Different airlines have different rules about what bags you can bring as hand luggage. It usually changes depending on the price of the ticket.
Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest almost always allow you to bring 2 bags.
Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier only allow one bag with their basic ticket. You need to pay extra to bring a 2nd bag.
United Basic Economy only allows one bag, United Standard Economy allows two bags.
When airlines allow two bags as hand luggage they are called the carry-on and the personal item.
To determine if you can take a backpack and a carry-on on your flight you need to know if the airline you are flying with will consider your backpack to be a personal item.
That will come down to the size of your backpack and the size permitted as a personal item by your airline.
In this post, we’ll look at bringing a backpack and a carry-on with the major airlines in the United States.
Feel free to scroll down to find the airline you are flying with.
When Is A Backpack A Personal Item?
The personal item is usually described as a purse, briefcase, or laptop bag.
Some airlines give a maximum measurement for personal items. Some just say it needs to go under the seat in front of you.
Often you can bring a backpack as this personal item, but it depends on the airline in question.
So let’s look at the major airlines in the US to see if you can bring both a backpack and a carry-on.
Alaska carry-on bags can be 22 x 14 x 9 inches and you can also bring one personal item that must fit under the seat in front of you.
They don’t list the dimensions of the personal item size.
Alaska told Molly that her personal item could be a backpack if it fits under the seat.
The bottom line is that you can bring a backpack and a carry-on item on your Alaska flight. The carry-on needs to be under 22 x 14 x 9 and the backpack needs to fit comfortably under the seat.
Allegiant only allow you to bring one personal item with you on their basic fare.
To bring two bags you’ll need to purchase a carry-on allowance for between $10 an $75 depending on the route.
If you pay the carry on fee then you can bring a carry-on item that is 22 x 14 x 9.
The one personal item size limit is 16 x 15 x 7 inches so you can bring a backpack under that size limit.
Your backpack should go under the seat and your carry-on can go in the overhead bin if you paid to bring one.
AA are still a full-service airline. That means that they are not trying to generate profits from luggage and allow you to bring two bags.
You can bring a carry-on suitcase that can be 22 x 14 x 9 inches and a backpack that can be 18 x 14 x 8 inches.
Your backpack should be stowed under the seat and your carry-on baggage can go in the overhead bin.
Emma was trying to bring a suitcase, backpack, and a computer monitor.
The monitor was a step too far. She’d need to fit it in her backpack or suitcase or resort to checked luggage.
Delta are also still a full-service airline. Generally, they make money from airfares not from luggage fees.
Delta has a carry-on luggage size limit of 22 x 14 x 9 inches. They don’t list a size limit for their personal item but it can be a backpack so long as it’s small enough to fit under the seat.
Joe asked Delta directly about bringing one carry-on suitcase and a backpack as a personal item and was given the green light from Ambrose on behalf of Delta.
Frontier only includes one personal item with their basic ticket. So you will not be able to bring a carry-on and a backpack unless you pay extra.
Personal items can be 18 x 14 x 8 inches which is about the size of a small backpack.
The carry-on size limit is 24 x 16 x 10 inches should you choose to upgrade to include a carry-on. The cost is usually around $30 more.
JetBlue currently still allow 2 bags as hand luggage. However they intend to remove the carry-on luggage allowance for their cheapest “Blue Basic” fares.
A JetBlue carry-on can be 22 x 14 x 9 inches and an additional backpack could be 17 x 13 x 8 inches.
Michael asked JetBlue about bringing a carry-on luggage and a backpack and was told it would be fine so long as the bags were under the size limits.
Southwest have one of the most generous carry-on allowances. The suitcase can be 24 x 16 x 10 inches and must fit in the overhead.
They also let you bring a backpack as a personal item so long as the backpack is smaller than 18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches. The personal item must fit under the seat.
Spirit only allow you to bring one bag for free.
The free bag can be 18 x 14 x 8 inches. This could be your backpack.
If you wanted to bring a carry-on bag as well you’d need to pay for it. To bring one carry-on and one backpack would cost you another $35 and up.
The additional paid carry on size limit is 22 x 18 x 10 inches.
With United it depends what fare class you are flying with.
Their basic economy ticket only includes a small personal item that can be 17 x 10 x 9 inches. Those dimensions are quite small and many backpacks will be too large.
You can’t add on a carry-on allowance to a United Basic Economy ticket. So there is no way to bring a backpack and a carry-on on a United Basic Economy ticket.
You can however book a United Standard Economy ticket which includes two bags. On that ticket the carry-on could be 22 x 14 x 9 inches but the backpack could still only be 17 x 10 x 9.
So you can only bring a small backpack on a United flight.
The Bottom Line
More complicated than you thought right?
Whether travelers can take a backpack and a carry-on depends on who they are flying with and what rules that airline has.
For low-cost airlines or low-cost basic economy fares, you’ll probably need to pay extra to bring a backpack and a carry-on.
For full-service airlines you might already be able to bring a backpack and a suitcase.
The best thing to do is to check the size limits for the one personal item. If your backpack is under the restrictions then you will be able to bring it.
What it means is that you’ll need to pack any purse, briefcase, or laptop bag inside one of your two bags.
As a last warning. If you are bringing two large bags then try to board as early as possible. Purchase priority boarding to make sure there will be space in the overhead bins.
Regardless of the what the rules say, if you are boarding late then the bins might be full and you might be forced to gate check one or both of your bags.