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Tote Suitcase Question

I'm going to try hard to travel with just carry-on items next time. I'm considering getting a two-piece luggage set. A tiny suitcase that will fit in the overhead compartment with one of those square totes. But I'm pretty skeptical the latter would fit under the seat in front of me. Do they fit? Can you easily access it? Do airlines give stats on the size beneath the seats? The particular totes I'm looking at measure 13.5 inches by 11 inches by 5 inches (and doubtless will be crammed to the gills with stuff). Other options I'm considering: some sort of suitcase-backpack (I'd like a Fjällräven one, but they are murderously expensive) or one of those Scott-e-Vest jackets with 20+ pockets (almost as expensive). Thanks in advance for the help!

Posted by
211 posts

I can’t speak to the under the seat bags, but we have the RS Convertible Carry-on Backpacks. I feel like they fit more than a roller bag, since you don’t lose space due to the handles. One thing I’ve found, though, is that packing cubes are a necessity. Since the bag doesn’t have a lot of structure on its own, the cubes keep everything from collapsing on itself when you put the pack on. Not the most comfortable to carry (not like a hiking pack), but fine for short trips on public transit or in and out of airports. The price is not too steep (on sale for $70 currently), so even if you try it once, and don’t like it, not a huge loss.

Posted by
7257 posts

Hi, I have always used a carry-on suitcase within the size requirements of the airline that will fit in the overhead bin. And I bring a backpack or similar, like a backpack a student would wear. These do not need to be expensive. Since the room under each seat varies widely, depending on where the metal supports & electrical equipment are placed, something flexible like a backpack can usually still fit under the seat.

You mentioned it would be filled “to the gills”. Be sure to walk around your home with your items fully packed to see if things are too heavy or bulky. I aim to have mine at least 25 percent empty starting out.

Posted by
13910 posts

I've been using a LiteGear day pack similar to this one and it fits under Delta Economy comfort seats just fine, even well packed. It is expandable and I do not think it would fit expanded. The measurements given are 17x10x9 and that seems to be about what I just measured on my empty one.

I've also (prior to Covid) traveled with my personal item of a LeSportSac Tote similar to this one that has dimensions listed of 11x13x5.5 inches. It has also fit fairly well under the Economy Comfort seats although I did not have it completely stuffed.

For any personal item I always have a ziplock of stuff I take out for the seatback pocket for the trip so that does reduce the size a little that needs to fit under the seat.

What are the suitcase dimensions? Are you planning on any intra-European cheap flights? Those have smaller dimensions for carry on than the US legacy carriers.

Posted by
2720 posts

Don’t assume all airlines have the same size allowances. To save weight I changed from a PacSafe tote to RuMe one (out of business) plus my RS Rolling Carry-on. These will work as personal item on Delta and American, but will be too big for British Airlines. Here’s a list of airline carry-on limits that may help you
Pull out your tape measure and scale to be sure everything works size wise and weight wise when packed. Packing cubes will be your friend too.

Posted by
10211 posts

I have a LiteGear Backpack that is the same or similar to the one that Pam linked to. I’ve been using it for at least 5 years as my underseat bag and I can’t express how much I love it. I tried many other options prior to that, including totes that slip over the handle of the roller bag (which my backpack does as well), a large squishy purse, etc. Once I used this backpack it became my go to. I couldn’t tell by looking at the pictures on the website if the strap is attached to a ring on the back with a plastic clip, as mine is. When I was in Germany in October 2019 one of the clips broke. Thankfully I had a small carabiner that I was able to attach to save the day. I looked for a replacement plastic clip and couldn’t find one. Before my next trip I’ll get another carabiner the same size as the one I’m currently using to keep both sides secure.

Posted by
46 posts

Thanks everyone! I can always stow both suitcase & tote in the overhead, probably. But I'd prefer for convenience sake to have something under the seat (& a few items in the seat pocket). I always use packing cubes, to help use suitcase space more efficiently. The suitcase's dimensions are 19 x 13 x 7.5. I'm not worried about lugging the tote around - it has straps meant to loop around the suitcase's telescoping handle, so the two would roll along as one unit. My trip is up in the air, but I strongly doubt I'll be flying on a small, regional airline anywhere. I'm still not sure I can travel light, but I really want to try.

Posted by
23245 posts

First, I don't use expensive luggage -- see little need for it. Many years ago our local airport busted a luggage theft ring that focused on grabbing expensive, brand names bags. I would rather have a $50 bag go missing than looking for a $500 bag, We used a standard 21" carry on bag and basically a small backpack -- maybe a book bag size. With the exception of the small regional jets and some discount airlines the 21 carry-on easily fits in the overhead. The small backpack can get stuff under the seat unless it is the seat with a bunch of electronics under it. At 13x11x5 that is very small and will fit under any seat. That is small even for a second, personal bag. We often stuff a backpack that is at least 50% bigger than your bag under the seat.

Posted by
1259 posts

I'm going to try hard to travel with just carry-on items next time.

A noble effort with great rewards but one-bagging and two-bagging take practice if you have been taking two or three suitcases and a carry-on for many years. There are dozens of sites with lists and practical advice on how to whittle your stuff down and still feel comfortable and warm and dry anywhere. You can start here on RS.

The particular totes I'm looking at measure 13.5 inches by 11 inches by 5 inches (and doubtless will be crammed to the gills with stuff).

That's not a good sign that "crammed to the gills" bit.

Posted by
342 posts

I have a soft-sided Tote zip bag that is 20x16x7. It folds into a small square when empty. I have stored it in under economy airline seats many times over many years. I don't think I ever have it crammed fo the gills.

Posted by
17872 posts

There is nothing standardized for airline luggage requirements and I fly Turkish Air most often so I purchased around their requirements (and they are consistent with a lot of the other carriers – but not all so check)

One piece of Cabin Baggage (carryon): not to exceed 55x40x23 in size and 8 kg. Not being about style I went to Target with a tape measure and I purchased the spinner that most closely matched those requirements that did not exceed them.

Because of the weight limit (not all airlines have weight limits these days), I also purchased the lightest weight bag (weights were written on the display boxes); set me back about $40 for something made by a company called IFLY and It has been to Europe or Central or South America maybe 20 times … still looks new.

Then there is the “Personal Item” that must go under the seat this must not exceed 40x30x15 but has no weight limit so I put the heavy stuff in it (laptop, liquids, etc.); for that I struck out at Walmart and Target so ended up at Amazon where $30 (its gone up in price a bit) got me this: which matches the 40 and 30 perfectly but is possible to over fill by about 2.5cm and this one has been over maybe 10 times so far, still looks perfect.

Finally I carry a small Pacsafe Bag at 6” x 9” x 1.5” which holds a few days of meds, my E-Reader, Passport, plane tickets, Vaccine Cards, Paperwork, phone, batter backup for the phone, and my keys, watch and wallet when going through security.

If the airline were to complain that I have two personal items, I can cram it in one of the others till I get on the plane, but hasn’t happened yet.

Posted by
17872 posts

That combination will hold 3 weeks of winter clothes, down coat, sports coat and some gifts for friends over there (packed for my trip next week)

Or more interestingly:

Spring or Fall Clothes for 3 weeks plus:

  • Gifts
  • Fishing Waders
  • Wader Boots
  • Wader insulated pants
  • Heavy wooly socks for the Wader Boots
  • 2 Rods
  • 2 Reels
  • Flies
  • Net

In the summer I just use the RS Classic Back Door Bag which is all I need for 3 weeks.

Posted by
13910 posts

"I can always stow both suitcase & tote in the overhead, probably."

While both may fit in the overhead bins you may find them so full you can only put one thing in. I have seen people put 2 items in the overhead but then it sometimes means someone has to gate-check their carry on because there is no room.

Posted by
19092 posts

In my experience, American flag airlines have about the biggest personal item allowances (1500-2000 ci) for domestic flights. A couple of years ago, I flew American to Maine and was bringing some extra items to my partner, who was spending the summer there. I had the extra items in my weekend bag, which I was using as the "personal item". I checked it in the personal item sizer at the airport. It fit. Then I checked by carryon, an eTech 2.0 Weekender Convertible Jr. (no longer available) packed as if I were going to Europe for three weeks in the same sizer. It fit too!

American Airlines has the biggest personal item allowance for the three big US airlines; United's limit is about ¾ the volume of Americans limit. European airlines like Lufthansa or British Air have allowance of half or less what AA allows, but I think if you fly a code share from a US airline on a European airline (e.g., a United ticket on Lufthansa), you get the allowance of the US airline.

Posted by
4152 posts

I wasn't sure where to share this advice, but this thread seems appropriate. The link way below is one I got today from the Points Guy. It's about ways to avoid being required to gate check a bag. I noticed it because 99.99% of the time I carry-on only.

I have a Lipault 22" spinner (yes, the 22" includes the wheels and handle) that I dearly love, but I always had to gate check it on smaller planes like the SkyWest ones that fly between Tucson and Salt Lake City. Eventually that resulted in a rip in the fabric of the bag, right in the big middle of the front. I repaired it with some fancy patterned duct tape.

Shortly thereafter I bought a 22" Eagle Creek Load Warrior Wheeled Duffel. It has about the same overall measurements and capacity as the spinner, but only has 2 wheels and is shaped slightly differently.

One time my husband and I were flying from Tucson to Salt Lake on a little bit bigger plane than normal with larger overhead bins. He was using the Lipault. The gate agents didn’t bat an eyelash at my Eagle Creek bag ( but he had to gate check the Lipault ( I'm guessing that it just looked bigger, even though it isn't.

Here's the link to the Points Guy's 3 Tips to avoid gate-checking a bag on your next trip: