Airline regulations for carry-on luggage (and three more carry-on bags within those guidelines)

Yet another round of news stories has come out, reporting that airlines are continuing their enforcement of policies regarding TravelPro 20carry-on size. It’s gotten so bad that according to a news station in West Palm Beach the airlines have hired contractors—not in airline uniforms—to monitor passengers’ luggage. They will have people place their rollaboards into the ridiculously small bag sizers, proclaim them too small, and send them back to the airline to check them in.

The story interviewed George Hobica from Airfare Watchdog, and it’s his theory that while the airlines benefit tremendously by making people check more bags, their primary goal is to have airplanes loaded and unloaded more quickly. I appreciate his, shall we say, optimism and positivity about their motives, but I think it has a lot more to do with bag fees. Otherwise the guidelines would be more consistent, and consistently enforced. Many airlines say that your carry-on must be less than 45” if the height, width, and depth are added together, but the bag also needs to be no bigger than 22x9x14”. Also, the sizers would be more similar to the actual size of overhead bins. A bag that is exactly within the regulations, that fits perfectly into the overhead bin, can be deemed too big via the tiny sizers.

A lot of the bags most frequently recommended fall outside of the most common 22x14x9” guidelines—mostly they are wider than 14”. Also, many companies don’t include the wheels or the handle in the dimensions listed. My recommendation is to find a bag that is smaller than that and (as a commenter mentioned) to bring a tape measure when purchasing. Even though the guidelines say a bag can be 22” tall, I suggest getting a 20” bag. That way it doesn’t matter if the wheels and handle are included in the dimensions.

If you’re worried about being able to fit all of the stuff you need for your trip into a smaller suitcase, here are some of my best tips for packing light.

Here are a few more bags that fit within the carry-on size guidelines, recommended by readers:

TravelPro MaxLite 2 20” Expandable Spinner (pictured). A great expandable option.

Briggs and Riley Torq International Spinner. A solid hardsided option.

EBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible. It doesn’t have wheels but it will hold a ton of stuff.


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  1. […] Check baggage.  If you don’t travel often it sounds like a really great idea to have someone else haul your luggage around for you.  When I first started traveling for business I would check my baggage for this very reason.  I discovered very quickly that if you value your possessions and time you’ll want to avoid checking your bag at all costs.  When you check a bag you have to spend time checking it, you risk things getting lost or damaged, if you have a connection a delay could cause your luggage not to make the flight, and worst of all you have to sit and wait for your luggage to arrive when you may need to head out for business or go to your hotel and sleep.  This is why I never check my bag unless I absolutely have to.  If you’re concerned about your luggage fitting in the overhead bin check out my post on carry-on luggage within airline regulations. […]


  1. As someone that always travels with a regulation size bag (or smaller), I’m thrilled with this. I’m tired of the delays that occur when people with over-sized bags spend minutes blocking the aisles as they try to push their expanded roller board into the bin. I’m tired that there is no room for my regulation sized soft-side bag because someone put their bag sideways into the bin when it was too long to put it on end. The poor FA’s have to deal with it when really the gate agents should have been the ones enforcing it. The carry on sizes have always been published so there is no excuse about oversized bags. People are only whining because they are now getting caught breaking previously published rules.

    Luggage sizers remove all arguments about bags – either it goes in or it doesn’t.
    I do think it is wise on the airlines part to hire contractors. Right now people have to relearn what is acceptable. Having extra staff on hand to deal with the learning curve helps everybody. It also takes the pressure off the FA’s. I don’t want my FA staring the flight in a foul mood because of some baggage hog.

    Put me down as someone that is tired of being impacted by others bad behavior. I’m thrilled that the enforcement is happening.

  2. I purchased a smaller rollaboard (18″) for this exact reason. Here’s an idea though – if the goal is to improve turnaround time at the gate and the issue is people bringing oversize carry-ons, why not check bags for free and charge for overhead bin space? For most of us carrying on is more convenient to avoid the wait time at the carousel, so shouldn’t that be the premium service? (“Service” is of course used loosely here…) The teeny sizers could then be re-purposed to determine what qualifies as the free “personal item.” Assuming free overhead space would be a status perk, the change would have the biggest impact on vacationers trying to save a few bucks on checked bag fees, and they tend to cause the most trouble anyway.

  3. Agree 100% with Claire. Start charging for carryons and watch the plane load in a fraction of the usual time.
    Waive/lower for elites/cc holders whatever, but charge kettles for this so-called expedited ‘service”.
    Print waiver with boarding pass to prove status/payment.

  4. I have to offer the other side of the argument – Im a professional filmmaker, and I rely on my carry-on bag to transport my camera, lenses, laptop, and other electronics safely, because lord knows what the airline will do with it if I check it (even in a hard sided, padded, locked case – I’ve had kits that were locked with a TSA lock at check-in come out of the conveyor at bag claim open with items literally hanging out of them). While my carry-on camera bag is within the size guidelines unpacked, once it’s full, it’s not going to fit in that bag sizer. It DOES however, still fit perfectly fine in the overhead of a A320, etc, and under the seat even in a CRJ.
    If they start banning bags that don’t fit in the sizer, my only option is to ship UPS prior to the trip, and that means being without gear for a few days on each end of the trip.
    If it’s either/or, I guess I’d have to say charge for carry-ons. $25 or $30 is worth it to keep the airline’s (and back-office TSA) grubby little hands off my expensive gear.

  5. You know, Claire has a good idea. If it were really about loading the planes faster that would certainly be the way to do it.

    @Lady Light Travel I am with you in that I want enforcement, and I am all for making people check their bags when they are legitimately too big. I just want the enforcement to be consistent, and I would like for the sizers to be more realistic to what will fit in the bin. Claire’s idea would be a great way to solve that.

  6. The problem here as Gardy mentioned above is that the more I see what airlines do with checked bags the more I will try to carry with me. They have no respect at all for your belongings. And BTW they are charging to destroy your stuff. I am tired of getting luggage that was trashed by airlines. Also, in many airports you have to be lucky to get your belongings since in most cases airport personnel will steal your things from your own bag. I have an example in my family where a carry on was gate checked (locked with TSA locker) and delivered by the olane door on arrival. When getting to the hotel and opening the luggage all the valuable stuff were missing. So, how can youtrust your valuables with them?

  7. It comes down to uniform policy. I have traveled with the same TravelPro roller board for 5 years. Only recently, one trip while flying an airline other than my preferred, was I challenged on the bag. The agents at the door of the plane told me that I had to put it in the sizer or check it. Due to my liquids bag in the outside pocket it didn’t fit right in. What made me mad, was that all the males ahead of me had the same size bag or larger (1 had the exact same bag) and were allowed to board without a second glance. I grabbed my bag and proceeded down the jetway (telling them I’d check it if it didn’t fit in the overhead bin) and guess what….it fit just fine in the overhead bin (just as it has on my other 100+ flights on full sized aircraft last year).

    I only check a bag if traveling alone with my young daughter. Carry on only does more than save time at baggage claim. If I want to hop on an earlier flight or move flights due to flight irregularities, the 1st question I’m always asked is “do you have checked luggage?” I have often seen other passengers denied a change in flights for that very reason.

    Due to hearing about the recent issues, I am changing to the TravelPro max lite 2 20″ spinner. My mom had it so I tried if out for 2 trips & loved it. The best part was finding one at TJ Maxx on clearance for $50.

  8. Well, sure, there are many other problems with the baggage checking process – a victim of damaged luggage and theft myself I completely sympathize. Charging for carry-ons instead of checked bags isn’t the whole solution to the bag issue, and until baggage handling is more secure I’ll keep my valuables with me.
    I’ll add careful and secure baggage handling to my wish list, along with consistent and reasonable carry-on size enforcement.

  9. My fiancée got a new carryon samsonite for a great price but I thought it looked a bit big. I did the measurements and it comes out to roughly 22.5/15/10. I don’t want her to return it because it was a great deal but are these dimensions too big? =\

  10. I agree with Lady Light Travel. I am fed up with waiting for people carrying on overly large bags and the wasting time stuffing them in the overheads, getting hit in the head with backpacks etc. I always check my bags and am waiting for the day when we return to that, can board and deplane quickly and travel in a little more comfort as a result.

  11. There’s another issue. As a small plane pilot, I have to know how to calculate weight& balance for passengers and luggage. If the result is outside the W&B envelope, I don’t fly, or I throw out luggage, or indeed PAX. Airlines also calculate W&B, but you can only do it accurately with hold luggage. I don’t see how they can add in carry ons w/o weighing them, except by calculating an allowance of some sort. It would be safer if carryons were strictly limited. The more I pilot, the more I worry about the W&B issue.

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