When you’re flying, every inch of space counts — especially when it comes to stowing your bags. So, can you put your personal item in the overhead bin, or does it have to squeeze under the seat in front of you by all means? 

Let’s unpack this question with what I’ve learned from travel experts, fellow travelers, and my own jaunts around the globe.  

Can You Put Your Personal Item in the Overhead Bin?

Personal items are actually meant to go under the seat in front of you during your flight. The overhead bin is designed for larger carry-on bags.

However, there are instances when some travelers get away with putting their personal items in the overhead bin, especially if they go unnoticed by airport staff or if there’s enough space available.

But here’s the thing: even if you’re allowed to use the overhead bin for your personal item bag, it’s a good idea to be considerate of your fellow passengers. The overhead bin space is limited; if everyone decided to use it for personal items, it’d quickly get crowded. Plus, there are travelers with larger carry-on luggage that simply won’t fit under the seats.

As a general rule, it’s best to save the overhead bin for larger items like backpacks or suitcases while keeping your smaller personal items, such as purses or briefcases, under the seat in front of you. This approach makes the whole travel experience more comfortable and organized for everyone on board. 

Airline Policies on Personal Items

Can You Put Your Personal Item in the Overhead Bin?: bag under the seat in front of you

First things first, every airline has its own set of rules. But generally, they allow one free personal item. The personal item can be a purse, a briefcase, a tote bag, a camera bag, a laptop bag, or a small backpack – the key word here is “small.” They expect this to fit under the seat in front of you.

Take Delta, for instance. Their policy clearly states that customers are allowed to travel with a free personal item in addition to one piece of carry-on luggage. The requirement is that your personal item should fit under the seat, and they even have the required dimensions for their underseat bags- 20 x 15 x 11 inches (55 cm X 38 cm X 28 cm). 

American Airlines also allows one free personal item bag and a carry-on. They require that “your personal item like a purse or small handbag must fit under the seat in front of you. Dimensions should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm)

Hawaiian Airlines has a similar stance, as does Southwest. It’s a standard across the board.

But, if you’re flying a budget airline like Spirit, JetBlue, or Ryanair, be prepared for even stricter rules due to their cost-saving model. This is because these ultra-low cost carriers charge extra for carry-on bags, and only allow you to have one free personal item that must fit under the seat in front of you. 

So on airlines like these, you obviously won’t be allowed to put your personal item bag in the overhead bin reserved for those who have paid for a carry-on. 

As you can see, different airlines have different policies, but the overarching theme is the same- personal items are usually free and they are to go under the seat in front of you. 

Real Talk: everyone wants a piece of the overhead space

Can You Put Your Personal Item in the Overhead Bin?: luggage in the overhead bin compartment

Let’s face it, we all want that coveted overhead space when we board a flight. I get it – it’s the prime spot for your bag, right above your seat. It’s convenient for grabbing your stuff during the flight and allows for a quick exit once the plane lands.

Plus, who wants to wrestle with a cramped leg space due to a stuffed personal item bag under the seat? I’m with you on this.

But here’s the twist. Bobby Laurie, a contributor for Condé Nast Traveler, pointed out something crucial. The space above your airline seat isn’t exclusively reserved for you, or anyone else sitting in that row, for that matter. In fact, the majority of domestic planes have three passengers in a row on both sides of the aisle in the main cabin. So how can all three of you claim the same overhead space?

Take Ryanair, for instance, where Joseph Longo noted, “On their 737 aircraft with 180 seats, there’s only guaranteed space for 90 overhead bags!” You can see how the math doesn’t quite add up.

Laurie even spoke to flight attendants who shed light on the issue. Karina Kay, a flight attendant, explained the problem: “So many passengers put all their stuff in the overhead to free up foot space for legroom, and that’s what creates an overhead space problem.” 

The overhead bin space is limited, so don’t leave your house hoping to claim an overhead space that you’re not even entitled to. 

This is also echoed by MSN, where they warned: “Remember the rules: Overhead compartments are primarily for carry-ons that don’t fit in under the seat. Everything else is extra, and should be stored up top only when everyone has boarded and at least attempted to store those bigger bags first. Then you can stake more square footage.”

I get why you may not be keen on stashing your personal item under the seat and would rather put it in the overhead bin. Sometimes, the space under the seat is just too cramped or has stuff like electronic boxes in the way. The overhead bin usually has more room. 

Plus, if you’re carrying something fragile or valuable, like a designer handbag, you’d probably feel safer putting it overhead, especially if it the ground is dirty. 

That said, personal items are meant to be stored under the seat in front of you. It’s a matter of being courteous and considerate to fellow passengers. This way, passengers with larger carry-ons have a fair shot at finding space. 

When flights are full, that overhead bin space becomes prime property. This is when flight attendants may gently remind you about the under-the-seat rule. Trust me, they have a good reason for it. I’ve witnessed the chaos that unfolds when the last few passengers board and there’s no space left in the overhead bins. It’s not a pretty sight. 

So, taking all this into account, Bobby gives some great advice: “As a general rule, try to place only your larger items in the overhead bins. If you decide to put your personal item above you, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to remove it later.”

In a nutshell, we all want that overhead space, but there’s a certain etiquette to follow. Be considerate, share the space, and avoid causing delays. It’s a shared resource up there, and a little courtesy can go a long way in ensuring a smoother and more pleasant flight experience for everyone. 

The Flight Attendant’s Perspective

Let’s talk about the flight attendant’s perspective when it comes to overhead space. They have good reasons for their recommendations, and it’s important to understand why they might prefer that personal items stay under the seat.

First and foremost, flight attendants are there to enforce the rules, and one of those rules is that personal items should typically be stowed under the seat in front of you. This isn’t just about keeping things orderly; it’s also a matter of safety.

You see, overhead bins are designed for larger carry-on items, and for good reason. In case of turbulence or an emergency evacuation, you wouldn’t want something heavy, like a roller bag, under the seat where it could impede evacuation or potentially cause an injury if it fell on someone’s foot. The bins are spacious enough to accommodate items larger than a personal item bag.

Now, while I advise following the rules, there can be exceptions. If there’s ever a situation where you need to put your personal item overhead, say musical instruments, it’s best to communicate with the flight attendants.

Here’s an insider tip I’ll share with you: Politeness goes a long way with flight attendants. I’ve witnessed a fellow traveler politely asking an attendant if they could store their fragile personal item overhead, and the flight attendant was accommodating, helping them find a suitable spot.

So, when it comes to overhead space, understanding the reasons behind the rules and being courteous to the flight crew can make your travel experience more pleasant and hassle-free. It’s all about finding the right balance between following the guidelines and seeking assistance when needed.  

What travelers and experts say…

Can You Put Your Personal Item in the Overhead Bin?

Let’s dive into the real-life experiences of travelers and the discussions on various forums. The opinions and stories about placing personal items in the overhead bin are quite diverse.

I’ve come across stories of travelers slipping their personal items into the overhead bin with little to no fuss. Often, no one seems to mind, especially when the flight isn’t fully packed.

For example, on Trip Advisor, a user had an interesting query: “First time flying on Frontier. Usually, I fly Spirit using a backpack that fits the Free personal Size limits and I have no problem putting it in the overhead after boarding. Can I do that on Frontier, or will they make me put it under the seat?” 

It’s evident from the question that this traveler had successfully placed their personal item in the overhead bin on Spirit and wanted to know if the same would fly with Frontier.

But not everyone gets away with it. I found a passenger’s account on FlyerTalk who recounted being called out by a United Airlines flight attendant. 

He tried to place his smaller bag in the overhead bin, and the flight attendant asked him to put it under the seat. It didn’t go well, and he was pretty frustrated.

It’s widely agreed among travelers and experts alike that following airline guidelines is the best approach.  

Many people feel quite strongly about this. For instance, Joseph Longo, a culture and entertainment journalist, expressed a candid opinion about placing smaller items in the overhead bin, suggesting it’s “one of the biggest jerk moves you could ever pull on a flight.”

While I personally wouldn’t go as far as calling it the biggest jerk move, I can see why it might be viewed as inconsiderate by some.

I’d also like to mention something important: to use the overhead bin for your personal items, your ticket should ideally include a carry-on allowance. 

This point was succinctly made by a Trip Advisor user who advised, “If you’re not willing to pay for a cabin bag to go in the overhead, then don’t try to bend the rules. Rules apply to everyone.”

In a nutshell, it seems wisest to keep personal items under the seat in front of you, especially on busier flights. As Longo suggested, overhead bins are best left for larger items like suitcases, duffle bags, and musical instruments.  

My Verdict…

When boarding, you should not initially place your personal item in the overhead storage bin space because you are unnecessarily limiting the space for other people to store their carry-ons. 

Daniel Gillaspia, the founder of UponArriving, agrees, saying “If you notice that the flight is not full and that there’s extra overhead storage bin space then at that point you can put your personal item up there but the default rule of etiquette is to not put it in the overhead bin.”

This is a valid point, as overhead bin space is limited, and it’s important to be considerate of other passengers.


Can personal items go in the overhead?

Your personal item is meant to be stored separately, usually under the seat in front of you. It helps keep the cabin organized, and you’ll have quick access to your essentials during the flight.

What if my personal item Is slightly oversized?

If your personal item is just a smidge larger than the specified dimensions, I think you might be able to get away with it. That said, if the airline staff call you on it, politeness goes a long way – they might find a solution that works for everyone

Can I put my backpack in the overhead bin?

Certainly! If your backpack fits within the airline’s carry-on size restrictions, feel free to stow it in the overhead bin. Just make sure it’s not too bulky for the available space.

What happens if I can’t fit my personal item under the seat in front?

If your personal item doesn’t fit under the seat, don’t panic. Politely inform the flight attendants, and they’ll guide you on the next steps. They might find a suitable spot in the overhead bin or provide alternative solutions to ensure a smooth journey for everyone.

Can I use the overhead bin if I’m seated in an emergency exit row?

Yes, you can! The location of your seat doesn’t restrict your use of the overhead bin. Feel free to stow your belongings up there, but remember to keep it organized and follow any crew instructions.

So, can I put my personal item in the overhead bin compartment?

Can You Put Your Personal Item in the Overhead Bin?

The bottom line is that while the rules say one thing, the reality can be quite flexible. If there’s space and you’re not causing any inconvenience, you might just get away with it.

But, to be a considerate traveler, always plan to put your personal item under the seat in front of you. It’s the kind thing to do for your fellow passengers and the crew.

Want to stay on the safe side? Before your next trip, why not check out some of my recommendations for the best personal travel item bags that are sure to fit under the seat. After all, it’s always better to travel stress-free, knowing you’re playing by the rules.

Safe travels!

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