Does A Pillow Count As A Personal Item?

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Pillows can make travelers more comfortable during flights, especially long flights.

But do airlines consider your pillow to be part of your luggage allowance?

If you carry on a suitcase, and a pillow, can you still board with a purse?

This post will attempt to bring some clarity but I will warn you in advance it’s not an easy topic to get a definitive answer on because it depends which carrier you are flying with.

Can you take a pillow on a plane?

Let’s cover this basic point first…

The TSA who are responsible for maintaining flight security doesn’t have any issue with pillows. Pillows are allowed on airplanes and they are not seen as any security risk. So we can say the TSA doesn’t worry about pillow fights breaking out in the skies.

As far as security are concerned, you can bring a pillow on a plane, in carry-on bags or you can pack it in checked luggage. But your airline will determine if you can board carrying a pillow.

When Flying, Does A Pillow Need To Be Packed?

The question is does a pillow need to be inside your carry-on bag or personal item, or can you simply carry a pillow on a plane in your hand in addition to your luggage allocation?

The answer to some extent depends on the size of the pillow at least according to Delta:

I suspect how airlines will treat this might depend if they are a full-service airline like Delta or a low-cost airline like Spirit or Frontier.

Low-cost airlines are always trying to recover margins by hitting people with luggage penalties. A pillow carried by hand might be a target.

I did find an answer from Frontier customer services on Twitter.

For Frontier, a travel neck pillow that is worn during boarding counts as attire and is not counted as a personal item.

However, a larger pillow that is in a bag or carried when boarding will count as a personal item.

Travel Neck Pillow

A neck pillow worn around your neck during boarding would be probably be seen as clothing rather than luggage.

Some gate agents might just ignore it if they see you with a travel pillow in your hand. If you can, it’s probably best practice to pack your neck pillow inside your personal item bag or your carry on and remove it once you have boarded the plane.

Full-Size Pillow

I’m quite sure if you stuffed a larger pillow under your sweater the gate agent wouldn’t challenge you. You’d just look like you had a beer belly or were pregnant.

But not everyone is a renegade that likes to beat the system, so here is my take on the rules.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates aviation safety.

As far as they are concerned it’s unsafe to have any baggage unstowed during takeoff and landing. This is because baggage can block the aisles and impede an emergency evacuation.

Each economy passenger has two places to store baggage, the overhead bin and the under-seat space. So it follows that they are permitted two items of luggage.

Each passenger is usually (not always) permitted one carry-on that goes in the overhead bin and one personal item that must fit under the seat.

This means for economy fares you can’t take a carry-on suitcase, handbag, and carry a pillow on in your hand. That would be 3 pieces.

Likewise a briefcase, carry-on, and pillow would be 3 items.

If you are carrying a pillow in your hand it’s baggage and counts as a personal item or carry on.

You need to pack your travel pillow inside one of your bags.

Does a pillow even fit under the seat of an airplane?

A standard size pillow from a bed is 26 x 20 x 7 inches. 

There is no standardized personal item limit, but many airlines list 18 x 14 x 8 as the personal item size. So a full-size pillow would be too large to count as a personal item. You should always at least pack your pillow in a plastic bag in case you are asked to put it under the seat.

Of course, you can use a smaller bag and stuff the pillow inside so it is smaller than the limits.

Compression packing cubes are great for this type of thing. They will squash a full-size pillow down to something that is easily packable.

Does a pillow count as a personal item?

Let’s ask the airlines!

Alaska

Jason asked Alaska if he could bring a pillow in addition to his carry on and personal item:

Alaska said it was fine as long as it was stowed during takeoff and landing.

American Airlines

Brad had an issue boarding an American Airlines flight because his full-sized pillow was not packed inside his carry-on or personal item.

American customer support said that he needs to pack his pillow inside one of his bags when boarding the plane.

Delta

Marcelo asked if a pillow counted as part of his carry on allowance and the reply from Delta was interesting:

Delta claim that a passenger can only have 2 items in their hands when boarding aircraft. If you are carrying a pillow in one hand and a carry-on bag in the other hand then the pillow will count as a personal item.

Your pillow will need to be smaller than the airline’s personal item limits to be considered a valid personal item.

Frontier

Frontier told Nicole that she would be able to bring her coccyx cushion and it wouldn’t count as a personal item.

But then they make Lindi’s daughter pay to check her backpack because her pillow counted as her personal item.

So it seems that the rules are a little vague.

JetBlue

I was unable to find JetBlue’s policy regarding pillows.

Southwest

I couldn’t find an answer on Southwest either.

Spirit Airlines

Tommy got charged by Spirit for bringing a pillow and a bag.

Low-cost airlines like Spirit try to make money by having very restrictive luggage policies and then charging customers when they don’t adhere to the limits. It doesn’t surprise me that a pillow is not a freebie on Spirit.

The Verdict

To summarize the information above…

Clothing or attire is not regulated, so small travel neck pillows are really just a thick scarf right? So wear your travel neck pillow as you are boarding and it won’t count as a personal item.

Baggage is regulated and strictly speaking, large pillows are considered to be part of your luggage.

Your pillow will be allowed as a personal item if it can fit under the seat in front.

Most bed pillows wouldn’t fit unless compressed. So pack your pillow in a bag so that it fits under the seat and it will count as a personal item.

If you’ve used your pillow as a personal item you can’t also bring a handbag, or laptop bag. Usually each passenger is only permitted one personal item.

So if you already have another item like a purse, briefcase, or laptop bag, then compress your pillow and pack it inside your carry-on.

Hopefully this post will help someone. If in doubt, consult your airline.

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