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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 12 years with carry-on luggage only.
In this post, we share our tips for dealing with airline restrictions including the carry on luggage size and carry on weight limit 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 Limit
- Additional Personal Item
- List of Airline Carry On Luggage Size and Weight Allowances
- More Posts on Travelling Carry-On Only
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 12 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 Outbreaker Backpack review for more details.
After nearly a decade of travel with backpacks, we switched to carry on size suitcases.
We both 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.
We haven’t had any problems so far travelling on international long-haul flights and budget airlines in Europe including these:
- Wizz Air
- Norwegian Air
- British Airways
- American Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Air New Zealand
- Virgin Atlantic
- Hawaiian Airlines (Interisland as well as from mainland USA)
If you are worried the Away Bigger Carry-On will be denied boarding, a smaller, safer option is 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.
Carry On Luggage Weight Limit
How much can a carry on bag weigh?
While US domestic airlines don’t usually have carry on bag 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 usually over the limits for the airlines we fly.
Do airlines weigh carry on bags?
In over 12 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 is more conspicuous and looks heavier. Backpacks also tend to use up less of your weight limit than heavier suitcases. But we have managed it with our Away carry-ons.
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 ask our hotel) or save it to your 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 had in our main bags and used those as our carry-on luggage (this was before we started travelling with two items of 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 (our current favourite is the Matador Freefly 16).
We now travel with a suitcase plus personal item each—see our carry on packing list for details of why we changed.
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.
US airlines have the most generous carry-on bag 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) Basic Rate, 33 Ib (15 kg) Classic Rate, AM Plus, and Premier on domestic flights.
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), maximum weight with all items 22lb (10kg).
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).
Air France: 55 x 35 x 25 cm (22 x 14 x 10 inches), 12 kg (26 lb).
British Airways: 56 x 45 x 25 cm (22 x 18 x 10 inches), 23 kg (51 lb).
EasyJet: 45 x 36 x 20cm (18 x 14 x 8 inches), 15 kg (33 lb). If you book an Up Front or Extra Legroom seat, or pay to add a large cabin bag, you get an additional item 56 x 45 x 25 cm (22 x 18 x 10 inches), 15 kg (33 lb).
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: LowFare tickets allow only one underseat bag of 30 x 20 x 38cm (12 x 8 x 15 inches), 10 kg (22lb) for free. LowFare+ allows an additional overhead cabin bag of 55 x 40 x 23cm (22 x 16 x 9 inches), both bags combined up to 10 kg (22 lb). Flex allows up a combined weight limit up to 15 kg (33 lb).
Ryanair: Only small bags of 40 x 20 x 25 cm (16 x 8 x 10 inches) 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).
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).
Air India: 55 x 35 x 25 cm (22 x 14 x 10 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: Sum of length, width and height of each piece should not exceed 115cm (45 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).
Virgin Australia: 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches), 7 kg (15 lb).
More Posts on Travelling Carry-On Only
Check out 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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