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Keeping Your Carry-On Carry-Able (in Airline Standards)

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Wouldn’t it be a lovely and joyous world if airlines had consistent restrictions for the size and weight of carry-on bags? Well, your dreams are now squished like the mammoth carry-on you tried to fit in the overhead compartment on your last flight. Not all airplane overhead storage is created equal. Every airline company bases their bag restrictions on the internal configurations of their fleet. Which means, in short, a bag could be carried on one flight but must be checked on another.

Luckily domestic airlines like US Airways, Delta, American, and United agree on their max size, 22 x 14 X 9 inches. Unfortunately, most wheeled luggage pushes those dimensions to the breaking point. I myself have had to gate check a bag because the wheels were just too big for the overhead compartment to close.

A few domestic airlines are more generous with their bag restrictions. Alaska Airlines allows a whopping 24 x 17 X 10 inches (so passengers can fit their parkas on board, we assume). AirTran and Southwest allow 24 by 16 by 10 inches. Unless you’re carrying bricks, carry-ons are rarely weighed but there are technically limits. Be sure your carry-on bag doesn’t exceed 40 pounds on the big wig airlines and 25 pounds on the not so big wig airlines.

If you are abroad, carry a backpack or light squish-able duffel. European airlines have extremely strict carry-on dimensions. Weight is a big factor, as well. Air France and Alitalia limit carry-ons to 21 X 13 X 9 inches with a max weight of 26.4 pounds. Carry-on bags on Lufthansa, Swiss, and Turkish can be 21 X 15 X 9 inches but these airlines counterattack with a max weight of 17.6 pounds.

New seats and floatation devices often means less than eight inches of clearance for bags under the seat in front of you with a maximum width of 14 inches. The middle seat in a three seat row has even less space under the seat.

Our advice, if you know you will be heading abroad or traveling different size planes, it’s worth it to buy a light, smaller carry-on around 21 X 13 X 9 inches. A bag that size will fly almost anywhere if you don’t stuff it with heavy, unforgiving objects. Remember, overhead bins aren’t “very” pliable, so be sure to measure your carry-on before you haul it all the way to the gate, only to be forced to check it.

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