What Is A Personal Item On A Plane? (What Counts & What Doesn’t)

Last Updated on October 4, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • A personal item is a type of hand luggage sized to fit under an airplane seat
  • Items that count as personal items can be anything you carry while boarding that is smaller than the maximum dimensions specified by the airline you are flying with
  • Personal items need not be bags, any item you carry on the plane like a blanket or large pillow could potentially use up your personal item allowance

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates civil aviation in the United States. 

When an airline makes up it’s hand luggage rules it must specify them in a way that complies with the FAA rules.

The main FAA rule that impacts hand luggage rules is that all baggage must be stowed either in the overhead bin or under the seats before a plane can take off.

Bags left in the aisles would be a safety risk if passengers needed to make an emergency evacuation of the plane.

Most airlines interpret the FAA rules by allowing passengers to bring one piece of carry-on luggage to fit in the overhead bin and one “personal item” to fit under the seat in front.

The personal item is always free but some low cost airlines like Spirit and Frontier now charge to bring overhead bin size carry-on bags. United Basic Economy now also doesn’t permit carry-on luggage.

To try to help passengers understand the size of personal item they can take airlines often give examples.

But these are just examples, you can take any bag that is under the airlines size restrictions for personal items.

Most airlines specify the maximum dimensions your personal item bag can be. 

For example the Frontier, Spirit and American Airlines personal item size limit is 18 x 14 x 8 inches.

United allow a personal item that can be 17 x 10 x 9 inches.

Delta doesn’t provide a specific size saying it just needs to fit under the seat.

You can check more maximum personal item size limits for US airlines here.

Examples of Items That Count As Personal Items

It’s important to realize that you can’t bring two personal items on a plane. So if you can’t bring a purse and laptop bag at the same time.

Any item that you carry on the plane, that isn’t your carry-on luggage, could potentially be considered to be a personal item and use up your personal item allowance.

You can’t carry a large pillow and a purse as personal items. You would need to consolidate the two personal items into one bag.

Items That Don’t Count As Personal Items

  • Bags that are larger than the maximum specified dimensions
  • Bags that don’t fit underneath the airplane seats
  • Diaper bags – Airlines usually exempt diaper bags
  • Soft-sided cooler bags containing breast milk
  • Child Safety Seats
  • Strollers
  • Medical or mobility devices that are necessary
  • Duty free shopping bags
  • Coats, hats, outer garments
  • Reading materials

Some carry on items are in a bit of a grey area. For example umbrellas. Some airlines insist they are packed inside a carry-on bag whereas other airlines ignore them and don’t count them as a personal item.

Low-cost airlines are more strict about enforcing hand luggage rules since this is where they make their profits. Legacy carriers are less strict and you might get away with carrying a few extra items.

As a rule of thumb always make sure that you have space to pack everything you carry on the plane in either your personal item bag or your carry-on bag.

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