Traveling can sometimes feel like piecing together a puzzle, with each piece being a part of your luggage. This is especially true when it comes to specialty items like garment bags.
I’ve seen plenty of people using garment bags as personal items, seemingly without any trouble. But what’s the actual verdict when it comes to airlines? Is a garment bag considered a carry-on bag or personal item?
Let’s find out!
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Is a garment bag considered a carry-on bag or personal item?
When it comes down to it, most airlines classify garment bags as carry-on luggage. This is due to their size and the space they occupy in the overhead compartment or sometimes hung in a wardrobe space in first or business class, if available.
However, it’s worth noting that some travelers have successfully used their garment bags as personal items. This usually works if the garment bag is particularly small and compact, not stuffed to the brim, and able to fit under the seat in front of you without obstructing legroom. That said, it’s a bit of a gray area and often depends on the discretion of the gate agents, cabin crew, and a dash of good fortune.
So, while you might get lucky and have your garment bag counted as a personal item, it’s not something to count on every time you fly. I think it’s best to assume that your garment bag will count as your carry-on item. Always check your airline’s specific baggage policy before flying to ensure your garment bag meets their size requirements for carry-on luggage.
Garment bags: Carry-on vs. Personal Item bag
Before we dive into the specifics of garment bags, let’s clarify the difference between a carry-on bag and a personal item.
- Carry-on Bag: This is the larger bag that you can take with you into the cabin of the plane. It usually goes in the overhead bin. The size and weight limits for carry-on bags can vary from one airline to another, but the typical dimensions are around 22″ x 14″ x 9″.
- Personal Item: This is a smaller bag or item, such as a purse, laptop bag, or backpack, that you can bring onto the plane in addition to your carry-on bag. This usually goes under the seat in front of you. And the most common personal item size limit is 18 x 14 x 8 inches (46 x 36 x 20 cm).
Now, where does a garment bag fit into this equation?
To answer the question, I’ll be sharing my findings based on my travel experiences, insights from airlines, and input from fellow travelers and experts below.
Airlines say Garment bags are carry-ons, not personal item bags
I’ve observed many travelers treating their garment bags as a personal item, slipping through without a hitch. But when I dug into the research, I found that most airlines actually classify garment bags as carry-on luggage.
And I’m not alone in this observation.
Ben Schlappig of One Mile at a Time clearly notes that all American airlines consider a garment bag a carry-on rather than a personal item. This isn’t just one expert’s opinion—it’s echoed by airline policies themselves.
American Airlines leaves little room for interpretation. Their policy clearly lists garment bags as carry-on items and outlines the maximum dimensions of 22 x 14 x 9 inches — a size that should fit snugly in the overhead bin or the sizer at the gate.
Interestingly, they add a caveat for soft-sided garment bags, increasing the total permissible dimensions to 51 inches / 130 cm (when you add the length, width, and height). This leeway suggests that while your garment bag is indeed a carry-on, there’s a bit of flexibility in its form.
What about Southwest Airlines? Well, they don’t single out garment bags in their carry-on policy, but a dive into social media and community forums paints a clearer picture.
A conversation on X (formerly Twitter) caught my eye. A traveler named Gene asked about carrying on a suit, and Patricia from Southwest replied, “We recommend that you carry on a suit assuming it can fit into a garment bag that fits our carryon bag dimensions of 24” (L) x 16” (W) x 10” (H). We do not have closets onboard for usage, so garment bags must be stored in one of the overhead bins.”
Furthermore, LindseyD, a former Southwest employee, contributed to this narrative in the Southwest Airlines community forum, saying, “Most garment bags are compliant because the are soft-sided and can be folded to fit into the overhead bins.” This suggests that a garment bag should be treated as a carry-on.
And when it comes to JetBlue, they’re quite upfront about their stance. In response to a query about traveling with a wedding dress, their team says, “Whether it is packed in checked or carry-on bags, wedding attire needs to meet the bag requirements to/from specific destinations… An extra seat may be purchased for a garment bag, provided it can be properly and safely secured in a window seat by a crewmember.” This is quite clear that a garment bag is seen as a carry-on, or potentially more, depending on how you wish to transport it.
So, what does all this mean for you? Well, as you can see, airline policies lean towards categorizing these bags as carry-ons.
To fly without the fear of fees or forced bag checks, I think it’s best to assume your garment bag will count as your carry-on—unless it’s small and soft enough to fit under the seat in front of you.
What travelers are saying….
It turns out that quite a few travelers have had success treating their garment bag as a personal item—yes, the kind that fits snugly under the seat in front. I’m talking about those lightweight, non-bulky garment bags, just right for a suit or two.
On Reddit, a user breathed a sigh of relief after a thread confirmed they could indeed bring their garment bag onboard along with their carry-on, fitting it under the seat without a hitch.
Ben from One Mile at a Time (OMAAT) threw in his two cents, saying that while the big garment bags are definitely a no-go, “a small garment bag could easily be folded up in such a way that it could fit underneath the seat in front of you, and also fit within the personal item size parameters.”
Some folks over on the r/aircanada subreddit have had similar experiences. One traveler managed to fly with their wedding dress as a personal item, plus a carry-on, saying “On both the trip to and back, AC staff took my dress to hang elsewhere and returned it to me when we were getting off.”
Some travelers even push their luck and manage to board with a carry-on, a personal item, and a garment bag! They essentially bring three bags onboard. However, not everyone gets away with it.
Case in point: a FlyerTalk forum member got stopped by a gate agent who insisted their garment bag counted as an extra carry-on.
They shared, “Been schlepping around on about 14 flights the past 2 weeks, carrying around a suit I’ve needed in a garment bag. I have had no issues, until last night in PHL, the GA stated I had too many bags and my garment bag was considered a 3rd carry-on, and started to check my suitcase. She explained it is considered an actual bag, which I find ridiculous for multiple reasons.”
And while a Trip Advisor user claimed they had no issues bringing a garment bag as a personal item, let’s be real—there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here.
So, what’s my stance on all this? Personally, I wouldn’t recommend using a garment bag as a personal item. If you shove it under the seat, you risk wrinkling everything inside. Your suit could end up looking like it’s been through a wringer, which kind of defeats the purpose, right?
Your best bet? Aim for a dual-purpose carry-on that works as a garment bag too. That way, you can either stow it in the overhead bin or, if you’re polite and the flight crew is accommodating, they might hang it up for you.
Albert Varkki, co-founder of Von Baer, echoes this sentiment, saying “Given the airline rules, the best option you have is to buy a carry-on bag that doubles as a garment bag.” That’s your golden ticket to maintaining a crisp, professional look, while playing it safe according to airline rules.
Since we’re on the topic, I’ve put together a roundup of the best carry-on garment bags that’ll keep your suits, dresses, and more in pristine condition. You won’t need to check any bags, and you’ll step off the plane ready for action, wrinkle-free.
Tips on how to pack and use a carry-on garment bag for air travel
Here are my practical tips for packing a garment bag that’ll keep your wardrobe in check from takeoff to landing:
Know the Rules
Before anything else, get familiar with the airline’s restrictions for carry-on bags. It’s not just about dimensions and weight – some airlines also have rules about the number of bags you can carry. Check their website or give them a quick call to avoid any last-minute gate-check surprises. You don’t want to be that person repacking their bag on the floor of the airport.
Go for a bag built-in suiter compartment
Now, about the bag—go for one with a built-in suiter compartment. Bags like the Vocier C38 are specially designed to keep your suits and dresses neat, with hangers and straps that hold everything in place. This way, your garments won’t shift and slide, minimizing wrinkles and saving you from the hassle of ironing upon arrival.
And if you’re looking for recommendations, I’ve got a list of the best carry-on suitcases, duffels, and garment bags that’ll make sure you land with your clothes ready to wear.
Use the Airline Closet
Once you’re on the plane, be bold and ask the flight crew if there’s a spot in the airline closet for your bag. Not a sure bet, but if you’re early and ask nicely, you might just snag a space.
Bring a Fabric Steamer
Even with all the careful packing, you might end up with a wrinkle or two. This is where a portable fabric steamer becomes your best travel buddy. Some travel experts like the Airline Baggage Fee also swear by this.
It’s a quick and easy way to smooth out those stubborn creases, and it’s a lot less fussy than an iron. Just give your clothes a once-over with the steamer in your hotel room, and you’re good to go.
Upon Arrival, Hang Up Your Garments
The moment you reach your destination, take your clothes out of the bag and hang them up. The longer they’re left folded, the more stubborn those creases will get. Plus, the natural humidity in the air can help ease out wrinkles, so your suit or dress will look much better if it has some time to breathe.
Is a garment bag a carry-on or personal item?
Most airlines typically classify a garment bag as a carry-on rather than a personal item, especially if it’s large and rigid.
This is because garment bags often exceed the size limits set for personal items. However, if your garment bag is small and soft-sided, fitting beneath the seat in front of you, some airlines may allow it as a personal item.
Where do you put your garment bag on a plane?
Garment bags, when considered as carry-on luggage, should be placed in the overhead bins. Some planes have closets, but these are usually reserved for first-class passengers or on a first-come, first-served basis, and availability can’t be guaranteed.
What bags count as a personal item bag?
A personal item is typically a smaller bag like a purse, small backpack, laptop bag, or briefcase that fits under the seat in front of you. Each airline has specific size restrictions for personal items, but they generally should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches.
Is a garment bag a personal item on Spirit Airlines?
On Spirit Airlines, a personal item should fit entirely in the smaller sizer box (18 x 14 x 8 inches) at the gate. If your garment bag fits within these dimensions and can be stowed under the seat in front of you, it may be considered a personal item. Otherwise, it will likely be classified as a carry-on, subject to additional fees if it exceeds the free personal item size limit.
So, is a garment bag a carry-on?
While it’s tempting to sneak in a garment bag as a personal item, the official stance from airlines is hard to ignore. They see garment bags as carry-ons, and this is a rule that’s probably best to follow to avoid any last-minute gate-check fees or the stress of repacking at the airport.
As with most things in the airline industry, policies can change, and the day-to-day application of these rules can vary. The consistent advice across various forums, experts, and airline policies is to play it safe: treat your garment bag as a carry-on unless it’s explicitly small enough to be a personal item. This approach will save you from potential headaches and keep the start of your journey as wrinkle-free as the clothes inside your garment bag.