What really constitutes a personal item and how it can cost you more.

🚨 Sound the alarm! Airlines are cracking down on the size and measurements of customers’ personal items and it could cost you a lot more than you anticipated. 

In recent months, many airline passengers have encountered stricter carrying-on and checked-bag rules, a result consistent with American Airlines’ record baggage revenue in 2021, generating $7.42 per passenger at a system-wide revenue of $1.22 billion.

Many airlines, particularly ultra-low-cost carriers, charge additional fees for carry-on luggage and personal items such as backpacks, purses, and duffel bags seem to be the type of luggage that airlines are inspecting more closely, according to passengers. 

How are ‘personal items’ defined by airlines?

  • American Airlines defines it as a purse or small handbag that fits under the seat in front of you. Dimensions of the bag should not exceed 18x14x8 inches.

  • Delta Air Lines defines it as a briefcase, small backpack, camera bag, or diaper bag. Personal items are not considered carry-on luggage and do not incur fees.

  • United Airlines defines purses, backpacks, or laptop bags as personal items and they must fit under the seat in front of you. Dimensions cannot exceed 17x10x9 inches.

  • Southwest Airlines doesn’t limit the size of its personal items as long as they fit within the 16.25×13.5×8-inch space under the seat. Personal items include purses, briefcases, cameras, food containers, or laptop computers in cases.

  • Frontier Airlines enforces strict size restrictions on personal items, including handles, wheels, and straps, which measure 14x18x8 inches.

How to avoid having your bag gate-checked

If you’re worried about your personal item being inspected at the gate and being thrown in the belly of the plane, a loophole is to keep medications, mobility devices, or medical equipment on hand. Mahmood Khan, a professor of hospitality and tourism at Virginia Tech, says airlines must be respectful of these items, so explaining the contents of a bag could prevent it from being gate-checked.

If you just can’t stand the thought of checking any bag at all and are also notorious for over-packing, here are some must-have items you may want to consider to save space. Many of these have come in handy for me as I’m still trying to get a grip on traveling light.

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