When flying on commercial aircraft, it's wise to plan ahead. Airlines and government agencies each impose their own carry-on bag restrictions, and these rules can vary in different regions. Knowing the rules ahead of time allows you to carry personal items that make your time in the air more enjoyable, without having to discard property at airport security checkpoints or face additional, undesired scrutiny. Generally speaking, airlines restrict the size and weight of your carry-on bags, while government agencies restrict what other items you can check or carry on the plane.
Carry-On Size Restrictions
U.S. domestic airlines allow passengers one carry-on bag when boarding flights within or into the United States. Travelers must stow these carry-ons in the overhead storage bins. Typically, carriers require that the combined length, height, and width of this bag not exceed 45 inches. In addition, individual bag dimensions must not exceed 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches, including retracted handles and wheels.
Many types of bags fit this requirement, including some hard-side rollers. Softer sided baggage, such as fabric totes and duffel bags, is often better because you can compress and rearrange the contents to meet each dimensional limit.
Personal Item Size Restrictions
Most airlines also allow you to carry one personal item on the plane as well, with dimensions not exceeding 9 inches by 10 inches by 17 inches. Airlines require you to stash this personal item beneath the seat in front of you. Some items that are permissible as personal items include laptop bags, camera bags, messenger bags, and briefcases.
In addition to one carry-on bag and one personal item, most airlines allow you to carry one additional item, such as a jacket, book, foldable stroller, or pair of crutches. Small items you carry in your pockets, such as keys and cell phones, don't count toward these limits.
Some airlines impose weight restrictions as well, especially on international flights. One common restriction requires that carry-on bags not exceed a weight of 50 pounds. Weight-limit rules may not go into effect until the second or third leg of a flight, so you should always check the restrictions for each leg ahead of time. To minimize the weight of your carry-on, avoid hard-side rolling suitcases and pack heavier items in the bags you plan to check. Duffel bags are a good lightweight option for flights with weight restrictions.
Laptops and Other Electronics
Laptops and other small electronic devices are permitted as carry-on items on planes, but must be turned off for takeoff and landing. Many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi now, making it easier than ever to stay connected while traveling. If your laptop or other electronic device appears to have been tampered with, you may have to endure additional screening or you may be forbidden from carrying the item on the plane. Commonly, the TSA requires passengers carrying laptops on the plane to boot the system up so they can verify it hasn't been re-purposed to conceal forbidden materials or items.
Carry-On Only Items
The FAA forbids you to transport some items in your checked luggage while allowing you to carry the same items in the cabin. Such items include electronic cigarettes and vaping devices, lighters not enclosed in DOT-approved containers, safety matches, and up to two small compressed gas cartridges accompanied by a personal flotation device.
Plan ahead when traveling and ensure that you have a carry-on big enough to meet your needs. Fortunately, there are so many choices of carry-on bags that you can usually find the perfect one to meet both your practical and aesthetic needs.