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When you travel with just carry-on luggage you avoid airline luggage fees, the risk of having your bags lost, and long waits at the baggage carousel on arrival.
To make sure you can take your bag on the plane, though, you need to be familiar with airline restrictions as only bags of a certain size and weight are allowed.
We’ve been travelling the world full-time for over 10 years with carry-on luggage only. In this post we share our tips for dealing with airline limits including the carry on luggage size and weights allowed and how strict airlines really are.
- Carry On Luggage Size
- How Strict Are Airlines With Carry On Size?
- Recommended Carry-On Luggage
- Carry On Luggage Weight
- Additional Personal Item
- List of Airline Carry On Luggage Size and Weight Allowances
- Resources for Travelling Carry-On Only
This post was originally published in July 2015 and last updated in August 2020.
Carry On Luggage Size
How big can a carry on be?
The most commonly allowed airline carry on size is 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches) including all handles, side pockets, and wheels.
This varies by airline, though, with some allowing slightly larger or smaller bags, so check with the airline you plan to travel with. We’ve included a list of carry on luggage dimensions for many airlines at the end of this post.
Airlines have luggage sizers at the gate and while boarding the plane they could ask you to place your bag inside. If it doesn’t fit, you could be forced to check the bag in the luggage hold (and most airlines charge fees for this).
How Strict Are Airlines With Carry On Size?
We’ve found that most airlines aren’t too strict about the exact size of carry on luggage.
In over 10 years we’ve never had our bags measured, although our luggage has been a little over the size restrictions of some airlines such as Ryanair.
It has helped that for most of that time we’ve travelled with backpacks, which are less likely to draw the attention of airline staff than suitcases.
It’s best to try to board the plane as early as possible as space in the overhead bins can run out, and some budget airlines (like Ryanair and Easyjet) don’t guarantee that there will be space for your cabin luggage even if you meet the restrictions.
We’ve never had an issue with this, but if you are worried, you might want to pay extra for priority boarding, which many budget airlines offer. We do find this worth the upgrade as it reduces stress about whether your bag will make it on or not, plus there’s less waiting to get on the plane.
Recommended Carry-On Luggage
To be sure you can take your bag on the plane, it’s best to choose luggage that fits the restrictions of the airlines you’ll be travelling on. See the list of allowed sizes at the end of this post.
If you’ll be travelling with a backpack, look for one in the range of 30 to 45 litres, but do check the dimensions as well, and be aware that overpacking can make the backpack expand over the stated measurements.
See our Tortuga Setout Backpack review for more details.
After nearly a decade of travel with backpacks, we recently switched to carry on size suitcases.
I have the Away Bigger Carry-On which is technically larger than most airlines allow (at 22.7 x 14.7 x 9.6 inches), but it was designed to fit in the sizers of most US airlines (which are actually a little larger than they say).
This is the best option if you want to maximise the amount so you can take on the plane, but there is a chance you’ll be asked to check it in. I haven’t had any problems so far.
For a smaller, safer option, check out the Away Carry-On. This measures 21.7 x 13.7 x 9 inches and is designed to meet the carry on requirements for as many airlines as possible.
Simon has a smaller suitcase, the Samsonite Base Boost Spinner 55cm, which is lighter and cheaper than the Away suitcase but not as robust or easy to manoeuvre. He plans to buy an Away Bigger Carry-On soon.
Carry On Luggage Weight
While US domestic airlines don’t usually have weight limits, the rest of the world does. Cabin luggage usually has a weight restriction from 5 kg to 12 kg, with most airlines in Asia and Australia limiting it to 7 kg.
This is a big concern for many people, as by the time you’ve added up the weight of your bag and perhaps a laptop, it doesn’t leave much for other things.
The weight of our luggage varies, but it is often over 10 kg, so we are over the limits for most airlines we fly.
Do airlines weigh carry on bags?
In over ten years of full-time travel, our carry-ons have only been weighed twice. Most of the time we find that airlines don’t bother, but that’s partly because we follow the tips below.
We aim not to draw attention to ourselves—if the bag doesn’t look big and heavy then the airline is less likely to weigh it.
It was easier when we travelled with a backpack rather than a suitcase, which are more conspicuous and look heavier. Backpacks also tend to use up less of your weight limit than heavier suitcases.
There are a few things you can do to help reduce the weight of your luggage and avoid getting it weighed at the airport:
Check in online – Print your boarding pass in advance (we use hotels or internet cafes or save it on our phone if the airline allows it), so you can avoid the check-in desk and go straight to security. The check-in desk is where your bag is most likely to be weighed.
Use your personal item – If you have to use the check-in desk and the airline allows an extra personal item (see below for details), remove something heavy from your bag like a laptop, camera, or packing cube while you are checking in. You can always put it back in your bag afterwards.
You could also do this if you get weighed at the gate—there’s no need to check your luggage if you haven’t maximised your personal item allowance. Most airlines don’t include your personal item in the weight limit but a few do, so always check before you fly.
Wear it – Wear your heaviest clothes and shoes on the plane—we did this for a ski trip to Finland. If it’s too warm to wear your jumper or jacket, carry it or tie it around your waist rather than pack it.
Compress – Be careful how you pack your bag so it doesn’t look too bulky. Use packing cubes or compression bags to reduce the size of your clothes and compress the straps on the outside of your backpack to make it smaller. If it doesn’t look big, the airline is less likely to weigh it.
One bag – If you travel with just one bag you’ll be less conspicuous—the aim is not to draw attention to yourself. The airline is more likely to weigh the bags of people who look loaded down with luggage.
Fill your pockets – If the airline is really strict you could fill your pockets with some of your heavier items—cargo pants or a jacket with pockets would be ideal. We’ve never had to do this but Benny Lewis managed to carry on 15 kg of gear in his jacket!
Beg! – One time when our backpacks were weighed while checking-in for a domestic flight in Thailand, they were found to be overweight. We politely explained to the staff member that we couldn’t check our bags as they were full of laptops and cameras. They let us take them with us, with a warning that we might be stopped at the gate (we weren’t). It’s always worth asking (nicely, of course).
The worst case scenario is that your bag gets weighed and you’re forced to check it in. Have a backup plan for this situation if you don’t already have a second personal item.
The only time we’ve had to check our luggage was on a tiny seaplane in the Maldives. When that happened we moved our valuables (laptops and camera) to our packable daypack and tote bag that we usually store in our main bags and used those as our carry-on luggage.
Don’t let the weight issue stop you travelling with a carry-on. Try to keep the weight down, apply some of the above tips, and remember that if you do end up having to check it in, it’s unlikely to happen on every flight, and it’s still better than checking your luggage all the time.
Note: One airline that does regularly weigh hand luggage at the gate is Jetstar in Australia and Asia. They only allow 7 kg combined weight for your cabin bag and personal item and will charge you AUD $50-160 to check in over the limit bags at the gate. We travelled with them on a domestic flight in Vietnam without a problem though.
Additional Personal Item
Most airlines allow one piece of carry-on luggage plus an additional personal item which must fit under the seat in front of you.
Some airlines allow any small bag including a backpack, handbag, laptop case, or shoulder bag, while others only allow a small purse or handbag. Check with the airline you’ll be travelling with for the size and weight restrictions on personal items.
A few airlines don’t allow personal items, so we used to manage without a second bag. Instead we used a packable backpack as a day bag that we packed inside Simon’s backpack when needed and took out when a personal item was allowed.
We now travel with a suitcase plus personal item each—see our carry on packing list for details of why we changed.
For our personal items, I have the Away Everywhere Bag and Simon has the Tortuga Setout Laptop Bag. They both have sleeves that pass through our suitcase handles so we don’t need to carry them—this makes airports so easy.
In addition to your carry-on and personal item, some airlines allow extra articles such as a jacket, umbrella, small bag of food, and bag of duty-free items. Check with the airline as allowances vary. If weight is a concern carry rather than pack these things.
List of Airline Carry On Luggage Size and Weight Allowances
These are the carry on luggage dimensions and weights allowed for your main piece of cabin baggage on major airlines.
A smaller personal item is also allowed unless I’ve stated otherwise—check with the airline for the size.
These are the allowances for flying economy. Extra bags may be allowed if flying premium economy, business, or first class.
Luggage rules do change, so check the airline’s website before you fly.
Note that because of coronavirus, a few airlines (such at Turkish Airlines) have stopped allowing large carry-on luggage in 2020 and only small bags that fit under the seat are allowed.
US airlines have the most generous carry-on size allowances, often with no weight limit.
There is no TSA carry on size—the luggage allowances are set by each airline.
Aeromexico: 21.5 x 15.7 x 10 inches (55 x 40 x 25 cm), 22 lb (10 kg).
Air Canada: 21.5 x 15.5 x 9 inches (55 x 40 x 23 cm), no weight limit.
Alaska Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm), no weight limit.
American Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm), no weight limit.
Delta: 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm), no weight limit.
JetBlue Airways: 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm), no weight limit.
Southwest Airlines: 24 x 16 x 10 inches (61 x 41 x 25 cm), no weight limit.
Spirit Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm). You can also pay to take a larger carry-on of 22 x 18 x 10 inches (56 x 46 x 25 cm). No weight limit.
United: 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm), no weight limit. If you travel on a Basic Economy ticket domestically, you can only take a personal item or pay $25 for a large carry-on.
Volaris: One personal item of 14 x 8 x 8 inches (36 x 20 x 20 cm) is allowed, and you can pay for a larger carry-on of 22 x 16 x 10 inches (56 x 41 x 25 cm).
European airlines tend to be stricter than US airlines, especially about luggage weight and personal items (which are sometimes not allowed). Avoid getting your bag weighed if possible (see the tips above).
Aeroflot: 55 x 40 x 25 cm (22 x 16 x 10 inches), 10 kg (22 lb).
Air Berlin: 55 x 40 x 20 cm (22 x 16 x 8 inches), 8 kg (18 lb). Personal item can be a laptop or handbag up to 2 kg (4.4 lb).
Air France: 55 x 35 x 25 cm (22 x 14 x 10 inches), 12 kg (26 lb).
Alitalia: 55 x 35 x 25 cm (22 x 14 x 10 inches), 8 kg (18 lb).
British Airways: 56 x 45 x 25 cm (22 x 18 x 10 inches), 23 kg (51 lb).
EasyJet: 56 x 45 x 25 cm (22 x 18 x 10 inches), no weight limit. No personal item unless you’re an easyJet Plus cardholder, Flexi fare, Upfront, or Extra Legroom customer.
Jet2: 56 x 45 x 25 cm (22 x 18 x 10 inches), 10 kg (22 lb).
KLM: 55 x 35 x 25 cm (22 x 14 x 10 inches), 12 kg (26 lb).
Lufthansa: 55 x 40 x 23 cm (22 x 16 x 9 inches), 8 kg (18 lb).
Norwegian: 55 x 40 x 23 cm (22 x 16 x 9 inches), 10 kg (22 lb).
Ryanair: Only small bags of 40 x 20 x 25 cm are allowed for free. You must pay extra to take a large bag of 55 x 40 x 20 cm (22 x 16 x 8 inches) weighing up to 10 kg (22 lb), which includes priority boarding.
Scandinavian Airlines: 55 x 40 x 23 cm (22 x 16 x 9 inches), 8 kg (18 lb).
Turkish Airlines: Usually 55 x 40 x 23 cm (22 x 16 x 9 inches), 8 kg (18 lb). In 2020, only personal items are allowed.
Virgin Atlantic: 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches), 10 kg (22 lb).
The weight restrictions on airlines in Asia are even stricter than in Europe.
Air Asia: 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches), 7 kg (15 lb).
Air China: 55 x 40 x 20 cm (22 x 16 x 8 inches), 5 kg (11 lb). No personal item.
Air India: 55 x 40 x 20 cm (22 x 16 x 8 inches), 8 kg (18 lb).
Cathay Pacific: 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches), 7 kg (15 lb).
Emirates: 55 x 38 x 20 cm (22 x 15 x 8 inches), 7 kg (15 lb). No personal item.
Japan Airlines: 55 x 40 x 25 cm (22 x 16 x 10 inches), 10 kg (22 lb).
Lion Air: 40 x 30 x 20 cm (16 x 12 x 8 inches), 7 kg (15 lb). No personal item except a small purse or camera.
Qatar Airways: 50 x 37 x 25 cm (20 x 15 x 10 inches), 7 kg (15 lb). No personal item except a small purse, briefcase, or camera.
Singapore Airlines: 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches), 7 kg (15 lb).
Thai Airways: 56 x 45 x 25 cm (22 x 18 x 10 inches), 7 kg (15 lb).
Tigerair (Asia): 54 x 38 x 23 cm (21 x 15 x 9 inches), 10 kg (22 lb) including personal item.
As in Asia, weight limits are low.
Air New Zealand: Not exceeding total linear dimensions (length + width + height) of 118 cm (46.5 inches), 7 kg (15 lb).
Jetstar: 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches), 7 kg (15 lb). They regularly weigh hand luggage at the gate and charge high fees to check in overweight bags. You can pay extra for a 14kg (30 lb) allowance.
Qantas: 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches), 7 kg (15 lb).
Tigerair (Australia): 54 x 38 x 23 cm (21 x 15 x 9 inches), 7 kg (15 lb). No personal item except a small purse, tablet, or coat (included in weight allowance). You can pay for Cabin+ to increase the weight limit to 12 kg.
Virgin Australia (Domestic and short haul): Two small bags 48 x 34 x 23 cm (19 x 13 x 9 inches), combined weight 7 kg (15 lb).
Virgin Australia (International long haul): 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches), 7 kg (15 lb).
Resources for Travelling Carry-On Only
If you’d like to learn more about how to travel carry-on only, see my book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, which is available for Kindle or paperback on Amazon.
You can also see our other posts about packing light:
- Our Carry-On Packing List (Updated)
- Carry-On Travel in 10 Easy Steps
- Allbirds Review: The Best Travel Shoes
- How to Pack Carry-On Only For Cold Weather
- Ski Trip Packing List
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