If you’re beginning to pack your bag for next flight you might be wondering, what luggage can you take on a plane?
You can bring any sort of luggage onto a plane that meets the rules and guidelines of both your airline and any relevant regulatory, such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The guidelines are mostly defined by luggage size, and breaks the possible types of luggage down into two main categories: carry-on luggage and checked luggage.
Table of Contents
Two Types of Luggage
In the context of air travel, there are two main types of luggage to consider: carry-on luggage and checked luggage. The exact way they’re defined may differ from airline to airline or from region to region, but you can almost certainly count on these two distinctions being made.
Carry-on luggage is rather self-explanatory; they’re the bags you carry onto the airplane with you.
This type of luggage tends to be small enough to be stowed in an overhead compartment above your seat, or in some cases, underneath your own seat or the seat in front of you.
Checked bags are the bags that the airline has deemed too big to fit in the overhead compartment, or exceed the amount of luggage (typically only one or two smaller bags) you’re allowed to carry on with you.
These bags are “checked” with the airline, then taken and stowed in a dedicated cargo area on the plane.
Individual travelers surrender direct control over how these bags are handled and reclaim them later when they arrive at their destination.
So no we have, broadly speaking, defined what the two types of luggage one can take on an airplane are.
Let’s now take a closer look at each.
As mentioned above, a carry-on bag is any bag that you carry onto the airplane with you.
These are typically stored in an airplane’s overhead compartment that is located above your seat.
This type of luggage will always be accessible and within your control during the entire duration of your trip.
Given that you will always have it with you to one degree or another, this is a bag that should hold your toiletries, a change of clothing, baby supplies, or anything else you might need in case checked bags are lost or delayed.
Carry-On bags will always have a size limit.
However, the exact dimensions of this limit may vary from airline to airline.
For example, American Airlines has a carry-on size limit of 22 x 14 x 9 inches or 56 x 36 x 23 centimeters, while Delta Airlines has slightly smaller a carry-on limit of 56 x 35 x 23 centimeters.
Airlines will often have receptacles called “sizers” that you must place your carry-on bag into to make sure they will properly fit into the overhead compartment.
Additionally, some airports may have their own size requirements.
Delta Airlines notes that flight originating out of Shanghai and Beijing have a weight limit of 22 pounds or 10 kilograms.
It is a good idea to check with your airline before you start packing, or if possible before you even buy your luggage.
This way you can be sure that you’ll actually be able to carry on your carry-on.
It might be the only bag you’ll get to keep track of the entire trip, so make sure you actually can do so while avoiding excessive checked bag fees!
Personal Items bag
Another piece of luggage that fits into the broader carry-on category is the “personal item” bag category.
This is a specific type of carry-on bag that is small enough to be stowed underneath the seat in front of you or your own seat on the airplane.
This means it won’t be taking up space in the overhead compartment and is even easier to access during the trip.
Typically this will be something like a laptop bag (airlines may not allow computers to be checked for security reasons), a purse, or perhaps a diaper bag.
In short, anything that you would like to have easy access to during the flight should be packed in this category of luggage.
Note that not every airline has this category of luggage, or may not allow a carry-on bag to be stored in the overhead in addition to your “personal item” bag.
Additionally, there may be size requirements for “personal item” luggage that differs from standard carry-on size requirements.
For example, American Airlines states that 18 x 14 x 8 inches (or 45 x 35 x 20 centimeters) is the size limit for a personal item, making it substantially smaller than their standard carry-on size limit.
Again, it’s a good idea to always check with your airline to confirm what their exact rules are before you start packing.
That way you can avoid any inconveniences or delays at the airport.
Regardless of the particulars of carry-on rules for each airline, you’re going to want to make sure all your carry-on bags for yourself and the rest of your travel party are “checkpoint friendly”. This is the TSA’s term for bags that are easily screened for contraband.
The point is to pack your luggage in such a way that screening is done efficiently so that it doesn’t inconvenience you or others waiting in line.
For example, the TSA’s general guidelines for carry-on bags include proper storage of any liquids (liquids must be in containers that are 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters or less and fit into a single quart-sized clear plastic bag), and that any electronics are easily accessible so that they can be removed from the bag (in particular, laptops must be x-rayed for security reasons).
Checked bags have their own TSA guidelines, which will be discussed in greater detail below.
Checked Luggage / Bags
Checked bags are pieces of luggage that are too big stowed in the overhead compartment or any bag that exceeds the amount of carry-on luggage the airline allows (for example, anything above the 1 carry-on, 1 personal item limit).
Instead of carrying these bags with you, they are “checked” with the airline, who then place them in a dedicated cargo hold in the plane. The process is much like checking a coat at a fine restaurant.
The traveler will entrust their checked bag to the airline and then will later reclaim them at their destination.
This process usually involves waiting at a luggage carousel for their bag to be unloaded, and then placed on a conveyor belt and brought to them. During all this time, the travel cannot account for what is happening to their bag.
For this reason, any checked bags should be sturdy.
Other people, who may not be as careful as you would be with your own belongings, will handle these bags.
Maybe an accident during the loading occurs.
Maybe turbulence during the flight knocks luggage around.
Regardless of how or why there is the potential for checked bags to get damaged or otherwise mishandled.
For that reason, when purchasing or choosing a bag that you know will be checked, it is recommended that you select one that will stand up to the rigors it may undergo.
Often times, higher-end luggage features a metal or plastic shell around the bag, ensuring that your belongings will not get crushed or lost in the case of a bag tearing open.
Checked bags aren’t going to go through the same types of checkpoints that you and your carry-on bag will go through.
However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have to think about security in regards to your checked bags.
You should be aware that any checked bag will be screened in some capacity, and is potentially subject to a random search by TSA agents.
For this reason, you’re going to want to make sure your latches or zippers are secure, and any sort of luggage lock you use is TSA approved.
Certain categories of commercially available locks produced by the companies Safe Skies and Travel Sentry are able to be opened with a TSA master key. Locks that aren’t in these categories may end up being cut off by security personnel.
So, if you want to avoid having a damaged lock, or even worse a damaged bag, it’s a good idea to check and see if your luggage lock is TSA approved. You’ll recognize these types of locks by looking for the little red logo that appears on all TSA approved locks.
Another option is to use plastic zip-ties to secure your zippers or latches that are easily replaced in the event of being cut.
Additionally, be aware that contraband and other item restrictions apply to checked luggage.
The liquid container size limit is applicable to liquids stored in checked bags as well. Some restrictions surrounding electronics may apply (for example, some airlines don’t allow laptops to be stored in checked bags).
Always check with both your airliner and applicable regulatory and security agencies to make sure you’re in compliance and don’t suffer any mishaps.
Conclusion of Luggage Restrictions
To sum up, there are two main types of luggage: carry-on and checked bags.
Carry-ons are smaller so they can fit in the overhead compartment or under your seat.
They stay with you the entire trip, and you’ll want to keep in them any items that you’ll immediately need, or will need shortly after arrival.
Checked bags, on the other hand, are bigger and entrusted to the airline to arrive safely at the destination.
These bags may get a somewhat of a rougher treatment than carry-ons and therefore ought to be sturdier in construction than your other luggage.
Regardless of which type of luggage we are talking about, all of it needs to comply with both airline policy and TSA regulations.
If you keep all of this in mind, you’ll have a safe and pleasant travel experience.