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What Is Carry-on Bag / Baggage?


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What is carry-on bag / baggage?

What size is carry-on luggage? What are carry-on luggage dimensions? Or what kind of restrictions apply to carry-on bags in air travel. These are some of the questions you will find answers to in this guide to carry-on bags. We will answer all of the most popular questions about carry-on baggage rules.

Small carry on backpack
Small carry on backpack

1. What Is Carry-on Bag?

In air travel, it’s the baggage you’re carrying with you on the plane.

Carry-on bag. Carry-on baggage. Hand baggage. Cabin baggage.

All these terms mean the same thing. Carry-on baggage is a smallish bag you can take on board of a plane. This is what you are allowed to take on board of an airplane. Unlike check-in baggage (or, hold baggage), cabin bags are stored on board, either in an overhead bin, or under a seat in front of you.

You can access your carry-on bag throughout the flight.

What is carry-on bag / baggage? In air travel, it’s the baggage you’re carrying with you on the plane. That’s a simplified definition of carry-on. To learn more continue reading this guide to carry-on baggage.

1.1 Personal Item vs Carry-On Bag

There are two types of cabin baggage:

  • Personal item — small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, usually about 15.7”x7.9”x9.8” (40 x 20 x 25 cm) or so;
  • Regular, full-sized carry-on bag — a bag that can fit in the overhead bin, usually about 21.7” x 15.7” x 9.8” (55 x 40 x 25 cm) or so.

Depending on the airline, travel class, ticket type and destination, you can bring either personal item or full-size carry on bag, sometimes even both of them. Yes, some airlines allow you to bring both, others — only one.

Airlines that are more generous when it comes to carry-on baggage allowance (more on that below), allow their passenger to carry both — full-sized carry-on bag plus a smaller personal item. But so many European low-cost airlines now allow only one free personal item, airlikes like Wizz Air and easyJet.

1.2 European Size Carry-On Luggage, Here Are the Basics

Many European low-cost airlines are very strict with carry-on.

Many airlines allow only one free personal item. What it means is that unless you pay extra, you are allowed to bring on a plane only a small, personal item. It must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, usually about 15.7”x7.9”x9.8” (40 x 20 x 25 cm) — that’s a very small bag (around 25 liters).

Does a purse count as a carry on?

Yes, it does count as a carry on. And with some airlines it may be the only bag you are allowed to take on plane for free.

To bring a large cabin bag, you must pay extra. But it’s possible.

With Ryanair it’s called Priority & 2 Cabin Bags. You have a boarding priority, and it allows you to bring both a personal item and a carry-on bag. With Wizz Air the rules are very similar, and they call it WIZZ Priority. The important thing is that it is possible — you don’t have to buy a check-in bag if you can’t fit in everything in the smallest backpack of around 25 liters (free personal item).

If you are new to travel, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by travel industry jargon. What do all those things mean? What’s a connecting flight or layover flight? Self-transfer flights? What’s a layover or stopover , and what’s the difference between the two? That’s why create these guides and share our air travel tips — so we can all learn.

Wizz Air airplane
Wizz Air airplane

2. Is Carry-On Bag Free?

The short answer is: at least one bag will be free.

But airline baggage policies are constantly changing. And what was true yesterday, may not be anymore today. Especially with the cheapest flights.

When you are buying the cheapest flight ticket, your baggage allowance could be very tight. Yes, even when booking a flight with a traditional full-service airline. They too change their policies. And you may be allowed to bring only one cabin bag free of charge. Many airlines allow carry-on bags no heavier than 7 kg. At the same time some (KLM and Air France for example) are generous when it comes to free cabin baggage allowance. At the moment, you can bring a standard-size carry + a personal item on weighing 12 kg (total).

Many European low-cost airlines allow only one free personal item. If you want to travel with a regular size carry-on, you will need to book priority boarding which will allow you not only board the plane faster, but also bring 1 regular carry-on bag and 1 personal item. This is how many budget airlines work.

In short, free cabin baggage allowance depends on the airline.

Always at least one bag is free. But what is the size of it?

This brings us to the next question — carry-on bag size.

Carry on bags of different sizes
Carry on bags of different sizes

3. Carry-on Baggage Allowance (Size, Weight)

Baggage allowance is different for every airline.

It also depends on the travel class, ticket type and destination. It stands true to both cabin and hold baggage. You can’t expect your cabin and hold baggage allowance to be the same for every flight, every airline and every ticket type.

Always check what is the baggage allowance. And what are carry on luggage dimensions / weight. Don’t know what is the baggage allowance for your flight? Check the booking confirmation sent to your email. Or go to “Manage my booking” on your airline’s web page. Log in using your flight details, and you will see all information about your flight, like, date, time, flight number, duration, travel class, ticket type and cabin and checked baggage allowance.

What size is carry on luggage? There’s no one answer. Baggage allowance is different for every airline. Both dimensions and weight differ. But generally speaking, with full-service airlines you often are allowed to bring two bags — a carry-on and personal item. Carry-on with dimensions of around 21.7” x 15.7” x 9.8” (55 x 40 x 25 cm), and personal item — around 15.7”x7.9”x9.8” (40 x 20 x 25 cm). With low-cost airlines — often only 1 carry on bag or personal item.

When you are booking a flight, you can see baggage allowance when you are choosing the seating class (economy, business, etc.) and ticket type.

3.1 Carry on Baggage on Connecting Flights

There’s basically only one thing that you should now.

Here’s that thing, you may have connecting flights with different airlines. Most of the biggest and best airlines do this thing, they share their flights. So, you may book a connecting flight from Qatar Airways but it may be partly operated by British Airways, Iberia, or for example, Air Malta. And you may have to comply with different carry-on baggage allowance on these flights.

If you’re flying with two or more airlines, plan accordingly. If one of your flights have smaller carry on allowance, take this into account. With connecting flights it’s usually not a very big deal. But with self-transfer flights, when and if carry on allowances vary wildly, it’s a thing to remember.

We have a separate guide on baggage on connecting flights.

And here are guides on delayed baggage / lost baggage.

4. Light / Basic Economy Fare and Carry-on Baggage

Economy Light is a big thing in air travel.

Traditional, full-service airlines, are known for offering certain services to their customers, such as free baggage allowance. But in the last few years traditional airlines have started offering cheap flight tickets with less perks. These are so-called Economy Light tickets. These are basic tickets with almost no services that are typically offered by airlines.

Not all Economy tickets come with the same services.

When you have an Economy Light or Basic flight, you can bring only cabin baggage. Often these tickets are not refundable, and you can’t change the date and time of your departure. Also, you can’t choose a seat free of charge.

Air France Economy Light Ticket
Air France Economy Light. As you can see you are allowed to bring cabin baggage if you book Economy Light. However, cabin baggage allowance is quite generous when you travel with Air France.

5. What If Your Bag Is Too Big or Too Heavy?

You may have to pay extra for baggage.

In Europe, it can be also twice the price of the flight itself.

That’s why we strongly recommend you to weight and measure your bag before you fly. To make sure it’s not too big or too heavy.  This way, even if it is slightly too heavy, you will be prepared for that. You will be prepared to put that powerbank and book in your jacket’s pocket — to avoid fees and penalties.

Imagine this — you have arrived at the gate, and gate agents are weighting bags, and asking passengers to use the bag sizer. It turns out that your bag is too big or too heavy, or both. And then you are asked to gate-check your bag for a hefty fee. Otherwise, you’ll be denied boarding (with no rights to flight compensation from airline). Or, you could make your bag lighter by throwing out stuff from your bag. However, this is not an option for most. 

You don’t want this to happen.

So, it’s better to comply with baggage rules.

Cabin bags can be weighed and measured at check-in counters, too.

6. What Is Considered a Carry- On Bag?

Let’s rewind a bit — what’s a carry on bag?

In air travel, it’s the baggage you’re carrying with you on the plane. It can be anything from a shopping bag to a small carry-on suitcase. You can choose anything you want, as long as it fits the size and weight requirements.

6.1 What Is the Best Carry-On Bag?

There are a number of bag types you can use as a carry on.

The most popular choices for travelers are:

  • Backpack — a versatile bag for every type of traveler. More and more people are traveling with carry-on size backpacks. When used together with packing cubes backpacks nowadays offer the easy of packing of suitcases;
  • Small suitcase — a great choice for a short trip, 1-2 weeks. Easy to pack, not so easy to travel around if you are moving a lot;
  • Duffel bag — a roomy bag perfect for a short trip. Not the best option if you like to organize your staff or walk around a lot;
  • Briefcase — a good choice for business travellers;
  • Large purse / tote bag — a great choice when you also have a checked bag. Traveling only with a tote would be uncomfortable;
  • Diaper bag — a roomy backpack or tote bag for all things baby;
  • Laptop bag — a very popular choice for business travellers.

The most important thing is to make sure you check the bag fits into the size requirements of the most popular airlines, and isn’t too heavy itself. You won’t be always prepared for everything, so pay attention to cabin baggage policies of the airlines you will fly with the most.

6.2 Is a Backpack Considered a Carry-On?

It can be both a carry-on or personal item, depending from the size. At the same time, it may also be too big or even way too big for carry-on. Anything more than 45-liters can be tricky, especially if it’s a backpack with an internal frame — you can’t squeeze these kind of bags, even if the backpack isn’t full.

It all comes down to cabin baggage rules in the end. While some airlines allow bigger carry-on bags, others are very limiting in this matter. So, check the rules! Check what is the maximum size for carry on luggage.

Is a backpack a carry on? It can be.

6.3 Is a Purse Considered a Carry-On Baggage?

It can be a carry on. And it can be a personal item.

If you buy the cheapest flight with Ryanair or Wizz Air in Europe, your purse may also be the only item of baggage allowed on the plane for free. There’s no one answer. It all comes down to airline cabin baggage rules in the end.

Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore
Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore

7. What is Allowed in Carry-On Bags?

What can you bring on the plane with you? (in your carry-on)

Since it’s easier to talk about the opposite, we’ll rephrase the question and talk about the restrictions instead. So, what is not allowed in carry-on bag? What items are not allowed in hand luggage?

  • You are not allowed to bring liquids that exceed 3.4 oz (100 ml). What does this mean? All liquid toiletries have to be travel size — in bottles no greater than 3.4 oz (100 ml). All travel size toiletries must go in a quart-size (1 litre) zip-lock bag. The full-size toiletry bottles must go into your checked bag.
  • Also, you aren’t allowed to carry any sharp items like knives, scissors, daggers, box cutters, scalpels, ice axes, ice picks, straight razors, blades for safety razors, bows and arrows in your carry-on. We go more into details on scissors in carry-on baggage below.
  • Certain sports equipment like hiking poles, ski poles, tent spikes, hockey sticks, golf clubs, cricket bats and snow cleats can’t be taken on board. You’ll have to check them in.
  • Most tools are not allowed in carry on bags either.
  • Guns and explosives are prohibited, too.

Want to be on the safe side and avoid unnecessary stress?

Follow the above-mentioned rules. Not always all of it is enforced, and it doesn’t apply to all airports around the world. Airport security staff are people same like you and me. Sometimes, you may make it through with more liquids, or you may be allowed to take long hiking poles with you on the plane. But then again, there will also be times when you’ll have to leave something behind.

It’s easier to follow the guidelines.

7.1 Can You Bring Scissors On a Plane?

It depends from the airport / country.

In some countries you won’t make it through airport security with scissors (any). In other countries small nail cutting scissors are allowed in the cabin, and there are even specific rules regarding that. For example, in the US the rules are super simple — scissors must be less than 4 inches from the pivot point.

If packed in carry-on, they must be less than 4 inches from the pivot point.

When it comes to connecting flights through the US, you have to comply with the TSA guidelines. Because in the US everyone have to collect and recheck baggage on arrival, even if the US is not your final destination.

7.2 What Toiletries Can You Bring On a Plane?

With solids there are no limitations, liquids – up to 3.4 oz (100 ml) per piece.

That’s so-called liquids rule, and it’s applied in most airports around the world. That’s the reason why all liquid toiletries have to be travel size — in bottles no greater than 3.4 oz (100 ml). And all travel size toiletries must go in a quart-size (1 litre) zip-lock bag — you are limited also to the total volume.

The full-size toiletry bottles must go into your checked bag.

To sum it all up, carry on baggage rules differ from airline to airline. There’s no one answer to question — what size bag can you carry on a plane — it’s defined in the cabin baggage policy of the airline you are flying with and can be seen in your reservation. Just like carry-on restriction may differ from airport to airport.

What is your experience with carry-on bag rules? Have you ever been asked to pay extra or denied boarding? If you have any more questions about carry on baggage, write in the comments.

About the author:

Co-founder and Editor at Connecting Flights Guide

Una is an organized globetrotter and foodie who’s been living a digital nomad lifestyle since 2013. She always starts her day early with a good book before diving into work. Apart from traveling and aviation, her other passions include gym, hiking and cycling. Una is also a strong proponent of AI technology. She firmly believes in its potential to simplify life and has often advocated for its wider adoption in our day-to-day activities. Her favorite airlines are Qatar Airways, Emirates, and KLM.


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Connecting Flights Guide

Your go-to guide to air travel rules and regulations. Connecting flights, self transfer, onward tickets and more – we want you to understand air travel better

This article may contain compensated links. Learn more in our disclaimer.

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