Carry-on bag rules at 10 big U.S. airlines

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Man boarding plane with carry-on bags
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Think you can travel with just a carry-on bag? Before you head to the airport, make sure you know the rules for your particular airline, as they vary from carrier to carrier.

How to make sure your carry-on bag will be allowed by your airline

First it’s important to make certain that the size of the bag meets your airline’s guidelines. Take three measurements: The length, height and width of your bag — including the wheels and handles. Then, measure again after you’ve stuffed the bag (or have unzipped the extender) to ensure it would fit into the airport sizers that determine whether your bag is allowed to fly in the cabin with you or not.

Also worth noting: When shopping for a carry-on bag, take along a measuring tape. Some bag tags can read Cabin Bag or Carry-on Compliant, but it could mean only the bag itself and not those wheels and handles.

Although fees can apply to carry-on bags on certain low-fare airlines, there can be exceptions.

Those can apply if you are an active U. S. military personnel and/or dependent, if you have status with the airline through their frequent flyer program, status with an affiliated partner carrier or if you have an airline sponsored credit/charge card.

Here’s another carry-on catch to be aware of: If you are a basic economy traveler (you bought the low-low fare) on major and other low-fare airlines, you will likely be the last to board the aircraft. So, even though you’ve met the size requirements for your carry-on, all overhead bin space might already be filled — meaning you would be forced to gate-check your bag.

United Airlines stands alone in stating it will charge a customer the applicable checked bag fee, plus a $25 gate handling charge for this “service.” Other carriers will often stow your bag at no cost just to avoid paperwork and keep an on-time departure.

So, be prepared and ensure that your bag is labeled in advance.

Finally, each domestic airline permits travelers to bring onboard one personal item. These items can include a jacket, handbag, umbrella, diaper bag (one per child), duty-free items, assistive devices (wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, compact folding strollers, child restraint seats, etc.) and soft-sided cooler bags with breast milk. Select airlines have a maximum size allowed for these free onboard items (see below).

Musical instruments are considered a carry-on item as long as they fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.

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Carry-on bag rules on American, Delta and other major U.S. airlines

Airline

Carry-on rules

Alaska Airlines
  • 1 personal item and 1 carry-on bag (22 x 14 x 9 inches) fee-free
Allegiant
  • 1 personal item (7 x 15 x 16 inches) fee-free
  • 1 carry-on bag of 22 x 14 x 9 inches at these options (each way):
    • $18-$35 During Allegiant.com booking
    • $45 Pre-departure
    • $50 Airport ticket counter
    • $75 Departure gate
American Airlines
  • 1 personal item and 1 carry-on bag (22 x 14 x 9 inches) fee-free
Delta Air Lines
  • 1 personal item and 1 carry-on bag (22 x 14 x 9 inches) fee-free
Frontier Airlines
  • 1 personal item (18 x 14 x 8 inches) fee-free
  • 1 carry-on bag (24 x 16 x 10 inches) at these options (each way):
    • $35 During FlyFrontier.com booking and during online check-in
    • $38 After booking and up to 24 hours before departure
    • $40 Call center or web check-in
    • $50 Airport ticket counter or self-service kiosk
    • $60 Departure gate
Hawaiian Airlines
  • 1 personal item and 1 carry-on bag (22 x 14 x 9 inches) fee-free
JetBlue
  • 1 personal item and 1 carry-on bag (22 x 14 x 9 inches) fee-free
Southwest Airlines
  • 1 personal item and 1 carry-on bag (24 x 16 x 10 inches) fee-free
Spirit Airlines
  • 1 personal item (18 x 14 x 8 inches) fee-free
  • 1 carry-on bag (22 x 18 x 10 inches) at these options (each way):
    • $35 During Spirit.com booking
    • $45 Before online check-in and during online check-in
    • $55 Airport ticket counter or call center
    • $65 Departure gate
    • Spirit offers a Bag-O-Tron bag calculator that displays bag priced based on your destination
United Airlines
  • For Basic Economy domestic tickets, the limit is one personal item (9 x 10 x 17 inches) fee free; no carry-on permitted
  • Other Economy class travelers (United has three types of economy fares: Economy Plus, Economy and Basic Economy) can bring onboard one personal item plus one full-sized carry-on bag up to 62 linear inches (length + height + width) fee-free

Final thought

This chart should give you a good sense of what you are allowed to carry onto your flight. Since carry-on bag policies can vary on smaller or regional aircraft, if your airline is not on this list please check with them directly about their rules.

Happy flying!

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