Is A Duffel Bag A Personal Item?

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Most airlines allow you to take 2 bags as hand luggage when you travel.

The first bag is carry-on luggage size and the second bag is personal item size.

Airlines don’t specify what types of bag fit into each category. Instead, they are defined by size.

When it comes to personal items, airlines will give examples like this:

  • A purse
  • A handbag
  • A laptop bag
  • A briefcase

Because you don’t see “duffel bag” on the list you might wonder… can a duffel bag be a personal item?

If your duffle bag is small enough it will count as a personal item. So yes a duffel bag can be a personal item depending on how big the duffel bag is and which airline you are going to fly with.

But duffel bags come in lots of different sizes. To qualify as a personal item a duffel bag must fit under the seat in front of you.

Some low-cost airlines like Spirit don’t include carry-on bags in their cheapest tickets. United’s Basic Economy ticket is like this too.

In these cases, a duffel bag that fits under the seat can be a good way to make the most use of their personal item allowances.

You can check if your duffel bag will comply with your airline baggage conditions using the table below:

American Airlines Duffel bags under 18 x 14 x 8 inches are considered personal items.
Delta No official duffel bag as a personal item size limit. Needs to fit under the seat.
SouthwestDuffle bags under 18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches are considered personal items.
United AirlinesBE CAREFUL WITH UNITED AIRLINES. Duffles under 17 x 10 x 9 inches are considered personal items. Unfortunately, this rules out many regular sized backpacks which are wider than 10 inches.
AlaskaNot specified PI size limit. Needs to fit under the seat.
JetblueDuffel bags under 17 x 13 x 8 are considered to be personal items on JetBlue.
SpiritDuffel bags under 18 x 14 x 8 are considered to be personal items on Spirit. Check my packing light tips to fit all your things in a Spirit PI bag.

Keep in mind that if you are taking a carry on and a duffel bag as a personal item you will be carrying a lot of baggage. If the flight is busy and the overhead bins are filling up you might be asked to check some of your luggage at the gate.

A small duffel bag is generally permitted as a personal item if it fits under the seat but if you try to walk on looking like a packhorse you might be asked to hand over some of your luggage to get checked in the hold.

Is A Duffel Bag Considered A Personal Item With American Airlines?

American Airlines allow you to travel with a carry on and a personal item. If you are taking a duffel bag as your personal item you need to make sure it is smaller than 18 x 14 x 8.

Jennifer had problems on her return flight trying to use a duffel as a personal item: 

But there is no reason a bag should be refused just because it’s a duffel bag. The rules are simple:

Your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. The dimensions should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches.

Delta Personal Item

Delta doesn’t specify a size limit for a personal item.

They give examples like a purse, briefcase, camera bag, or diaper bag. And they say that you can bring other bags that are a similar size to those mentioned above.

Loretta asked them on Twitter about bringing a duffle bag as a personal item:

You do need to make sure your duffel will fit under the seat in front.

While Delta don’t give size limits for personal items they will check your flight and seat for you if you contact customer services, tell them exactly what size your duffel bag is, and ask if it will fit under your seat.

Southwest Duffel Bag

Your one personal item can be 18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 “ when you fly with Southwest so if your duffle bag is smaller than that you’ll be okay.

Using A Duffel Bag As A Personal Item With United Airlines

United have a very small idea of what your one personal item should be.

Their size limit of 17 x 10 x 9 is smaller than other airlines.

This makes it harder to find a small duffel bag that will work with United.

And if you plan to travel on a basic economy ticket they can be quite strict about the maximum dimensions allowed. Your duffel bag must fit in the United sizer to be allowed.

Spirit & Frontier

Spirit Airlines and Frontier airlines both allow personal items that are 18 x 14 x 8. Since their cheapest ticket does not include a carry-on they are used to passengers using duffle bags as personal items.

You do need to be careful to make sure your duffle does not exceed their size limits.

The Verdict

In principle, there is nothing wrong with using a small duffel bag as a personal item. The same goes for a small backpack, gym bag, weekender bag, laptop bag, or tote.

It doesn’t matter what you call your bag if it’s under the size limits and fits under the seat in front you will be okay.

So it’s important to check your size limits before you reach the airport.

If you are packing two bags and really trying to maximize your allowance by taking one carry-on and a larger duffel bag you might be asked to gate check one or both of your bags.

Duffels are great because they are squeezable so if you don’t pack it full you should be able to make it fit in the sizer.

Travelers flying with low-cost airlines such as Spirit or Frontier should seriously consider packing a duffel bag or a backpack instead of a suitcase.

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