Ever found yourself puzzled over what qualifies as a ‘personal item’ when flying? You’re not alone. With the varying policies of airlines and terms like ‘carry-ons‘, ‘hand luggage‘, and ‘cabin bag‘, it’s easy to get tangled in the specifics.

But fear not! Here, I’ve done the legwork to bring you a comprehensive guide on personal item bags.

In this guide, I’ll demystify what a personal item bag really is, how different airlines view it, and how you can navigate these rules so you’re free from any surprise fees or frantic repacking at the airport.

What is a personal item bag?

In simple terms, a ‘personal-item’ bag is a smaller piece of luggage you can take on a plane in addition to your one carry-on bag. Think of it as your travel essential kit – small enough to fit under the seat but big enough for your must-haves. This item is expected to fit under the seat in front of you. Commonly, this includes items like purses, laptop bags, briefcases, or small backpacks.  

Most airlines set a size limit, typically around 18 x 14 x 8 inches, and going beyond these dimensions could mean extra fees or your bag being relegated to carry-on status. Understanding these specifics can save you from unexpected gate-checking or additional charges.

Defining the personal item bag

What is a Personal Item Bag?: a Briggs and Riley Underseater bag

What is a Personal Item Bag? Well, a ‘personal item’ refers to a specific type of bag you can bring onto the plane. It’s different from your main carry-on luggage. Essentially, a personal item is a smaller bag that fits under the seat in front of you.

This varies by airline, but the essence remains the same: a compact, small item that fits under the seat. While some airlines allow a personal item plus a free carry-on, others, like JetBlue Airways, and Spirit Airlines, only permit one free personal item.

But there’s a consistent thread: regardless of the airline, you’re typically allowed to bring one personal item onboard without any extra charge.

Albert Varkki from Von Baer explains it well: a personal item is an additional bag you’re allowed to bring, separate from your carry-on bag. But remember, airlines have their own size and weight rules for these items. It’s crucial to check these before you fly to ensure your personal item fits the criteria.

Examples of personal item bags

So, what exactly can you bring as a personal item? Common choices include duffel bags, laptop bags, small backpacks, and crossbody or fanny packsThe latter two are great for keeping essentials like passports and phones handy.

Consider a tote or a messenger bag if you’re leaning toward style. For more specialized needs, soft sided garment bags, tiny suitcases, camera bags, or purses work well. Just remember, it should snugly fit under the seat in front of you. 

Size, shape, and Weight Guidelines for Personal Items

When flying, the size, shape, and weight of your personal item are important. Different airlines have their own rules, but a common size limit for personal items is around 18 x 14 x 8 inches. If your item is larger than this, it might be counted as carry-on luggage, which could mean extra fees.

To avoid problems or extra costs, check the size of your personal item before you go to the airport. You can find each airline’s rules on their websites. Cabin Zero suggests that the most common allowed dimensions for personal item size are:

– Length: 16 to 18 inches (about 40 to 45 cm)

– Width: 14 to 15 inches (about 35 to 38 cm)

– Depth: 7 to 9 inches (about 17 to 22 cm)

Also, some airlines have weight limits, often ranging from 10 to 25 pounds (about 4.5 to 11 kg). So, it’s not just the size but also how heavy your personal item can be.

When choosing a bag, think about how it will fit under the seat in front of you. Rectangular shapes usually work well. Also, softsided ones are usually a safe bet since they can easily be squeezed into the available space.

Remember, carry-on bags are for the overhead bins and are generally bigger (up to 22 x 14 x 9 inches), while personal items are smaller and go under the seat.

Airlines’ Specific Policies and Exceptions

What is a Personal Item Bag?: a personal item bag being measured at the airline

It’s important to remember that personal item policies can vary wildly among airlines. Some, like JetBlue and United, specify sizes, while others like Delta and Alaska Airlines focus on the fit-under-the-seat rule. Budget airlines often include just a personal item in the ticket price, charging extra for anything more.

Here’s a snapshot of different airlines’ policies:

  • EasyJet: Permits dimensions of 17.7 x 13.8 x 7.8 inches, up to 33lb.
  • American Airlines: Up to 18 x 14 x 8 inches; weight is unspecified.
  • Delta Airlines: No specific size limit, as long as it fits under the seat.
  • Southwest Airlines: Allows dimensions of 16.25 x 13.5 x 8 inches.
  • Air Canada: A personal item can be up to 13 x 6 x 17 inches, with no specified weight limit.
  • British Airways: Allows a dimension of 16 x 12 x 6 inches, with a max weight of 51lb.
  • Ryanair: Dimension limits are 15.7 x 7.8 x 9.8 inches, but check the weight with the airline.
  • Allegiant Air: They allow a free personal item but check the size and weight guidelines.
  • JetBlue:Allows a dimension of 17 x 13 x 8 inches for personal items.
  • United Airlines: The limit is 17 x 10 x 9 inches.
  • Virgin Atlantic: Allows a handbag, small backpack, or similar-sized item.

Note that smaller planes may have stricter size limits due to limited space. Always double-check with your airline for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding personal item size and weight restrictions.

Exceptions and special cases

Even though one personal item is the norm, some additional items usually fly free. Think coats, reading materials, snacks, travel pillows, umbrellas, essential medications, and baby gear. Duty-free items also get a pass. However, it’s always wise to double-check with your airline.

Benefits of traveling with a personal item bag

What is a Personal Item Bag?: a Nomad Lane V4 Bento Bag on a suitcase

Let’s talk about why bringing a personal item on your flight can be really beneficial:

·         More packing space: One of the best things about a personal item is it gives you extra room. Alongside your carry-on, you get this additional space to pack those last-minute essentials or things you might need during the flight.

·         Easy access during flight: Ever needed something mid-flight but it was in your carry-on item in the overhead bin? With a personal item under the seat, you can easily grab your book, snacks, or headphones without the hassle of getting up.

·         Avoid extra fees: Certain airlines charge for carry-on bags. Susan Glaser, the travel editor of Cleveland.com, shared her experience of paying a hefty $112 for her carry-on bag on a trip to Florida. Brett Snyder, an industry expert at CrankyFlier.com, highlighted that fees have surged in recent years, not only on Frontier but also on Spirit and other low-cost airlines. The silver lining is that most airlines, including budget ones, usually allow you to bring a personal item for free. This is especially beneficial if you’re traveling light and wish to avoid additional charges for a carry-on or checked bag.

·         Keep valuables close: Personal items are perfect for keeping your valuable or fragile items, like laptops, cameras, or important documents, with you and safe.

·         Less waiting at baggage claim: If you can pack everything into a carry-on and a personal item, you can skip the wait at the baggage carousel and head straight out of the airport.

·         Perfect for short trips: If you’re going on a quick trip, sometimes all you need is a personal item. It’s enough space for the essentials without the burden of a bigger bag.


What is a personal item bag?

What is considered a personal item on flights? A personal item on a flight is typically a small bag like a purse, laptop bag, backpack, or camera case. It should fit under the seat in front of you. You might also be able to bring a small umbrella, a jacket, or a diaper bag for a baby. Always check the airline’s specific rules.

How to measure your personal item bag

To make sure your bag fits the airline’s size limit, measure it at home. Use a ruler or tape measure to find the length, width, and depth in inches or centimeters. Remember to include the widest parts, like pockets, straps, and handles. Add these measurements together to get the total size of your bag. Check this against your airline’s size limits for personal items.

Difference between a carry-on and a personal Item

A carry-on is larger than a personal item and is stored in the overhead bin. A personal item is smaller and must fit under the seat in front of you. If your personal item bag is too big to fit underneath the seat, you can place it in the overhead compartment, but that’s if you are only traveling with one hand luggage.

Penalties for exceeding carry-on size bag

If your personal item is too big, you might have to check it in and pay extra fees. This fee can’t be refunded. In some cases, the airline might ask you to buy an extra seat for your oversized item, which can be costly. If it’s too large or heavy, you might even have to leave it behind or not be allowed to board.

Is a backpack considered a personal item on a plane?

Yes, a backpack including a laptop bag can be a personal item if it fits under the seat in front of you and meets the airline’s size limits.

What items don’t count as personal items?

Items like larger bags, suitcases, or anything that doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you don’t count as personal items. They would be your carry-ons.

What is included in airline personal item?

Personal items can include handbags, briefcases, laptops, small backpacks, or diaper bags. The key is they must fit under the seat. If there’s space, you can get away with placing them in the overhead bin, but the rule is that they go underneath airline seats, according to the specific airline’s baggage policy.

Final thought

What is a Personal Item Bag?

Navigating airline policies on personal items doesn’t have to be a challenge. By understanding and adhering to these guidelines, you can ensure a smoother and more enjoyable travel experience. Stay informed and choose your travel bags wisely to make the most out of your air travel.

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