the near future. And I wish to thank all who replied for their advice as well. :-)

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

Jill, I fly United too often. They do allow a personal item. This is from their site: "In addition to one carry-on item, you may bring one personal item such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or an item of similar size. The following items are not counted toward your one bag and one personal item limit: Overcoat or wrap Umbrella A reasonable amount of reading material Pet carrier (fees apply) A collapsible wheelchair Child restraint seat meeting FAA approval standards Camera Diaper bag A limited amount of duty-free merchandise or food purchased in the airport Assistive devices (a cane, one set of crutches, prescription medications and any medical devices needed to administer the medications, a portable oxygen concentrator (POC), etc.)
Small and portable electronic items do not need to be removed from their carrying cases." The key language here is: "shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or an item of similar size." http://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/Pages/BaggageCarry-On.aspx It's subjective, a duffel bag may be too big, or not. If it looks the size of a large purse, you're probably okay. My strategy has always been to pack as little as I can, rather than take the absolute maximum I can get away with. I also make sure that I'll be within limits so I don't have to rely on a subjective determination by airline staff.

Posted by MWebb
San Francisco, California, USA
1 posts

On transpacific flights, I have had problems with both the 7kg (15.4 pound) limit on the carryon luggage, and weighing of both carryon pieces (luggage and personal item) both at the ticket counter and the gate. I think this is due to the many Asian travelers departing SFO with a lot of checked and cabin luggage to hold stuff for their families back home - I know that returning from SE Asia is no problem at all, they are very lax on the size and weight of both the carryon and the personal item. On my last trip I had a small, but fully packed, school pack and a small hand held duffel (less than 36") which was underfilled. Ticket agent weighed both - 15 pounds and 10 pounds - then threatened to surcharge me $150 at the gate for the personal item being too heavy - clearly they were now concerned about end-running the main bag weight limit by off-loading heavier items to the personal item. So read the rules carefully and be prepared to explain to a stubborn agent if you have to - at the gate I got a pass, but I was worried about having to pay the surcharge then applying for a refund later - I didn't have the rules printed out. So I learned two really important thing from my experience: if you have two carryons that are roughly the same size, you won't get points for downsizing your luggage, you will get penalized for having a same-sized personal item; and if you can fit a small, or at least lightweight, personal item like a shoulder bag into a single carryon like the Steves Convertible, you will have fewer risk of hassle.

Posted by Jill
Santa Maria
88 posts

Thank you for your reply. At first, I was a bit surprised to receive a reply because this topic is a year old. However, I just booked a flight for NZ/Oz this weekend. Your tip is very useful, as I might be traveling in that direction more often in the near future. Thanks again.