Does a Backpack Count as a Personal Item?

Does a Backpack Count as a Personal Item?

A lot of people love to travel. And air travel is one of the most preferred ways of travelling around. Be it a domestic trip or and international, airways are the most convenient and comfortable means of transport.

Even though there are lots of benefits of travelling by airplanes, there also are some complications that you cannot avoid. People have a lot of questions regarding air travel, but one of the most common questions is “Is my backpack a personal item or a carry-on?” Today, this question will be answered for you, so that the next time you have a backpack with you while getting on a flight, you are free of the confusion.

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.

Though the answer is pretty straightforward, different airlines have different sets of rules when it comes to personal items and carry-ons. Let’s see what some of the major airlines say about this

  • 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.
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Other than a backpack, you can also carry smaller bags and purses, or jackets and similar piece of clothings. You can put these items under the seat in front of you and place the backpack in the overhead cabin, or you can put them on you while in the seat. But if you are a frequent flyer, you know that people don’t travel with just a backpack, except for those businessmen. Depending on the trip, you can take carry-on bags with you in addition to the personal item.

Different airlines have different rules on taking along a carry-on bag. Usually, the standard size of a carry-on bag is set to be a maximum 9 x 14 x 22 inches or 45 linear inches. Anything over this size would need to be checked in. Almost all the major airlines like Delta, United, and American Airlines allow you a carry-on of the standard size. But Southwest Airlines allow a carry-on that is 10 x 16 x 24 inches in size.

Unlike sizes, there are no limitations on the weight of the carry-on baggage. Although, it should be easy to lift and place it in the overhead cabin even if there is no assistance available.

But the size and weight of the baggage depends on other factors too. And one of the important ones is the arrangement of your stuff while packing the bag. Some people prefer to fold their clothes neatly and put them flat in their bags, some prefer rolling them up to save extra space, and some just don’t care and straight up throw their clothes in and zip the bag.

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There are also different types of bags available in the market that are made specifically for air travel. These bags let you pack in a way that you can carry whatever you want, without having to compromise on the size limits.

Most common types of bags used for easy travels are compartment bags, packing cubes, and compression bags. All of them have their own features and benefits. They also can be combined with each other to ensure more space is saved for extra items. Let’s have a closer look on the details of these bags

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.

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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.

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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.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

A 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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