According to recent news, airlines in the United States made an estimated $5.3 billion in baggage fees alone in 2021, a significant jump from $2.8 billion in 2020.
So what’s the trick to saving a few bucks when jet-setting these days? Packing smart with a personal item or carry-on bag.
From size to security features, we’ll weigh in on the key differences between a carry-on bag vs. a personal item. Plus, we’ll explain how major airlines in the U.S. define a personal item, and share our favorite hand-picked carry-on bags perfect for your next flight!
What Counts As A Personal Item On A Plane?
A personal item is any type of luggage that fits underneath the plane seat in front of you.
Most domestic airlines in the United States require a personal item to be 18” x 14” x 8” or smaller in size. Personal items can include a purse, briefcase, small backpack, laptop bag, weekender or small duffel bag.
What Counts As A Carry-On Bag?
A carry-on bag is any type of luggage that is small enough to store in the plane’s overhead bin.
For most domestic airlines in the Unites States, the size of your carry-on bag must be 22″ x 14″ x 9″ or smaller.
You can use a carry-on bag for short or extended trips (just pack light!) to avoid long waits at baggage claims, costly baggage fees and the dreaded lost luggage scenario.
A carry-on bag can include rolling luggage, a large duffel bag or a travel backpack.
What Is The Difference Between A Carry-On Bag And A Personal Item?
So what’s the difference between a carry-on bag and a personal item?
Here’s a quick comparison chart:
|Fits underneath the seat in front of you
|Fits in the plane’s overhead bin
|Lower risk of getting checked
|Higher risk of getting checked, depending on weight – for example, if it reaches beyond 35lbs for Frontier Airlines and 25lbs for Hawaiian Airlines
|18” x 14” x 8” size for most major airlines in the United States
|22″ x 14″ x 9″ size for most major airlines in the United States
|Holds 2-3 days’ worth of clothes and 1-2 pairs of shoes
|Holds 3-4 days’ worth of clothes and 2-3 pairs of shoes
|Minimal security features
|Enhanced security features
Personal Item vs. Carry-On: Size
Maximizing space for your essentials without exceeding airline weight limits and luggage size is key when traveling via air.
Most major airlines in the United States such as American Airlines, Southwest and Delta, allow you to bring one personal item for free, on top of your carry-on bag. While some airlines specify size limitations for personal items, others simply require the item to be small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you.
For personal items, here’s the standard size on major airlines in the United States:
- American Airlines – 18” x 14” x 8”
- Southwest Airlines – 16.25” x 13.5” x 8.5”
- Frontier Airlines – 18” x 14” x 8”
- United Airlines – 17” x 10” x 9”
- JetBlue Airlines – 17” x 13” x 9”
- Spirit Airlines – 18” x 14” x 8.5”
For carry-on bags, here’s the standard size on major airlines in the United States:
- American Airlines – 22” x 14” x 9”
- Delta Airlines – 22” x 14” x 9”
- Southwest Airlines – 24” x 16” x 10”
- Frontier Airlines – 24” x 16” x 10”
- United Airlines – 22” x 14.2” x 9”
- JetBlue Airlines – 22” x 14” x 9”
- Spirit Airlines – 22” x 18” x 10”
- Alaska Airlines – 22” x 14” x 9”
Pro tip: Check the airline’s website for weight and size requirements regarding carry-ons and personal items.
Personal Item vs. Carry-On: Packing Volume
Whether you opt for weekender bags for spur-of-the-moment getaways or expandable carry-on luggage to make room for souvenirs, mastering the art of packing light is essential, regardless of whether you choose a personal item or carry-on bag.
Typically, most major airlines don’t have a specified maximum weight for personal items. Just as long as it fits underneath the seat in front of you, it should be good to go.
Most major airlines in the United States also don’t have a specified maximum weight for carry-on bags, with the exception of Frontier and Hawaiin Airlines.
Frontier allows a maximum weight of 35 lbs, while Hawaiin Airlines allows a maximum weight of 25 lbs for carry-ons.
Personal Item vs. Carry-On: What To Pack
Next, identify which travel essentials you’re packing.
While you can pack any item that’s TSA-friendly in both your personal item and carry-on bag, the key difference is the amount of what you can bring.
For example, you might be able to fit 2-3 days’ worth of clothes and 1-2 pairs of shoes in a bag that’s small enough to be a personal item, but you can pack 3-4 days’ of clothes and 2-3 pairs of shoes in a carry-on bag.
For a more comprehensive guide on how to pack your suitcase, check out our guide!
Pro tip: Our Packing Cubes Set helps make the most of the space available in your personal item or carry-on bag. Store items like slippers and hair care in one convenient place!
Need to freshen up in flight or get rid of a migraine? You can keep your toiletries and medicine within reach with our machine-washable and water-repellant Hanging Toiletry Bag.
Personal Item vs. Carry-On: Security Features
Unlike size and packing volume, there’s a stark difference between a personal item and carry-on when it comes to security.
Duffel bags, weekender bags and backpacks have minimal security features where your belongings solely rely on zippers and buckle straps.
Rolling carry-on luggage, on the other hand, might include cross straps, two-way zippers and a TSA-approved lock (either built-in or as an add on) for extra security.
Personal Item vs. Carry-On: Durability
Whether you’re planning to explore the city or cozy up for a cabin getaway, you’ll need a trusty travel companion that can survive the wear and tear of your trip.
While there are personal items that are made of waterproof material, investing in a durable rolling suitcase ensures you have a carry-on bag you can count on even years into the jetsetter lifestyle.
Durable, scratch-, water- and impact-resistant, you can take our Rollink carry-on bags on the road or through the air time and time again — you don’t have to stress about any potential damage your adventure may leave on your carry-on bag!
Rollink Carry-On Bags You’ll Love
A carry-on bag helps you avoid the travel stress of a missing checked bag and evade surprise baggage fees.
At Rollink, we offer a collection of durable, stylish, and collapsible carry-on bags for every type of getaway. And with the ability to store 3-4 days worth of clothes and 2-3 pairs of shoes, you can fit all of your favorite OOTD pieces!
Available in three sizes and in six vibrant colors, the Flex Vega meets carry-on requirements for most major airlines with its compact size of 22″ x 14″ x 9″.
The Flex Vega is scratch-, water- and impact-resistant, making it the perfect travel companion to bring on any escape!
Flex Vega features include:
- Sturdy polycarbonate hard shell
- Water-, scratch- and impact-resistant material
- Silent, coated wheels for easy gliding
- Accessible side pocket for travel essentials
- Height-adjustable telescopic handle
- Folds flat to about 2’’ thick for hassle-free storage
If you’re searching for softer material, then our water- and impact- resistant fabric Flex Aura is for you.
It comes in a compact size of 22″ x 14″ x 9″ and is available in 7 stylish colors.
Flex Aura features include:
- Durable, water- and impact-resistant fabric on each side
- Luxurious and premium design
- Silent, coated wheels for smooth gliding
- Front pocket that can store a laptop
- Inner pocket for safe storage
- Secure closure with a magnetic strap
- Folds flat to about 2’’ thick
Wrapping Up On Carry-On vs. Personal Item
Both a carry-on and a personal item allow you to pack light and keep your essentials nearby when you travel.
While a personal item and carry-on bag are often confused for one another, these compact travel bags have significant differences when it comes to size, packing volume, security features and durability.
If a carry-on bag is what you’re after, you’re sure to find your favorite travel companion in the Flex Vega or the Flex Aura! \