Carry-On Bag 101

There comes a time in every travelers’ days where you have to take a good hard look at the carry-on bag you have. The ugly black bag with the worn handle, broken zipper, stains, and the bad wheel must go to the big conveyor belt in the sky or, in my case, goodwill.

Then a new adventure begins: shopping for the new suitcase. Gone are the days where you pop into a department store and peruse the enormous section of luggage for just the right bag. Now the convenience of the worldwide web has made it easier to see your choices online, but much more difficult to actually get the hands-on experience that a new suitcase purchase requires. I found out first hand that purchasing a carry-on requires stealth investigative techniques. It takes a lot of time and patience online to see a bag you like, inside and out, including pockets, handles and wheels. Also, the airlines have changed their carry-on requirements and you have to search each airline to find the requirements. Just to make things really complicated, each airline sets their own standards and, of course, they are all different. Some of the new rules went into effect March 2, 2014, which means your old carry-on bag may not fit some airlines’ standards now with their new rules. Who knew?! Always check the airline directly.

So, what should you look for in a new carry-on?

  1. Make sure that the bag you want will fit the requirements for the airlines you use most frequently. Ignore the claims or tags that say, “approved for all airlines.”  There is no such standard. I have included a chart of the larger airlines and their requirements at the bottom of this blog. For international travel, it’s always best to check with the airline directly.
  2. Make sure that the bag has structure to it. If you choose a soft-side bag, make sure the bag has sturdy sides and bottom. The bags with no structure are crammed and jostled with other bags and they get crushed along with all your stuff.
  3. Pick a bag that is made from durable fabric. Soft-side bags made from nylon or even better, ballistic nylon, will withstand the abuse of travel. A hard-side piece of luggage should be made from high quality polycarbonate, and not cheap plastic. Polycarbonate is lightweight, high impact resistant, and will last a long time.
  4. Pay attention to the details. Your bag should have strong handles, good zippers (metal zippers are better than plastic), and good quality wheels.

If you have the chance to go to an actual store and touch and feel the bags, then do it. Write down the brand and item number and then search online.  This will save you a lot of time surfing the web.

Traveling is stressful enough. You don’t need your show up at the check-in counter at the airport to realize your bag is not carry-on approved or have a broken zipper mid-trip.  So do your research and good luck in your travels.


Airline Height (in) Width (in) Depth (in) Linear (in) Weight (lbs)
American 22 14 9 45 9
Delta 22 14 9 45
Jet Blue 26 18 12
Southwest 24 26 10
United 22 14 9 45
US Airways 22 14 9
Virgin America 24 16 10 50 30

*To calculate linear inches, add up the length, width and height of your bag.

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