Last Updated on April 26, 2021
Duffel bags come in all shapes and sizes so some duffel bags are allowed as carry-on luggage and some are not.
To make sure it will be allowed you need to measure your duffle bag and check it against the baggage size limits of the airline you are flying with.
Different airlines have different size limits and some don’t even allow a “carry-on bag” at all instead only letting you take an under-seat personal item. As it happens duffel bags make great under-seat bags too.
Read on to learn how to match your duffel bag to your airlines carry-on rules.
How To Measure A Duffel Bag
Duffel bags that are not perfectly rectangular are inefficient as carry-on luggage.
In theory, you need to measure this widest points of your bag. But if your bag is not fully packed then it will be squeezable. So you can measure the squashed size of your duffel bag… within reason.
The squeezability factor is one of the reasons why soft-sided bags make great carry-on luggage. If your bag is too big just remove a sweater and squash it down. You can’t do that with a rigid hard-sided suitcase.
To measure a duffel bag you need to figure out the length, width, and height.
Take this bag for example…
It’s not as wide at the top near the handle as it is at the bottom.
If your bag is packed full and unable to be squashed smaller you need to measure the length of the bottom. If it’s not packed full you can squeeze it and then measure the length.
Remember that the goal is to make your bag fit in the rectangular airline sizing frame.
Imagine putting your duffle bag in a cardboard box. Then measure that cardboard box. As far as the airlines are concerned that’s the dimensions of your duffle bag.
They don’t care that because of the awkward shape your bag is actually a bit smaller. They will always measure the longest part of the bag.
For this reason duffel bags that are shaped closer to a rectangle give the most storage capacity.
This weekender bag design might look prettier but the space in those corners is wasted as far as using it for carry-on baggage.
So if you are shopping for a duffel bag to use as a carry-on and you want to maximize the packing capacity choose a rectangular shape that is close to the carry-on size limit of the airline you will be flying on.
The Two Types Of Hand Luggage
Now that you’ve got your duffel bag measurements you need to know what your maximum size can be to use your duffel bag as a carry-on.
Most airlines allow you to bring two bags onto the plane and you are allowed to use duffel bags as your carry-on.
The first thing you need to figure out is are you bringing your duffel bag on the plane as a personal item or as a carry-on bag.
Many people mentally discount the personal item because they imagine that it’s just the airline allowing you to carry your purse.
In fact, the size of the personal item allowance is quite substantial. If you struggle to fit everything you need in your carry-on then making full use of the personal item is often the best way to get around carry-on size limits.
Here are two bags illustrated to scale. The personal item in this example is 18 x 14 x 8 and the carry-on is 22 x 14 x 9.
As you can see the personal item isn’t all that much smaller than the full size carry-on.
In this example, the personal item bag is 33 liters, and the carry-on is 45 liters. 33 liters is a lot more than the typical purse. Check your airline for their personal item size limits.
In this photo the pilot is bringing 2 bags, a duffel bag as a personal item and a rolling wheeled carry on.
Bringing A Duffel Bag On Low Cost Airlines
Low-cost airlines like Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant don’t allow you to bring two bags unless you pay extra fees. For these low-cost fares, you can only bring one personal item bag.
To bring a duffel bag on a low-cost airline it will need to be personal item size rather than overhead bin size. This means it will need to fit under the seat on front of you.
The size of personal items varies across airlines. Spirit will allow an 18 x 14 x 8 inch personal item whereas a United personal item is only 17 x 10 x 9 inches. You can find all the size limits for personal items on this page.
If a carry-on allowance is included in the fare the maximum size is usually 22 x 14 x 9 inches in the United States. If you are flying internationally check his page.
You are allowed to use duffel bags as carry-on bags if they are under 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Just make sure that you are able to lift it into the overhead bin.
Using A Duffel Bag As Checked Luggage
Duffel bags are allowed as checked luggage too. Nobody says that your bag must have wheels.
You can even use a 62 linear inches duffle bag as a checked bag. Though a duffel bag that size could start to be hard to carry because of the weight.
If you still want to use a duffel bag as checked luggage but don’t want to carry it then consider using a luggage cart like this one.
Divorcing your baggage wheels from the bag can be an interesting way to pack and travel. Often when luggage breaks it’s the wheels that go first. You end up replacing the entire bag because the wheels and pack are integral.
When you have a folding luggage cart and a duffel bag or a backpack you have flexibility. You can choose to leave the wheels at home if the bag isn’t too heavy or you won’t be carrying it long.
Or if you don’t feel like carrying your duffel bag you can strap it to the trolley. If the trolley breaks you keep the bag and just get a new trolley.
A duffel bag can be used as a carry-on if it is under the size limit of the airline you are flying with.
Duffel bags also make ideal personal item bags. If you fly regularly on low-cost airlines then a duffel bag is the best way to make the most of the free baggage allowance.