The best personal item bag for travel by air today may not be the one you’ve used before.
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.
Certain airlines make you pay for overhead space, 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 item bag for airlines on flight “A” may work, but not 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 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.
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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 personal item size and Delta personal item size, for example, are different.
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 with 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. The best airline personal bag won’t necessarily work on every carrier.
Different 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 bag wasn’t going to cooperate. A bag 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 backpack||Personal Item Bag Frontier Airlines - a purse, handbag or briefcase||Personal Item Bag for Delta, AA - 1 purse, briefcase, camera bag, diaper bag, or 1 laptop computer||Personal Item Bag United Airlines - purse, briefcase, laptop bag||Personal 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 wheels||18 by 14 by 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) including handles and wheels||18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) must fit under the seat in front of you||9 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 you||Personal 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.|
|Delsey Luggage Fusion Wheeled Tote - 6.75 x 17.25 x 12.75 inches||Aerolite 16" Carry On Under Seat Wheeled Trolley - 16.50 x 13.80 x 7.80 inches||BoardingBlue Soft Personal Item 17" Under Seat Duffel - 17 x 13 x 9 inches||Travel Weekender Overnight Carry-on Shoulder Duffel Tote Bag - 6 x 11 x 14 inches||Airlines Personal Item Laptop Backpack - 18 x 13 x 8 inches|
|Click here for details and latest price||Click here for details and latest price||Click here for details and latest price||Click here for details and latest price||Click 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 and a backpack with you in the cabin?
You certainly can! Just make sure the items you have conform with airline regulations. Small backpacks suitable for stowing under the seat in front of you come in 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, luggage, and travel lifestyle items specifically selected for stylish convenience.
Note: If you’re still on the hunt for sleek, hard-sided, lightweight carry-on luggage that’s engineered for strength and durability, get The Minima spinner from Chester. This is Betsy’s favorite!
This bag is cabin-approved, aerospace grade polycarbonate in a beautiful selection of colors, with an interior organization system that will keep your belongings shipshape. Chester offers a 30-day no-hassle return policy, and a 10-year warranty on this bag. PassingThru readers get a 10% discount and free two-day shipping on the Chester website, use code PT10. Click here for more information and pricing on this best carry on luggage option.
This bag is also available on Amazon in all colors. If you’d rather purchase from Amazon, click here.
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 camera equipment. This allows them to avoid the security risks with checking valuable equipment.
Tip: Don’t forget the need for passport security, whether you carry yours on your person or in your bag. A rugged design like this passport cover is appealing to men, and protects while deflecting the wrong kind of attention.
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 recommendations 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 the following features:
- 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 compartment for your laptop
- slots for smaller electronics – phone, reader or tablet
- a variety of exterior pockets to keep 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.
Tip: Now that you know which bag you’re going to choose, it needs a luggage tag. Check out our fun designs that you can customize in the PassingThru Travel Shop: click here.