I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this question before: Can my personal item be a tote bag? Well, I’ve wondered the same thing.

So, I’ve done some digging and I’m here to share what I’ve found with you.

Can My Personal Item Be a Tote Bag?

Absolutely! Your tote bag can be your personal item! Most airlines allow tote bags as personal items, provided they can snugly fit under the seat ahead of you. 

Remember, if there’s a size restriction, your tote needs to be within those limits. If it’s too large, you might need to use the overhead bin or check it in, possibly at an extra charge. Always best to check beforehand!

What Qualifies as a Personal Item?

Can a Tote Bag Count as My Personal Item?: a personal item bag being measured at the airport

Before diving into the topic of tote bags, let’s first clarify what we mean by a “personal item” when flying.

Essentially, every airline has its rules about what you can bring on board. But there’s a consistent thread: regardless of the airline, you’re typically allowed to bring one personal item onboard without any extra charge.

Simply put, a personal item is generally something small and compact enough to fit under the seat in front of you, without going over the airline’s size guidelines. While some airlines permit a personal item in addition to your free carry-on luggage, others like JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines, and Allegiant Airlines allow only one free personal item, charging extra for a carry-on.

Albert Varkki, co-founder of leather bag manufacturer, Von Baer, sheds light on this: saying it’s what you bring alongside your carry-on. 

In their words, A personal item is another bag you can take on board the aircraft in addition to your carry-on bag (if your ticket includes a carry-on). Again, airlines have different rules and regulations for personal items, so you need to check the size and weight restrictions before you fly. Most importantly, your personal item must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, even if it is your only piece of cabin baggage.”

Now, what can be a personal item?

The usual suspects are duffel bags, purses, laptop bags, diaper bags, briefcases, and small backpacks. Here’s where it gets interesting: while some airlines might not explicitly mention tote bags, they qualify if they fit right and meet the size requirements.

Tortuga emphasizes this by stating, “While many airlines categorize personal items as purses or laptop bags, if your small tote or backpack fits under the seat, it’s good to go!” The key is that your personal item must fit under the seat ahead.

What’s the size of a personal item bag?

Different airlines have different permissible dimensions for personal items. That said, the common dimension is usually 18 x 14 x 8 inches.  

Always check the airline’s personal item dimensions well before your flight. You don’t want to be surprised with extra fees because your tote bag doesn’t fit the under-seat space, do ya?

With that out of the way, let’s discuss if tote bags are great as a personal item travel bag. 

Personal Item Sizes for Tote Bags by Major Airlines

Can a Tote Bag Count as My Personal Item?: Everlane Tote bag

When it comes to choosing a tote bag as your personal item for a flight, size matters. Airlines are strict about the dimensions of personal items or carry-on luggage and your tote bag must fit within their prescribed limits.

Let’s review the personal item size requirements for different major airlines.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines does not specify the size of their personal item bag, but the rule is that your tote bag must be small enough to be stowed under the seat in front of you.

Allegiant Air

Allegiant Air has a bit stricter limit for personal items, with a size limit of 16 x 16 x 7 inches. A medium to small tote would fit in these dimensions. That said, if your tote bag is bigger, you’ll have to pay to have it on board as a carry-on (22 x 14 x 9 inches).

American Airlines

On American Airlines, you’re allowed a personal item of 18 x 14 x 8 inches. This means a larger tote bag could fit the bill for your personal item, so long as it’s not overly stuffed, and most importantly, it fits in the sizer at the gate and under the seat in front of you.

Delta Airlines

Delta does not specify the dimensions for a personal item. The rule is that the tote bag must fit under the seat in front of you, for it to be considered a personal item. But remember, don’t over-pack!

Frontier Airlines

Frontier permits a personal item with a maximum size of 14 x 18 x 8 inches. Your tote bag must be able to fit either underneath the seat.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian doesn’t specify exact measurements for their personal item allowance but they do mention “it should fit under the seat in front of you”. A good rule of thumb here is to stick to a tote that’s no larger than 18 x 15 x 8 inches.

JetBlue Airlines

When flying JetBlue, your tote will need to adhere to a limit of 17 x 13 x 8 inches. This smaller size might require a more compact tote or careful packing. Please be advised that if your tote bag is larger than the allowed size, it will need to be checked in and you will be subject to the applicable baggage fees.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest uses a slightly different measurement for your personal items with a 16.25 x 13.5 x 8 inches limit. Their specified measurements provide a somewhat bulkier width which means, there’s a tad bit more space to fit in your favorite tote! If your tote bag does not meet the size requirements, you will need to check it as luggage.

Spirit Airlines

On Spirit Airlines, you can bring a personal item bag with dimensions of 18 x 14 x 8 inches. Just make sure your tote bag fits within these dimensions, and you can use it as your hand luggage.  

United Airlines

United’s policy for personal items is a bit more restrictive at 17 x 10 x 9 inches (22 x 25 x 43 cm). For your tote bag to qualify as a personal item, it must fit underneath the seat in front of you, and within this dimension.

You might need to opt for a smaller tote or be more strategic with your packing for flights with this airline.

Having gone through this guide on the personal item sizes permitted by major airlines, you can now confidently approach the gate without concerns about incorrect sizing. 

Just invest a few minutes in researching before booking your flight and confirm the dimensions of your tote bag before you board. Being aware of these airline guidelines ensures a hassle-free journey!

Is a tote bag the right choice for travel as a personal item?

Can a Tote Bag Count as My Personal Item?: Everlane Tote bag

In my opinion, tote bags can be an excellent choice for travel as a personal item bag, and this viewpoint is echoed by several authorities and blogs in the travel industry.

For starters, their lightweight and flexible nature makes navigating through airports a breeze. Unlike some bags, they fit snugly under airplane seats, adhering to TSA regulations for personal items. This advantage has been highlighted by travel experts like those at Travel + Leisure, emphasizing a tote bag’s ability to save you legroom while fitting under the seat.

Another thing I like about traveling with a tote bag is the capacity. They offer considerably more space than purses or fanny packs. As Stephanie Trovato from TIME Stamped mentions, They’re spacious, versatile, and can fit all your essentials, including your laptop, charger, makeup, and even your beach towel. Plus, they come in a variety of materials, styles, and sizes, so you can find one that matches your taste”

Several travelers, including Kanika Sinha on Quora, swear by tote bags for their roominess. She remarks, “These bags contain so much space that you can easily carry your laptop, water bottle, make-up essentials, and all the items related to travel when you are in flight.“

Another handy feature? The open-top design. It allows for quick access to your belongings mid-flight, eliminating the fuss of zippers or compartments. Although, as Maureen Barstow points out, choosing a tote with a zipper can be a wise choice for added security.

Many travelers, including me, have managed short trips with a tote bag in tow. In fact, websites like SmarterTravel even highlight how one can travel with only a tote as their personal item for a few days.

In a nutshell, if you want a roomy, versatile, and chic travel sidekick, I’d say tote bags are an excellent choice. They’re hard to beat in many aspects, but I have a soft spot for backpacks because, well, they’re my personal favorites when it comes to carry-on travel.

Tips on Choosing the Best Tote Bag as a Personal Item

Can a Tote Bag Count as My Personal Item?: BEIS Tote bag

Here, I’ll be talking about things you should look out for when you want to get a tote bag as a personal item bag:

Size and Dimensions Matter

When it comes to selecting a tote bag for your travels, ensuring it has the right dimensions is crucial. I’ll simplify the process by focusing on the key aspects: the bag’s capacity and adherence to airline restrictions.

  •   Capacity: Fit Your Essentials Comfortably

Your tote bag should have enough space to comfortably hold your travel must-haves, such as your laptop, wallet, and travel documents. But remember, while it’s essential to have a spacious bag, it should also suit your body frame, ensuring comfort and a stylish look.

  •   Airline Restrictions: Stay Within Limits

Different airlines have specific rules about the size of personal items. To avoid any last-minute surprises, make sure your tote aligns with the airline’s size restrictions. Checking or measuring your bag before heading to the airport can save you from unexpected hassles.

  •   How to Measure Your Tote

Wondering how to ensure your tote is the right size? ToteBagFactory offers a straightforward guide: measure the width and height of the bag using a ruler or a tape measure. When measuring the height, place the tape in the middle to avoid any bent or folded areas. Remember, the bag’s handles aren’t included in the height measurement.

Material Matters:

If you’re like me, you want a bag that not only looks great but can also stand the test of time (and airports). The secret? It’s all in the material.

Think about the adventures your tote will be a part of. From overhead bins to car trunks, it’s going to face its share of challenges. This is why choosing a durable material like ballistic nylon, Cordura nylon, polyester, or even canvas is essential. These materials are known to withstand the usual wear and tear of travel.

While functionality is key, you don’t want to compromise on style. The folks over at Fashion at its Finest (FAM) put it best: “The material you pick greatly influences the vibe of your tote. Leather screams class, canvas gives that earthy feel, and nylon is all about being light and easy.”

Looking for an eco-friendly choice? Go for vegan options like faux leather or recycled materials. Whatever you choose, let it resonate with your personal style and beliefs.

The material is essential, but so are the finishing touches. Ensure that your bag’s zippers and buckles can withstand some tugging. Nobody wants a zipper mishap in the middle of a trip! Also, keep an eye out for reinforced stitching, robust handles, and straps. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.

Consider how Convenient, Lightweight and Comfortable the bag is

I can’t stress this enough – when picking a tote bag, comfort is key! After all, you’ll be carrying it around for extended periods. You’ll want something lightweight so it won’t drag you down on your journeys.

Look for totes with more than 1 pocket. Not only does this help in organizing your essentials, but it also saves you from the endless digging when you’re trying to find that one specific item.

And, speaking from experience, go for totes with broad, cushioned straps. They’ll evenly spread out the weight, ensuring your shoulder remains strain-free.  

Style and Aesthetics:

Yes, practicality matters, but who says you can’t have a tote bag that’s both functional and stylish? Choose a design that truly speaks to your personal taste.

Ideally, it should be versatile enough to go from catching your flight to joining a friend for coffee or heading into a business meeting. After all, your tote bag is an extension of you, so let it showcase your style wherever you go! 


Can you use a tote bag as a personal item?

Absolutely! Tote bags can serve as a personal item when flying. The key aspect is the bag’s size. Depending upon each airline’s personal item size requirements, your tote bag should fit snugly underneath the seat ahead of you.  

What bags can you use as a personal item?

According to most major airlines:

  • Briefcases
  • Duffel
  • Laptop bags
  • Purses
  • Small backpacks
  • Tote bags

These are acceptable personal items. Just ensure they fit the size requirements.

Does a tote bag count as a personal item spirit?

Yes, Spirit Airlines allows tote bags as a personal item. But bear this in mind: Spirit has a stringent size rule – the bag must not exceed 18x14x8 inches. If it does, you might have to count it as a paid carry-on.

Is a tote bag a personal item or carry-on?

It all boils down to how you use it. In the eyes of major airlines, a tote bag could be either a personal iteem or a carry-on, depending on size. If it fits under the seat, it’s a personal item. If it rquires overhead bin space, it’s a carry-on. Note this, though: most airlines allow one carry-on and one personal item per passenger. 

What’s the difference between a personal item and a carry-on?

The primary difference lies in size. Personal items are intended to fit under the seat in front of you. These typically include small bags such as a purse, a small backpack, or a laptop bag. They are usually free.

Carry-ons, on the other hand, are intended for overhead bins. They’re usually larger and can include suitcases, duffle bags, or bigger backpacks. Carry-ons may attract a fee, so check with your airline.

So, is a tote bag considered a personal item?

Well, the answer’s a resounding “yes”! You can indeed use your tote as a personal item. But remember, not all totes are created equal. It’s all about the size, folks.

Different airlines have varying size requirements, so it’s crucial to know these before you head to the airport. From Alaska to United, each airline has its own set of rules.

And don’t forget, it’s not just about fitting the bag into the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Overpacking can be a deal-breaker too. So, pick a tote that fits the bill and pack smart.

Hope this clears up any confusion about tote bags as personal items. If you have questions, please share in the comments! 

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