With airlines increasingly charging for checking a bag on your flight, it’s become common for many people to fly with only a carry-on bag (also known as “hand baggage” or “cabin baggage” in Europe). If you’re one of them, and looking to get the largest carry-on bag you can to avoid checking luggage, you need to consider what airlines you’ll be flying and whether your bag will qualify for carry-on or not.
The generally accepted maximum carry-on bag size in the U.S. is 22″ x 14″ x 9″ (55.88cm x 35.56cm x 22.86cm) or 45″ linear inches (length + width + height). While this rule holds for most domestic carriers in the United States, it doesn’t apply when you look at airlines worldwide because each airline sets their own carry-on baggage restrictions.
For instance, if you ever plan on taking your carry-on bag through Europe, you should know that the popular budget airline Ryanair has a size limit of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm or 21.65″ x 15.75″ x 7.87″ (and they’ll charge you extra to carry on your carry-on!). Air China has the same bag size restrictions. That last figure, measuring the depth of your bag, is over 1.1 inches less than the standard 9″ limit for depth. Lufthansa is more lenient with a 55 cm x 40 cm x 23 cm carry-on size restriction.
Alitalia lists their maximum carry-on bag size as being short when it comes to the bag width, at 55cm x 35cm x 25cm or 21.5″ x 13.78″ x 9.8″.
Budget UK carrier FlyBe lists dimensions of 55cm x 35cm x 20cm for their carry-on size, asking their customers to use bags with both sub-standard width and depth.
When you piece all these different baggage restrictions together, the result is that if you want a carry-on bag that will “fly” with all major airlines worldwide, you want a bag with a the following measurements:
Maximum Height: 21.65″ / 55.0cm
Maximum Width: 13.78″ / 35.0cm
Maximum Depth: 7.87″ / 20.0cm
Note that even taking to account the sub-standard restrictions above, there are still more one-off exceptions:
- Etihad has a shorter maximum length then most airlines at 50cm x 40cm x 25cm or 19.68″ x 15.75″ x 9.84″.
- Virgin Australia really violates the standard with maximum dimensions of 48cm x 34cm x 23cm or 18.9″ x 13.39” x 9.05″ on domestic and even international short haul flights (they’re more lenient with long haul international flights). This is also one airline that limits your maximum carry-on weight to just 7kg or 15.4lbs (more on that below).
- If you’ll be flying any smaller, regional airlines that use smaller planes (a.k.a. “puddle jumpers”), you should definitely check to see if they don’t have similar restrictions that might force you to check your bag.
If your carry-on bag is soft, such as backpack or duffel bag, but with slightly larger dimensions (i.e. the US-standard of 22″ x 14″ x 9″), chances are you can still squeeze it into the baggage templates you see laying around airport check-in lines if it’s not stuffed to the max. If your bag is of the hard, wheeled variety, you may be out of luck and forced to check your bag – and pay whatever the applicable fee is. With that in mind, if you’re looking for a new bag, I recommend you look for a soft-sided bag close to the above dimensions when looking at the product specifications – in particular the maximum depth of 7.87″ or 20cm.
In addition to your bag’s size, you also need to be aware of its weight. Low weight restrictions are becoming increasingly common for economy class fares outside the U.S., even on non-budget airlines in certain regions. While I’ve never had an airline employee check the size of my carry-on backpack, I have had an airline in Europe weigh my bag to make sure it complied with their weight limits, which it barely did after I removed my laptop as my “personal item”. Many airlines will allow you to carry a laptop or purse on board as a separate personal item which must go underneath the seat in front of you. Sometimes the weight of the personal item is included in the carry-on weight restrictions (e.g. the weight of your laptop and carry-on bag combined must be below 7kg), and sometimes the personal item has no weight restrictions at all, though there’s usually a size limit for the personal item (to make sure it will fit under the seat in front of you). Some airlines don’t allow a personal item all, which is a very important distinction, as with these airlines you’ll have to stuff your laptop or purse in with your carry-on bag and hope you don’t go over the carry-on bag size and weight limit, which can be near impossible with some of the low weight restrictions mentioned below.
The most restrictive airline when it comes to carry-on bag weight is Air China, with a carry-on bag weight limit of just 5kg (11lbs)! Fortunately it’s a real outlier, but it stands out as an airline to avoid if you want to fly without checking a bag.
A much more common but still very restrictive weight limit of 7kg (15.4lbs) is imposed by the following airlines:
- Air Asia – personal item allowed but combined weight must be under 7kg
- Air New Zealand – personal item seemingly allowed separately with no weight limit
- China Air – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Eva Air – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Emirates – seemingly no separate personal item allowed
- Garuda (Indonesia) – personal item seemingly allowed separately with no weight limit
- Jetstar (Australia) – personal item allowed but combined weight must be under 7kg
- Malaysia Airlines – personal item allowed separately (4kg limit)
- Qantas – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Singapore Airlines – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Thai Airways – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Ukraine International Airlines – personal item allowed (note: an even lower limit of 5kg for small planes)
- Virgin Australia – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
If you’ll be traveling in Asia or Oceania and possibly flying with a lesser-known airline not listed above, there’s a strong chance that they have the same 7kg weight limit.
Not far behind is the still quite restrictive 8kg (17.6 lbs) limit imposed by the following airlines:
- Aegean Airlines (Greece) – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Air Baltic (Latvia) – personal item allowed but combined weight must be under 8kg
- Air India – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Alitalia (Italy) – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Austrian Airlines – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Croatia Airlines – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- El Al (Israel) – seemingly no separate personal item allowed
- EuroWings (Germany) – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- FinnAir (Finland) – personal item allowed but combined weight must be under 8kg
- LOT Polish Airlines – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Lufthansa (Germany) – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Olympic Air (Greece) – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
- Turkish Airlines – separate personal item allowed with no weight limit
Several other lesser-known airlines in Europe also impose this 8kg weight limit.
Remember, these rules are always subject to change, so always check the airline’s baggage rules before you book your ticket (usually the first result if you Google the name of the airline and “carry on weight limit”). Even if you’ve flown with the airline recently, you may be surprised to find out that they’ve changed the rules.
Also, if you’re flying business or first class, have premier status or other special membership with a certain airline, you may be allowed a higher weight limit.
Restrictive weight limits are another good reason to use a soft duffel bag or backpack as opposed to rolling luggage, which tends to have a starting weight of 7 or 8 pounds. A typical carry-on backpack, however, is generally between 2 to 4 pounds, giving you a fighting chance of keeping your carry-on bag legal and avoiding surprise fees. (Check out The Best Carry-On Backpacks.)
Thank you for the first straight-forward delivery of the dimensions!
Update: Midwest Airlines eased their carry-on baggage restrictions, removing their 21″ bag height limit, the lowest of any airline.
Lufthansa now lists their carryon luggage measurements as 55cm X 40cm X 23cm. This was as of Feb 6, 2013.
Updated with Lufthansa’s new more lenient bag size. Thanks, Robyn.
There are still airlines, like Etihad, that limit the total length to 20″, which is 50 cm, in addition to Flybe, Virgin and Go, which you mention. The other dimensions you list are great.
I think the safest bet is to find a carry-on as follows (I combined your measurements with mine).
Maximum Height: 19.68? / 50.0cm
Maximum Width: 13.78? / 35.0cm
Maximum Depth: 7.87? / 20.0cm
SI, thanks for pointing out the dimensions for Etihad. I’ve added them to the list of exceptions. It turns out that Flybe increased their carry-on dimensions and are now in line with the 55cm x 35xm x 20cm standard, and the Hawaii-based Go airlines no longer exists, so mentions of them were removed completely. This just makes Etihad and Virgin Australia stand out more as exceptions to the standard.
I checked Icelandair’s website today and it allows a maximum carry-on luggage size of 21.6″ x 15.8″ x 7.8″ (55cm x 40cm x 20cm ) with a weight limit of 22lbs (9.98kg) and an additional small, personal item.
Thank you, Lisa, I’ve updated the article to reflect this.
Booking a domestic flight with Alitalia, I found the following in their website
“Alitalia also lets you bring an accessory of your choice from the following:
So it seems the rule of not personal item was changed. Thank you for your very concise article
Thank you, Monica. I’ve updated the article to reflect the change.