Since more and more airlines are charging for checking a bag on your flight, more and more people are trying to fly with only a carry-on bag. 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 20 cm or 21.65″ x 15.75″ x 7.87″. 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.
Within North America, Air Canada has a maximum carry-on bag length of 55cm or 21.65″ – the same as the carriers mentioned above.
Alitalia lists their maximum carry-on bag size as 55cm x 35cm x 25cm or 21.5″ x 13.78″ x 9.8″.
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 there may be one-off exceptions to those numbers especially with budget airlines. Virgin Australia limits carry-on bag size to 48cm x 34cm x 23cm on domestic and international short haul flights (they’re more lenient with long haul international flights). In the UK, Flybe Airlines limits bags to 50cm x 35cm x 23cm. And if you’ll be hopping from one island to another in Hawaii with Go Airlines, they limit bag size to 19″ (48.26cm) x 15″ x 11″. If you’ll be flying any smaller, budget airlines, you should check to see if they don’t have similar restrictions that might force you to check your bag and negate any savings over the larger airlines.
Now, if your carry-on bag is soft, such as backpack or duffel bag, but with slightly larger dimensions, chances are you can still squeeze it into the baggage templates you see laying around airport check-in lines – even if it means taking out a sweater and putting it on if your bag is 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 the fee. If you’re looking for a new bag, consider these dimensions when looking at the product specifications – in particular the maximum depth of 7.87″ or 20cm. 8″ should be fine as long as it’s a soft bag, but this is still an inch less than the standard of 9″, so if you get a bag that measures 9″ in depth, you may run into trouble if your bag is stuffed to the max.
In addition to your bag’s size, you also need to be aware of its weight. Since carry-on bags are rarely weighed, your much less likely to get busted with an overweight carry-on bag than an over-sized one, but with airlines penny-pinching these days in every way possible, it’s a good idea to stay within the limits just in case. The most restrictive airlines when it comes to carry-on bag weight are Air China, Alitalia, Kuwait Airways and Malaysia Airlines, with a carry-on bag weight limit of just 5kg (11lbs). This is followed by Air Berlin, Icelandair, LOT Polish Airlines and Virgin Atlantic at 6kg (13.2lbs), then Air New Zealand, Emirates, Eva Air, Garuda, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways at 7kg (15.4lbs). This is another good reason to use a soft duffel bag or backpack as rolling luggage tends to start at 7 or 8 pounds in weight, leaving you with just 3 or 4 pounds of leeway for your own stuff. A standard laptop would easily put you over that weight limit. A typical carry-on backpack, however, is generally around 3 pounds, leaving you with around 8 pounds for your clothing and everything else. (Check out The Best Carry-On Backpacks.)
If you’re bringing a laptop, many airlines will allow you to carry it on board as a separate “personal” item, like a purse, which will go underneath the seat in front of you. Airlines have varying rules for this as well and some allow only your carry-on bag and no personal item, including Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, EasyJet, El Al, Olympic, Ryanair, SAS, South African Airways and Thai Airways. 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 weight limit (which would be especially difficult with Alitalia’s 11 pound limit).
Remember, these rules are always subject to change, so it’s always a good idea to check the airline’s baggage rules before you book your ticket.