What is the TSA Carry-On Size Limit for Packing?

By Richard Corrigan

Tips to help you make the most of your carry-on space

What is the TSA Carry-On Size Limit for Packing?

As you're trying to cram your carry-on bag into that tiny overhead compartment above your seat, the last thing you want to hear is the voice of your flight attendant speaking those three dreaded words: "It won't fit." So much for all your careful packing. Next time you fly, save yourself the headaches and checked baggage fees by taking a good look at your airline's carry-on limits in advance. You'll be glad you did.

Carry-on size limits

While the Transportation Security Administration has a lot of important rules regarding what can go in your carry-on bag, it doesn't actually have any firm rules regarding luggage size limits. Size restrictions are left up to the individual airlines to decide, so it's important to know which airline you're flying with and what its particular rules are.

Weight and dimensions

Depending on your airline, you may have to contend with size limits, weight limits or both. Delta, JetBlue and United Airlines, for example, all restrict carry-on bags to 22 by 14 by 9 inches, including handles and wheels. None of these airlines have specific weight restrictions, except Delta, which restricts carry-on bags to 15 or 22 pounds on certain international flights. JetBlue stresses that your bag must be light enough that you can easily place it in the overhead compartment without assistance, but the airline sets no specific weight limit. It's up to you, the passenger, to know the rules of your particular airline.

Get the most out of your space

Once you've checked your airline's carry-on dimensions, it's time to figure out how to maximize that space. You have some options here, and you don't have to break any rules to bring a few extras onto the plane.

  • Take advantage of your personal item: Most airlines allow you to bring aboard one personal item in addition to your carry-on bag, so take advantage of the opportunity. Size restrictions vary – United's is 9 by 10 by 17 inches, while JetBlue's is 8 by 13 by 17 inches – and some airlines say only that it must fit under the seat in front of you. If your airline doesn't specify, then it's best not to push your luck too far, but a purse, small backpack, briefcase, laptop bag or camera bag usually fits the bill. 

  • Freebies: Most airlines, including Delta and United, allow you to bring certain items with you in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item. Be sure to check with your airline, but commonly accepted items include jackets, umbrellas, food or merchandise purchased in the airport, diaper bags, breast pumps and assistive devices like crutches or a collapsible wheelchair. 

Pack like a pro

You can also get the most out your carry-on space by packing smarter. Roll your clothes instead of folding them so that they take up less space, or pack items into individual resealable bags to keep them organized. Wear your heaviest winter clothes with you on the plane so you don't have to pack them, and remember the TSA's notorious 3-1-1 rule for liquids: All liquids, gels and aerosols must be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less, and they must all fit inside a single quart-sized zip-top bag.

About the Author

Richard Corrigan has been a full-time professional writer since 2010. His areas of expertise include travel, sports and recreation, gardening, landscaping and the outdoors. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from SUNY Geneseo in 2009.