Find the Best Personal Item Bag for Travel by Air (2023)

The best personal item bag for travel by air today may not be the one you’ve used before. Here’s what airlines require now.

Flown anywhere with what the airlines universally refer to as a “personal item” lately? Many travelers are tripped up by ever-changing carry on luggage regulations, some of which forbid a carry on suitcase altogether. All of a sudden, it seems, the best personal item bag for air travel might not be the one you’re used to carrying and you’ll wind up with a checked bag instead of a personal carry-on item.

best personal item carry on options

Certain airlines make you pay for space in the overhead bin, depending upon your ticket class. Still others restrict size and dimensions to levels beyond tiny. It behooves savvy travelers to research and purchase options for the best travel personal item bag to serve in different scenarios.

The best personal bag for airlines on flight “A” may work, but not qualify as a personal item on airline “B,” and if no overhead space is available it must fit under the seat. This is when the biggest personal item bag is going to be a travel fail. It’s all very confusing! The most important thing is to check the requirements of every airline you’ll be flying on your trip. A larger carry-on just might not be practical.

The best personal item for carry on will meet your needs in all, or at least most of, these scenarios. Read on for our assessments and tips.

best personal item bag for travel by air overhead compartments
Photo by Chris Brignola on Unsplash

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The Best Personal Item Bag Fits Most Scenarios

In a perfect world, you’d have a personal item bag that would see you through any potential check-in scenario. But as we all know, the airlines are doubling down on passenger carry on restrictions. The best personal item bag for plane configurations that vary has to be versatile.

Frontier and American Airlines have different personal item sizes, for example. Budget airlines may not even allow a second bag as well as a personal item, depending on the fare type.

how to choose the best personal item bag

Many are adding fees designed to, depending upon what you believe, cut down on the amount of cabin baggage as seat configurations, increase the number of bodies in coach, or gouge paying customers for stuff that used to be free.

We also get a lot readers who are looking for dimensions equivalent to 9x10x17 bag. Depending upon the airline, personal item bag requirements will vary, though, so make sure you consult with their individual websites for the type of bag allowed. The best airline personal bag won’t necessarily work on every carrier.

Different Carry-On Bag Strokes for Different Airlines

When your personal item on flight “A” sails through with you onto the plane with no issues, but fails on your next flight because the overhead compartment is smaller or not available for your use, it’s a frustration. The best personal carry on item is going to be versatile in that it will have some “give” – a semi-soft material will fit under an aisle seat whose space might be compromised with an electrical or USB floor outlet. It’s happened to us!

We’ve also seen more than one hapless passenger try to convince a hard-shelled spinner suitcase to fit under an airline seat. Needless to say, the rolling carry-on bag wasn’t going to cooperate. A rolling suitcase with in-line wheels instead of spinners that stick out (and are vulnerable to snapping off), as well as a flexible fabric material might have made all the difference for these unhappy travelers.

Here’s a quick table we put together showing some of the differences on U.S. domestic airlines along with examples that meet the requirements as of this writing:

Personal Item Bag for Spirit Airlines - a purse or a small backpackPersonal Item Bag Frontier Airlines - a purse, handbag or briefcasePersonal Item Bag for Delta, AA - 1 purse, briefcase, camera bag, diaper bag, or 1 laptop computerPersonal Item Bag United Airlines - purse, briefcase, laptop bagPersonal Item Bag Southwest Airlines - purses, briefcases, cameras, food containers, or laptops (case included)
18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) including handles and wheels18 by 14 by 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) including handles and wheels18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) must fit under the seat in front of you9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm) must fit in overhead or under seat in front of youPersonal items must fit in the 16.25” (L) x 13.5” (W) x 8” (H) space under the seat. Note this is the smallest dimension within the fleet. There may be more room available on different aircraft.
q? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B09R2KT52V&Format= SL160 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=personalitem delseycarryon 20&language=en USir?t=personalitem delseycarryon 20&language=en US&l=li2&o=1&a=B09R2KT52Vq? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B0BQ39GP9N&Format= SL160 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=personalitem delseycarryon 20&language=en USir?t=personalitem delseycarryon 20&language=en US&l=li2&o=1&a=B0BQ39GP9Nq? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B01B3I7L7W&Format= SL160 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=personalitem boardingblueduffel 20ir?t=personalitem boardingblueduffel 20&l=li2&o=1&a=B01B3I7L7Wq? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B0725CF2LL&Format= SL160 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=personalitem amazontravweekendersmall 20ir?t=personalitem amazontravweekendersmall 20&l=li2&o=1&a=B0725CF2LLq? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B01N1SRGAZ&Format= SL160 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=personalitem amazonbackpacktable 20ir?t=personalitem amazonbackpacktable 20&l=li2&o=1&a=B01N1SRGAZ
DELSEY Paris Chatelet 2.0 Softside Luggage Under-Seater with 2 Wheels, 15.75 x 8.25 x 16.5 inches
Mixi Carry On Spinner with Front Laptop Pocket 18-inches:16.14'' x 9.45'' x 16.54''(Not including wheels and handles)BoardingBlue Soft Personal Item 17" Under Seat Duffel - 17 x 13 x 9 inchesTravel Weekender Overnight Carry-on Shoulder Duffel Tote Bag - 6 x 11 x 14 inchesAirlines Personal Item Laptop Backpack - 18 x 13 x 8 inches
Click here for details and latest priceClick here for details and latest priceClick here for details and latest priceClick here for details and latest priceClick here for details and latest price

As such, our specific recommendations for the best carry on personal item are going to reflect these realities. It’s not just that we prefer them, it’s that we’ve come to prefer them because they work in today’s air travel climate.

Tip: Looking for additional luggage recommendations? Check out our latest update: Which Luggage is Best for Travel

The Best Personal Item Bag for Women

Women have some fun choices in terms of personal items. Because we’ve carried purses and totes forever, we will often already have a bag or two that will suffice. After all, the best personal item bag for travel is one that will hold all the things you normally carry with you, along with the extras you decide to bring to make your flight comfortable.

The best personal carry on bag for a woman will depend on flight length and distance, domestic vs international, whether you’re changing climates at your destination and other variables.

Can you bring a carry on with shoulder straps and a backpack with you in the cabin?

You certainly can! Just make sure the items you have conform with airline regulations. A small backpack suitable for stowing under the seat in front of you can be chosen from fun patterns and materials that coordinate with your fashion statement.

Many people are looking for a 9 x 10 x 17 backpack option. Change from your personal item on flight 1 to another on flight 2 depending upon your need for additional space (or in the rare event you’ve managed to end up with fewer items since the last boarding).

Tip: Check out Passing Thru’s New Amazon Travel Shoppe for curated collections of packing, carry-on luggage, and travel lifestyle items specifically selected for stylish convenience.

The Best Personal Item Bag for Men

When men are searching for the best personal item for carry on purposes, they’re often looking for personal item luggage that will handle tech essentials or a camera bag for equipment. This allows them to avoid the security risks with checking valuable equipment. Men often prefer best personal item backpack options, along with duffel bag or messenger bag options.

Protecting valuables with the best carry on personal item can be challenging, but we managed to find several items that fit the bill. Can you bring a carry on and a backpack? Yes, with one of these you certainly can.

Note that men are often searching for the best laptop bag for air travel, using it as a personal travel bag by packing a change of clothing in for short trips.

Tip: Check out our Travel Tech Essentials top picks for digital warriors on the go!

The Best Personal Item Bag for International or Long Haul Trips

The best personal item bag for travel on international flights or long hauls with stopovers are often going to have to serve in tandem with a regular carry on which together will hold all the necessities for the trip. The reason for this is that many travelers are reluctant to check their bags all the way through on a multi-leg flight. When you have a lot of personal items, bag interior configurations matter, too.

We’ve been lucky so far, but we know it’s better when switching airlines on different international legs to retrieve luggage from baggage claim and undergo the check in process again. This can be a real pain, but as full time travelers, we’re insufficiently minimalist to go carry on only on most itineraries. On occasion, we’ve stored luggage at a regional airport knowing that we’ll return to fly out of that location, but those times have been rare.

So, what should you look for in similar circumstances? Chances are you’ll be schlepping this bag fair distances in the airport, upon arrival, and maybe over cobblestones or up multiple flights of steps depending on the location and type of your accommodations. The best personal item bag for travel on long haul, multi-leg trips will have convenience features. See that your choice comes with bag features from this list:

  • a trolley sleeve to slip over the handle of your larger roller bag so that you can double them up
  • multiple interior compartments to keep smaller items organized and protected
  • a padded laptop sleeve
  • slots for smaller electronics – phone, reader or tablet
  • a variety of exterior pockets to keep travel documents and other important items you need to grab in a hurry accessible
  • an adjustable handle – if it’s a roller (and we recommend that it is) – to accommodate a smaller bag size with comfortable height

Fortunately, manufacturers have given careful thought to features the best carry-on personal item should have. We’ve selected several here that will perform well at affordable prices.

Even with all this information, the perfect personal item doesn’t necessarily exist. You’ll want to evaluate features like a spacious main compartment, individual sections for small items, easy access to credit cards and tech items, slip pockets, water resistant sections for swimwear, mesh pockets for gear, water bottle side pocket, a laptop compartment, and lockable zippers. Part of the reason a great personal item works is that its features accommodate your carry-on items and travel essentials. So the best personal carry-on bag is as individual as you are!

Pinnable Images

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best personal item luggage

Tips for Trip Success

Book Your Flight
Find an inexpensive flight by using Kayak, a favorite of ours because it regularly returns less expensive flight options from a variety of airlines.

Book Your Hotel or Special Accommodation
We are big fans of We like their review system and photos. If we want to see more reviews and additional booking options, we go to Expedia.

You Need Travel Insurance!
Good travel insurance means having total peace of mind. Travel insurance protects you when your medical insurance often will not and better than what you get from your credit card. It will provide comprehensive coverage should you need medical treatment or return to the United States, compensation for trip interruption, baggage loss, and other situations.Find the Perfect Insurance Plan for Your Tripimage 9133145 14418597

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Saturday 26th of December 2020

Very impressive and easy to read. Thanks

Jozab john

Sunday 23rd of August 2020

This is a great site and shares very nice information with us. i am a photographer and carry different cameras when i go for work, now i want the best backpacks for my camera. thanks


Thursday 13th of August 2020

Hi, mam, this is great information, I read your post, i am a student of medical college, in nursing. i have already a bag but now i want to buy a new and durable stylish backpack, so i want your recommendation. thanks

E Beachy

Wednesday 10th of October 2018

You corrected the personal item size for United (9 x 10 x 17"), however, the bag you recommend for this is "6 x 11 x 14 inches". The measurements "average out," but is that acceptable to United or not? Can I fudge on one measurement if I make up for it in another one?

Betsy Wuebker

Wednesday 10th of October 2018

Hi - Because it's soft-sided and flexible, it should work fine. I took a look at the specific questions and answers on the item in Amazon to see if anyone had used it on United specifically. No one had. One person expressed doubt but hadn't tried it. Another person had used it on an airline with smaller restrictions: " I flew with this bag on Allegiant Airlines and their bag limits are 7 x 15 x 16." It seems like you'd most likely be fine if you didn't overstuff the bag.

When Looking for the Best Carry On Luggage Vera Bradley Can Be a Winner | Passing Thru

Sunday 4th of February 2018

[…] carryon luggage, but we aren’t that minimalist. Nevertheless, our system does depend upon carrying on a personal item and an additional piece – which holds electronics, valuable items we don’t want to […]