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Is A Backpack A Personal Or Carry On Item? (Definitive Guide 2021)

Many people travel by air every year to go on vacations and adventures around the world. Whether you travel for work or pleasure, a backpack is one of the most popular baggage options.

Before you go on your trip, it is important to find out whether your backpack will be considered a personal item or a carry-on item by the airline. Read our guide to classify your backpack and start traveling!

Airlines define a personal item and a carry-on item differently. There are many airline rules and regulations that differ among each airline. The general rule is that if the backpack can fit underneath the seat in front of you, it will be counted as a personal item.

If it cannot fit underneath that seat, then it is a carry-on item. However, some backpacks are quite large, and even though it is a backpack, it won't fit underneath the seat, but it will fit in an overhead bin.

Your backpack can be considered a carry-on item if it fits in the overhead compartment, but if it doesn’t, then expect to check it (as checked baggage).

Is A Backpack A Personal

Personal and Carry-on Items on the Plane: Defined by Airline

We always recommend that travelers check in with the airline before packing their bags. Make sure that you have the latest rules for luggage allowance before you head to the airport.

Allegiant Airliness

For Allegiant Airlines, the personal item must be able to fit beneath the seat and not exceed 7 in. x 15 in. x 16 in. The carry-on item must fit in an overhead bin and not exceed 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in.

Allegiant Airlines is a budget airline. This means that they make the majority of their money through excess charges for carry-on bags, personal items, and checked baggage. If you plan to fly Allegiant, do not expect leniency on these rules.

Personal Item Limit: May not exceed 7 in. x 15 in. x 16 in.

Carry-On Item Limit: May not exceed 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in.

United Airlines

For United Airlines, there is no limit on the personal item size, but it must fit under the seat in front of you. If it cannot, it will be checked. The carry-on item limit is 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. United Airlines will allow you to squish your personal item down so that it fits under the seat. Use their baggage calculator here

Personal Item Limit: No limit, but must fit under the seat in front of you.

Carry-On Item Limit: 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines is similar to United Airlines with their baggage requirements. You may count any item as a personal item if it can fit under the seat in front of you. You will have to demonstrate that it fits before the flight takes off. Your carry-on item must fit in the standard 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. space.

Personal Item Limit: No limit, but must fit under the seat in front of you

Carry-On Item Limit: 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines is another budget airline and takes their requirements seriously. Your personal item must fit in the 8 in. x 14 in. x 18 in. space. Your carry-on item must fit in the 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. space.

Personal Item Limit: 8 in. x 14 in. x 18 in.

Carry-On Item Limit: 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in.


When is a Backpack Considered a Personal Item?

Backpacks can be considered a personal item depending on the size of the backpack. Airlines primarily differentiate between personal items, carry-on items, and checked items. If you want your backpack to be considered as a personal item, then it needs to fit under the seat in front of you.

The best way to make sure that your backpack will be counted as a personal item is to measure it when full and compare it to the personal item limit listed by major airlines. A laptop backpack, for example, is often considered a personal item when it is approximately the size of the backpack.

However, when the laptop backpack is much larger than the actual laptop, you can assume that the backpack will not fit and will have to be considered a carry-on backpack.


What Kind of Backpacks Count as a Carry-ons?

Carry-on backpacks have the same guidelines regardless of the type of traveler that you are. Almost all airlines require that carry-on backpacks fit these standard carry-on dimensions: 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. There are a few considerations to keep in mind when packing your carry-on backpack depending on the type of traveling you are doing.

Long term travelers

If you are going to travel long-term (or backpacking the world), we recommend packing your carry-on with items that you will need and that you may not want to be squished, such as shoes. Your carry-on backpack may also be a great place to store your laptop if it doesn’t fit with your personal item. If you are going to be making multiple connections, we recommend packing a full outfit, including underwear, in case your checked luggage is lost or delayed.

First time travelers

As a first-time traveler, make sure that your carry-on backpack will fit underneath the seat in front of you on the airplane. Too many first-time travelers fail to ensure that their carry-on will fit, and then they have to check it when they arrive at the airport.

Travelers who regularly buy souvenirs

Travelers who regularly buy souvenirs may want to make sure that their carry-on backpack is relatively empty when they leave their home. Keeping plenty of space will make it easier to add souvenirs at the destination and fly home with them. The dimensions must stay within the standard carry-on dimensions of 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in.

What Kind Of Backpacks Count As A Carry-Ons

3 Ways to Carry Your Backpack as a Personal Item

Pack Light

Carrying your backpack as a personal item is a great way to bring it along. If you want to keep your backpack as a personal item, we recommend packing light. The lighter the backpack is, the easier it will be for you to carry and the more likely it is to fit under the seat in front of you (necessary for a personal item).

Consider the Size

Again, backpacks as personal items must be able to fit comfortably under the seat. Consider the size of your backpack if you want to use it as a personal item. Compare it to previous personal items that you have brought on planes and make sure it is not too large.

Keep It Discreet

Try to keep your personal item backpack discreet by bringing along a smaller backpack that is packed lightly. It should fit in with your luggage so that the airline officials allow it on the plane.


How to Choose the Ideal Carry-On Backpack

Size

There are many considerations when it comes to choosing the ideal carry-on backpack. We recommend that you choose a bag that fits most standard airline carry-on rules. This means that the backpack should fit easily in a 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. space.

Weight

Consider the weight of your carry-on backpack. Although there are no weight restrictions on a carry-on backpack, you will have to lug it around the airport. If it is too heavy, it may cause shoulder and back pain. Too much weight may also rip the backpack.

Accessibility

When you bring a carry-on backpack, you may want to open it during the flight to grab different items. You may want to store your passport or flight ticket in the bag as well. We recommend choosing a backpack that is easy to carry and easy to take items out of as you go.

How To Choose The Ideal Carry-On Backpack

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can I take two backpacks as carry on?

No, you cannot. You are allowed to take one personal item and one carry-on item. If you bring a small backpack as a personal item and a larger backpack as a carry-on item, then that would be allowed. However, in this scenario, you could not have an additional personal item such as a purse or pillow (because the smaller backpack is now your personal item).

Can I bring a duffel bag and a backpack as a carry on?

You can bring a duffel bag and backpack as two separate items: personal item and carry-on item. You cannot bring the two items together as a single carry-on item.

What if my carry on is an inch too big?

If your carry-on item is an inch too big, then you will be forced to check it. We recommend being careful about the dimensions so that you do not have to check your carry-on before the flight.

What should I put in my personal bag on a plane?

We recommend that you bring headphones, your phone, a small snack, and your drink (if you purchase a snack/drink within the airport terminal), a book or other activity, your wallet or other form of payment, your personal identification (passport, ID), and possibly a small travel pillow.


Conclusion

Choosing a backpack as a personal item or a carry-on item can make travel easier and allow you to bring all of the items you need for your trip. Make sure that you properly determine whether your backpack is a personal item or carry-on before your trip. Once you know, you can pack accordingly and take off!

  • Updated November 3, 2021