How Strict Is Southwest About Carry On Size?

Last Updated on December 23, 2020

Southwest Airlines have a carry on baggage policy quite unlike most other US airlines.

Their baggage allowance is more generous and they are less strict than others at enforcing the rules.

We took a look at the dimensions of carry-on bags permitted as well as how Southwest passengers feel about the permitted weight and size of Southwest baggage.

We also advise why you should always bring a decent sized personal item.

So if you are traveling with Southwest and want to know what size of carry-on bag you can bring this post is for you!

Southwest Airline Carry On Restrictions & Dimensions

The Southwest carry-on size limit is 10 x 16 x 24 inches. This is one of the most generous carry-on size limits in the world.

To compare, most other airlines in the US have a limit of 9 x 14 x 22 inches. This means Southwest gives you an extra 1-inch of depth, 2 inches of width, and 2 inches of height.

So while a normal carry on bag can hold around 40 liters, a theoretical maximum size Southwest carry on can hold around 57 liters.

That’s 17 liters more, so Southwest’s idea of a carry on is a big chunky jumbo version of a regular carry on.

Southwest also allows you to bring a personal item that can be 18.5 x 8.5 x 13.5 inches.

And it’s not only Southwest’s carry on policy that is generous.

Southwest’s Checked Baggage Allowance

Southwest allows you to bring 2 checked bags for free so long as they are under the size and weight limits.

How does this relate to carry on size?

Well, often flying carry-on only is a way passengers avoid airline checked bag fees.

With Southwest, you don’t need to worry about checked bag fees. So if you measure your carry-on and it’s over the Southwest carry-on size then you can simply check it for free.

That is to say, with free checked bags as a fallback, it’s not as crucial to get your Southwest carry on measurements perfect.

That said, even without the threat of baggage fees being forced to check a carry-on can still be inconvenient.

It’s best to make sure your luggage is under the carry-on size limits and then you can avoid baggage carousels, lost luggage, breakages, and the other perils of checked luggage.

How Strict Is Southwest About Carry On Size?

Usually, if an airline is strict about carry-on luggage size you’ll find lots of outraged passengers on Twitter complaining about it.

That’s not the case with Southwest. I couldn’t find any Southwest passengers ranting on Twitter because their carry on was deemed too big.

Instead of the usual carry-on outrage, there was only silence, possibly because of passengers being able to check their oversize bags free of charge.

Or maybe there is another reason…

Most passengers don’t own different carry-on bags for different airlines. If they are traveling with a carry-on that is suitable for American, United, or Delta then it will be well under the carry-on limits for Southwest.

Actually you see more complaints about Southwest not being strict enough with carry on limits.

Like this one by Kent who says the people cutting in line with carry on baggage always have bags that are too large for the overhead bin.

When a bag doesn’t fit in the overhead bin passengers put it in sideways. The end result is that not as many carry on suitcases can fit in the cabin storage.

When airlines don’t have a strict carry on allowance policy then this can happen:

Dwayne didn’t need to check his bag because it was too large to be a carry on.

Instead, there wasn’t room on the plane for Dwayne’s carry-on, so he was forced to check his bag at the boarding gate.

The bag was then lost and it contained Dwayne’s iPad. According to Dwayne because the bag was checked there was no coverage and he lost out financially.

This means overhead bin space can be a problem, Britney pointed out that people should put smaller bags under the seat to free up space in the overhead bin.

Even when the flight wasn’t full the overhead bins were full. This leads to that terrible rush to board and standing in line to board 1 minute faster than the other passengers.

So overall Southwest is not strict about carry-on size but it’s not necessarily a good thing.

They have a generous limit to start with which is larger than the industry standard.

Then they allow free checked bags so they have no business incentive to catch people with a bag that is an inch too big or has a protruding handle.

Southwest Carry On Weight Limit

There is no weight limit for carry on luggage on Southwest.

There is a weight limit for checked bags though. Suppose you arrived at the airport with something that you thought qualified as a carry-on, but you were mistaken.

You’d then need to check this oversized bag.

As mentioned, checking bags is free on Southwest but only if the bag is under the 50 lb weight limit.

It’s difficult but not impossible to pack a smaller suitcase with more than 50 lbs. You’d probably need to be packing something heavier than clothes.

If Southwest force you to gate check a carry on due to lack of space in the cabin I’d be very surprised if they took a weight measurement at that point.

Southwest Personal Item Size

The personal item size on southwest is 18.5 x 8.5 x 13.5 inches. These dimensions are designed so the bag can be placed under the seat in front of you.

A lot of people discount the personal item when packing. They view it only as a purse, handbag, or laptop bag.

In fact, the Southwest personal item could get you an estimated extra 31 liters of clothes packing space.

This is why I don’t recommend buying a carry-on specifically to use with Southwest. Your 24 x 16 x 10 inches bag would be too large to use with other airlines. Unless you fly exclusively with Southwest that big chunky jumbo carry-on will spend a lot of time gathering dust in the cupboard.

Also, don’t be surprised if Southwest change their permitted carry-on size in the next few years. Almost every other airline uses 22 x 14 x 9 in the US.

If you want to increase your packing space when flying Southwest then I suggest you use a regular 22 x 14 x 9 carry-on plus a big personal item bag to give you extra packing space.

Also remember about that chance of being forced to gate check? It’s always a good idea to fly with a decent sized personal item bag anyway.

That way if you are forced to gate check your carry on you can remove any valuable items like an iPad, laptop, or jewelry.

In fact, you should pack your valuables in your personal item as a matter of course. You can be unexpectedly separated from your carry on when flying with any airline.

The Verdict

Southwest Airline’s carry on dimensions are larger than normal.

This means most people who are bringing their “usual” carry on suitcase are well under the size limits.

Unless you have specifically gone out and bought a large carry on to try to stretch the Southwest carry on bag dimensions to the max then you’ll be under their size limit with your existing carry on.

Don’t bother buying a big jumbo carry on to use only with Southwest unless you fly with the airline regularly.

Fly with a standard size carry on and learn to travel lighter or bring a big personal item to boost your packing capacity.

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