This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
We know we aren’t the first ones to tell you this, but air travel can be, well, complicated.
With so many rules and regulations to go by, it can be hard to keep them all straight. One of the most commonly-asked questions we get — aside from “what credit card should I get?” — is whether or not backpacks count as personal or carry-on items. So, it’s time to set the record straight.
Related: The 7 Best Starter Credit Cards
The short answer: If it fits under the seat in front of you, it’s considered a personal item. That means small backpacks and daypacks will usually qualify as personal items. But if you’re traveling with a larger multiday bag or a massive 65-liter pack for a month-long trek, it might technically be a backpack — but it’s definitely not going to fit under the seat, making it a carry-on item. And if it doesn’t fit in the overhead bin, well, it’s a checked bag. Regardless of whether or not it has straps to put around your shoulders.
But for more clarity, we reached out to a handful of major US airlines to get their official statements. Here’s what they said:
- According to Delta, “If the backpack can get under the seat in front of you, then it will be considered a personal item.” Carry-on bags can be up to 22 x 14 x 9 inches, so if your backpack is bigger than that, it’s probably not going in the overhead bin, either.
- Southwest says, “Rule of thumb, if it fits under the seat in front of you, we would count it as a personal item. In that case, you can still bring a carry-on. That said, if you’d like to bring your backpack and place it in the overhead bin and have a smaller bag or purse under the seat in front of you, you can do that as well.
- United has a similar policy, saying, “This will depend on the size of your backpack. The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches, while the maximum dimensions for your personal item are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches. You can view these sizing guidelines here.”
- If you’re a JetBlue flyer, know that the policy closely mirrors United’s. Their response was: “It would depend on the size. It can count as a personal item as long as it is no larger than 17 inches long x 13 inches wide x 8 inches high.”
- Lastly, American Airlines said, “[A backpack] will count toward your allowance, and be considered your personal item, if you place it under the seat — or your carry-on if it’s placed in the overhead bin.” Personal items should not exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
No matter what airline you’re flying, the answer is pretty clear: Better small than sorry.
Featured image courtesy of AleksandarNakic/Getty Images.
Know before you go.
News and deals straight to your inbox every day.
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees