What is a standard size carry-on?

September 26, 2011

When it comes to carry-on luggage, the line between acceptable and unacceptable luggage is very thin. It’s a line that we all toe every time we travel but it would be nice to know exactly what the maximum allowable limit will be. I have seen some luggage make it on the plane as a carry-on that was so big they should have had to buy it a ticket. Obviously they have the little carry-on luggage bin at the airport for reference but this has come to be more of a recommendation than any kind of guideline. So what is the standard size carry-on? Unfortunately the answer is not so easy as to be able to wrap it up in a single sentence but we’ll dissect the question and formulate a consensus.

The short answer is that every airline has a different maximum allotted size for their carry-on luggage. So while your High Sierra luggage may work with one airline it won’t work for another. Southwest Airlines puts their maximum carry-on luggage size at 10x16x24in whereas JetBlue’s maximum is 12x18x26. United Airlines brings up the rear with a maximum carry-on luggage size of only 9x14x22. To meet these shifting demands of carry-on luggage size, luggage manufacturers have adapted. They are aware of the fickle nature of carry-on rules which is why they generally produce luggage from an aggregate average to make sure that you are within or close to the carry-on luggage requirements.

The nice thing about airlines is that they won’t take out a ruler and measure your bag. They actually generally let people get away with a lot. If your bag is particularly large and conspicuous they will make you put it in the carry-on bin before you get on the plane. However, once most bags are packed they won’t fit in this bin. The best thing you can do is to carry luggage that is as close to the limit as possible and keep a low profile.

Choosing the right luggage is based more on a rule of thumb. Don’t try to get away with too much because they will make you check your bag if it won’t fit in the overhead bin. Get there early so you can be the first on the plane – this will guarantee that get overhead space. And finally, don’t try to pass a regular sized bag off as a carry-on. There are many great carry-on size suitcases available that can fit a lot and will make your trip hassle-free – leaving you time to do the crossword with your Cross Pens.

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