Does a Backpack Count as a Personal Item?

Does a Backpack Count as a Personal Item?

As an experienced traveller, the question “does a backpack count as a personal item, or does it count as a carry-on?” may sound familiar. The rules of air travel can be a bit tricky to navigate, especially when it comes to baggage regulations. 

Not knowing the difference could land you in some tight spots at the check-in counter. This article aims to clear up any confusion and help you pack smarter for your next trip!

To answer the question in simple terms, if you can fit your backpack under the seat easily, without needing to put it in the overhead cabin, then it can be counted as a personal item. But if the backpack is a little larger, that you can easily carry on your shoulders but does not fit under the seat, then it would be counted as a carry-on item. And if it doesn’t even fit in the overhead cabin, then it needs to be checked in.

Does a Backpack Count as a Personal Item or Carry-On?

Airline-endorsed size guides provide measurements for those seeking specifics on pWhen taking a flight, we all question ourselves; “does a backpack count as a personal item or does it count as a carry-on?” 

It’s a common query and the simple answer is a qualifying ‘Yes.’ 

The categorization can vary based on the airlines’ guidelines. A backpack is generally considered a personal item if it fits under the seat in front of you. Airlines allow one carry-on and one personal item per passenger. 

Your backpack counts as a carry-on if it’s larger and needs overhead space. However, compact carry-on backpacks can also be counted as a personal item.

So, yes, your backpack can count either way—literal turning points are its size and where it’s stored during the flight. It all depends on the airlines you’ve chosen and the backpack’s dimensions. 

The front seat in front of you can accommodate a personal item that is small enough to fit. For anything more substantial, it counts as a carry-on needing storage in the overhead bins. 

Now, all airlines follow this, but the measurements may vary. Personal item carry-on and carry-on regulations. The seat dimensions and under-the-seat space might also affect the category your backpack fits into. 

So it seems the end decision is hinged on “‘can’ it fit under, or does it ‘need’ overhead?” It’s always recommended to check with your airline first to avoid any inconvenience during your journey. 

Now, isn’t it fun learning the travel ins and outs? Safe and smooth travels, folks!

How Do Airlines Fare in Enforcing these?

backpack as a Personal Item rules
  • Delta is pretty straightforward with their rules about baggage- if it fits under the seat in front of you, it is a personal item. There are no set dimensions for that. But for carry-on bags the dimensions are 22 x 14 x 9 inches. If your carry-on is over this size, then you cannot put it in the overhead cabin and will need to put it in the check in.
  • United Airlines have a similar view to Delta, but with little differences. They say if your backpack can fit under the seat, it can be considered as a personal item. While the dimensions for carry-on bags are the same, they also have dimensions for personal items which are 9 x 10 x 17 inches.
  • Southwest Airlines differ a little from the two and do not have any set dimensions for your personal item. According to them, the rule of thumbs is that if your backpack fits under the seat, it can be counted as a personal item. But having said that, if your personal item can be placed in the overhead cabin, then you can bring another smaller item such as a bag or a purse, and place it under the seat.
  • jetBlue has the same rules as United Airlines. According to jetBlue, if your backpack fits under the seat then it can be considered as a personal item. But the dimensions are a little different than what United offers. jetBlue allows a backpack no larger than 17 x 13 x 8, for it to be counted as a personal item.
  • American Airlines have mixed rules when it comes to personal items and carry-on bags. They say that your backpack is your personal item, if it fits under the seat in front of you. And it can be considered as a carry-on bag if you put it in the overhead cabin. The size of the personal item should not be larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches.
Clothing in backpack for travel

Factors Determining if Your Backpack Counts as a Personal Item

Every experienced traveller knows that items can be categorized as either a personal item or as carry-on by airlines. A lot depends on the airline’s specific item policy. 

The bag size limits play a significant role in deciding if your backpack fits under airlines’ personal item category or gets classified as carry-on luggage. 

So, can your backpack be a personal item? More than often, it can. But, you should consider certain factors. 

Dimensions of your backpack are essential. Most airlines have specific size limits mentioned in their bag policy. Notably for bags declared as personal items, the standard dimensions should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches

If your backpack exceeds these dimensions, it’s more likely to be classified as carry-on. But remember, these dimensions can vary based on airlines. Therefore, it won’t hurt to double-check. Make your travel easy and hassle-free!

One more determining factor can be the contents of your bag. Some airlines might allow a backpack as a personal item if it doesn’t contain items that are usually stored in carry-on luggage. Though, this varies from airline to airline. 

So, you should always review your chosen airlines’ personal item and carry-on policies. Understanding their item policy might just be what you need for a smooth, stress-free journey. 

So, go ahead, pack your bags wisely and make your travel plans now.

Dimensions of Personal Items Vs. Carry-On

As an experienced traveller, I can tell you that the dimensions of your personal items and your carry-on bags can make or break your travel experience. A

irlines have different size limits, but in general, your personal item should fit under the seat in front of you. This generally puts personal items at a max size limit of about 18 x 14 x 8 inches.

When we’re talking about carry-on bags, airlines are usually a bit more generous. The size limits typically max out at 22 x 14 x 9 inches. These carry-on bags should be able to fit in the overhead bins comfortably. But of course, it would be best if you always checked your airline’s specific limits.

So, where does this leave your backpack? Well, it really depends on its dimensions and the airline. Some airlines regard a backpack as a personal item if it fits the personal item’s size limits. Others, however, may count it as one of your carry-on bags, especially if it’s larger.

In my travels, I’ve learned that packing light is key, so I often travel with just a personal item and use my backpack as my primary luggage. 

This way, I can navigate airports faster, and I don’t have to worry about the suitcase size or waiting at the luggage carousel post-landing. It all boils down to the item limit and dimensions deemed suitable by airlines.

Compartment Bag

Travel Backpacks: Can They Pass as Personal Items?

As an experienced traveller, I’ve often found myself at the front of the airline queue, backpack slung over my shoulder, wondering, “Does this count as a personal item or a carry-on bag?” The answer, my friends, isn’t as simple as you might think. It could depend on a variety of factors.

Carry-on backpacks, like travel backpacks, vary in size and function, and can sometimes blur the line between a personal item and a carry-on. Whether your backpack counts as a personal item somewhat depends on its dimensions. 

Generally, a backpack that can comfortably fit under the seat in front of you would be considered a personal item. However, a larger backpack that needs to be stowed in the overhead compartment would typically be classified as a carry-on bag.

But here’s a wrench to add to the works: not all airlines handle carry-on and personal items the same way. While one airline might count your trusty travel backpack as a personal item, another might identify it as carry-on. 

Thus, it’s essential to check the specific carry-on and personal item guidelines for each airline you travel with. And remember, it’s always safer to err on the side of caution. 

If you think your backpack could be considered a carry-on bag, be prepared to check it if necessary.

So, can your backpack pass as a personal item? Sometimes. But as always in travel as in life – it’s best to check before you go!

How to Efficiently Pack Your Carry-On Bag

Okay, let’s get into the heart of the matter: packing your carry-on bag. How do you fare? It’s something we all must carry on our shoulders when we travel, isn’t it? Packing efficiently can be such a chore, can’t it?

You might be wondering: how in the world can I fit all my necessities into a single carry-on bag? 

Log onto an online forum or a free video tutorial, and it’s likely you’ll encounter strategies as countless as the weight of the bag you’re aiming to pack efficiently. But allow me to share some tips from my bag-packing log.

First, spreading the weight effectively matters. Don’t just dump everything into your bag. Distribute the weight evenly. 

Think of your carry-on bag as a puzzle. Each clothing article, each accessory fits somewhere. A correctly packed bag will not just feel lighter but also fare better during travel. 

The bonus? You don’t need any credit card to utilize these free techniques. Each packing strategy can turn your carry-on into a compact, mobile closet. Remember, you don’t have to do this online; just practice at home with your bag.

The art of packing is staying stress-free, strategic, and holding firm to the belief that yes, you can make your carry-on bag your best travel companion. After all, aren’t bags supposed to carry our weight, not add to it?

What Are My Options then?

Compartment Bags:

These type of bags are one of the best options when you have a lot of stuff to carry, and all of it won’t fit in a regular sized bag. Compartment bags are usually accurate on the carry-on size limits (9 x 14 x 22). But you can also find bags that are a little smaller in size but can fit the same amount of stuff easily.

As the name suggests, a compartment bag comes with a lot of compartments that can hold a range of items. You can pack your clothes, electronics, food, cosmetics, books, and whatnot, easily in to these bags. The only thing you’d need to worry about is the weight of the bags. Though there aren’t any limitations on the amount of weight you can carry, it is always a good thing to know how much weight your bag can endure.

Packing cubes:

Packing cubes are basically smaller sized pouches or zipped bags that you can use in order to pack you stuff in a compartmentalised manner. You can get a variety of packing cubes in terms of size and shapes. You can use one packing cube to pack all your clothes together, and another one for your cosmetics, and a third one for electronics.

There is no limitation on the number of cubes you can use. But in reality, packing cubes are not the best when it comes to saving extra space. You are only dividing your stuff in separate cubes. And once you put all those cubes together in you carry-on bag, they end up taking the same amount of space as your stuff normally would have. In the end, they are a good way to divide your stuff, but are not quite efficient in terms of saving space.

Compression bags:

Enter Compression bags! These are a star when it comes to efficient packing. Compression bags are a little similar to packing cubes, but are entirely different at the same time. They are small plastic bags in which you can pack your stuff, and then remove all the air from the bag to compress it in size.

Some compression bags come with one way pressure valves. It means that once you pack your stuff in a bag, you can open the valve to let all the air out of the bag. These vacuum sealed bags wrap around the item inside. You can pack one or two clothes in a single bag and compress it, which would make it smaller in size and take up lesser space than usual.

But according to TSA, you should avoid packing compression bag in your carry-on, for security reasons, but are free to use them in your check in baggage. In such a case you can always use zip lock bags. They are equally efficient when packing your stuff, and even though you can’t fully compress them, you can always squeeze a great amount of air out of them and save up some extra space in you carry-on.

Does a Backpack Count as a Personal Item conclusion

Lastly, it all depends on how you pack your carry-on bags and what items are you carrying in them. Some items like Scissors are permitted but some aren’t so always worth checking the airline. If the number of items is practically higher than any of the carry-on sized bags can pack, you may need to rethink some of the items. If you are carrying more clothes, try combining some your options. For example, you can roll up your clothes and put them in zip lock bags, which can then be packed in a compartment bag or a normal bag.

All it takes is a little mix and match of some or all of the tricks to overcome the limitations of packing a carry-on bag.


Q: Does a backpack count as a personal item or a carry-on on a flight?
A: The categorization of whether a backpack is a personal item or carry-on can vary based on the airline’s guidelines.

Generally, it is considered a personal item if it fits under the seat in front of you. But if the backpack is larger and requires overhead space, it may be classified as a carry-on.
2. Q: What dimensions should my backpack have if I wish to consider it as a personal item?
A: As a rule of thumb, most airlines specify that a personal item should not surpass the dimensions of 18 x 14 x 8 inches.

However, these dimensions are subject to variations depending on the airline, so it’s best to verify beforehand.
3. Q: Can the contents of my bag influence its categorization as a personal item or a carry-on?
A: Yes, some airlines may categorize a backpack as a personal item only if it doesn’t contain items typically stored in carry-on luggage.

It’s recommended to always check specific airline policies before packing.
4. Q: What are general size limits for a carry-on bag?
A: Carry-on bags’ size limit usually maxes out at 22 x 14 x 9 inches and should be able to fit comfortably in the overhead bins.

But remember that the specifics can vary depending on the airline.
5. Q: I’m having trouble packing effectively. Do you have any practical tips to share?
A: Certainly! A significant tip is not to cram everything into your bag but, instead, distribute the weight evenly. View your bag as a puzzle and let each article of clothing or accessory fit somewhere.

It should not only feel lighter but also navigate better during your travels.

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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