Carry-on bag size varies by airline -- and can catch you by surprise


Are airlines downsizing the acceptable dimensions for a carry-on bag? They say they are not, but one travel pro was recently caught by surprise when a bag he has carried for years failed the size test, raising the issue of what’s acceptable.

George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog was taking his wheeled bag through airport security when an American Airlines representative approached him and “insisted that I put my suitcase in a bag sizer,” he wrote in an article for USAToday.




June 17, 2 p.m.: An earlier version of this post and its headline incorrectly reported that American, Delta and United recently had changed the allowable limits for carry-on baggage. The airlines say they have not changed their limits on bag sizes.


Airlines often specify that a carry-on bag may not exceed 45 linear inches (length plus width plus height).

Hobica’s bag was 15 inches wide.

Here’s what American’s bag policy says: “You can bring one small carry-on bag plus one personal item per passenger as long as the carry-on bag fits comfortably in the sizer without being forced and does not exceed overall dimensions of 45 inches (length plus width plus height). The maximum dimensions cannot exceed any of the following measurements: 22 inches long by 14 inches wide by 9 inches tall or 115 centimeters (56 x 36 x 23 cm).”

United’s contract of carriage specifies the same dimensions, noting that the outside linear dimensions include the bag’s “wheels and handles.” It also notes: “Carry-on baggage… suspected of being oversized may require being placed into a sizing unit to determine acceptability.” And, it says, the airline “reserves the right to check a passenger’s carry-on baggage for any reason.”

Delta also notes that its carry-on bags may not exceed 45 linear inches, including handles and wheels and adds, “Baggage must fit easily in the carry-on baggage check (approximately 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches or 56 by 35 by 23 centimeters), which is located near the check-in counters.”


Not all airlines hew to the same size limits. JetBlue and Southwest, for example, allow bigger bags that measure at most 24 inches long, 16 inches wide and 10 inches high.

The solution, as always, is to read your airline’s website. The information may be under its baggage policy or may be in its contract of carriage.

Hobica recommends these four-wheeled carry-ons that meet all airline limits: Briggs and Riley U122CX Baseline, Travelpro Platinum Magna and CalPak Valley 20-Inch Carry-On Spinner.