Carry On Luggage Rules   

Look closely at the title above. Do you see it? The double entendre?

Carry on luggage rules. If you’re a frequent traveler to Europe, yes, it does.

But for this discussion it means the airlines have rules for you to carry on luggage, and if you want to stay in their good graces, you'd better follow them.

In order to be successful traveling with only a carry on bag, you need to know and follow the restrictive rules and requirements both global and domestic airlines have imposed on their paying customers.

Traveling domestically in the U.S. [as many travelers do when connecting with an overseas flight] presents what many international visitors feel are lenient luggage restrictions for carry on bags.

Most stateside flights require your carry on bag to be no more than a total of 45 linear inches: 22 x 14 x 9 inches.  

A measure of length, width, and height, added together for your total bag dimension.

Some domestic airlines have resurrected the use of sizing templates to enforce their maxi-mum allowable dimensions for passenger carry on luggage.  

Others are a bit more flexible, allowing the majority of carry on bags on board, unless they’re egregiously over-sized, or the overhead bins are filled to capacity.

Unknown to most U.S. travelers, there are domestic air carriers that also impose a maximum weight of around 40 lbs. for in-cabin luggage. 

There are some U.S. airlines with no published carry on weight restrictions, as well as those that restrict weight more severely. 

Medieval Half-timbered Tudor

There are no uniform size or weight restrictions among U.S. domestic carriers.

Along with a properly sized carryon suitcase, you’re generally allowed to bring on board a second small personal bag, such as a purse, briefcase, laptop case, camera case, or similar small bag.

You’re also allowed to board with 'personal items' like a jacket or coat, umbrella, food for the trip, reading material, and limited medical-assist or infant items.

And if you think these carry on rules are restrictive, think again. Once you get to Europe, things really get tight.

European vs. U.S. Carry On Luggage Restrictions

If you live in the U.S., between home and Europe your international flight begins a funnel-down process for greater restrictions on both carry on luggage – and your total luggage - primarily by weight.

European air carriers have taken the rules for size and weight allowance for travel luggage permitted onboard to restrictive new highs.

[Or lows, as the case might be.]

Early Morning at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction

U.S. flag carriers - airlines that are U.S. owned and operated but fly overseas - usually maintain the same carry on lug-gage requirements for both domestic and international flights.  

This means, if you’re traveling to Europe on a U.S. airline and won’t be flying any-where further on the Continent with intra-European or non-U.S. air carriers, you’ve scored a home run for your luggage.

As long as your carry on bag meets the luggage restrictions for your U.S. airline, any further luggage problems regarding size or weight are eliminated.

But, if your overseas flight is with a European-based carrier [or any airline based outside the United States] the number of bags you travel with, the size of your bags, and the weight of your bags, must all meet the reduced luggage allowance restrictions of the international airline you fly.

Not only are non-U.S. airlines strict in enforcing their rules for oversized, over-weight, and excess luggage, the primary criteria for determining whether or not your bags are within the maximum allowance is their combined weight.

Some European air carriers have ridiculously low weight allowances for carry on luggage.

For instance, Euro-carriers such as Alitalia, British Airways, Finnair, and Virgin Atlantic restrict carry on bag weight to as little as 11–13 lbs.

Clearly, they don’t want you to bring anything on board larger than a purse, briefcase, or [almost empty] day bag.

Few standard sized carry on bags can meet this requirement, even when empty!

Other Euro airline carriers add together the weight of your carry on luggage along with that of any checked luggage you might have to determine if you meet their luggage restrictions for weight.

To make matters worse, travelers who fly Coach or Economy Class [the majority of us] have the smallest total limit for luggage on most European flights.

Correct Airline Luggage Size

To make sure your carry on luggage – and all your luggage – conforms to the rules for the airline you fly, go directly to that airline’s website to read their baggage allowance rules and restrictions.

White Peacocks Resting at St George's Castle

Both domestic and foreign airlines post detailed information about their luggage policies, including what they allow and what they charge.

Or search for airline luggage requirements by carrier, online. You'll find websites offering charts or comprehensive lists with luggage weights, dimensions, and fees allowed on both domestic and international carriers.

But, caveat emptor! It’s almost impossible to keep these charts and lists up to date.

Even though you may tend to take these websites' size and  luggage guideline requirements as gospel, use them as what they are: guidelines.

For the most accurate luggage information for your trip, always go directly to the airline's own source for the final word.

That's the only way to know you meet your specific airline’s policy, and the information you’re counting on is current and correct.

The Carry On Luggage Bottom Line

With all the carry on luggage rules for domestic and international airlines, finding the right travel luggage for your overseas trip has become another chore to add to the trip planning process.

Brussels Guildhall Building Detail

Even when you follow the rules for carry on luggage, you’re still subject to the airline's whim, particularly on flights that are full or almost full. [And when were you last on a flight with vacant seats?]

It's as if the airlines have gone to war with their paying customers, trying to squeeze every dollar, euro, peso, and yen out of your hand. 

So, a warrior-like mentality is a must when choosing your travel luggage, both carryon and checked.

No, I don’t mean aggression, belligerence, or hostility toward airline personnel.

But I do mean making sure you’re prepared.

Know the rules. Pack smartly. Be prepared for changes in both your plans and in airline policies.

Leave absolutely everything at home that is not critical to your survival while you’re away.

The ramifications of not following the rules for carry on luggage will hit you right in the wallet.


I’d rather spend my money, where I actually get some pleasure out of it.


For more details on airline luggage weight and size restrictions for domestic and international airlines, plus allowable linear dimensions, luggage weight, and tips for packing:

Is Your International Carry On Bag Legal? Follow airline carry on bag requirements for hassle-free boarding.

Rethinking Checked Luggage: How to balance what you pack for travel with the airline baggage restrictions on overseas flights.

The Carry On Travel Luggage Dilemma: Using the correct carry on bag creates freedom and flexibility on your overseas trip.

Excess Luggage – How The Airlines Take Your Money. Learn to choose luggage that meets or beats airline luggage restrictions, and keep your money in your pocket.

Return to International Travel Luggage

Travel Tip

When purchasing luggage for your overseas trip, be aware the measure-ments noted on the bag or on the tag are most likely inside dimensions. The luggage maker is marketing the size of the travel bag for packing.

Always measure the outside dimensions of carry on bags, including handles and wheels, before you buy. If you don’t, you may run afoul of airline bag-gage rules and be forced to send your carry on bag as checked luggage.

And, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.

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