Does a Backpack Count as a Carry On / Personal Item?

Yes, you can use a backpack as a personal item if it falls under the required size dimensions. If the backpack is small enough to fit underneath the front passenger seat, it is a personal item. 

You can even take two backpacks, one carry-on, and one personal item.

“Can I take a backpack as a carry-on?” is the most asked question on the web. And it makes sense, given the limited baggage space allowed by airlines. 

Everyone wants to use all the free luggage and personal item allowance before paying the overweight fees. Plus, a small carry-on backpack can make shorter trips much easier. 

But, airlines have varying views about backpacks as carry-on items because some can be big. So, they have determined the exact dimensions and size limit for items qualifying as carry-ons.

Do Backpacks Count as a Carry-on?

Yes, backpacks count as a carry-on in basic economy class and first-class as long as they fall under the given dimensions. Every airline has its own rules for carry-on luggage size, but carry-on bag dimensions are typically 22 x 14 x 9 inches. 

You can also measure in terms of volume, which is 40-45 liters.

Only backpacks under these sizes will fit in the upper compartment. So, if backpacks exceed the limitations, they will have to go in as checked baggage.

However, if traveling on a relatively small aircraft, the airline rules can be strict. In that case, the backpack should not exceed 35 liters.

How to Know if a Backpack Counts as a Personal Item?

If your backpack can fit under the seat, it is a personal item. Under-seat spaces are just enough to accommodate a small backpack or duffel bag, camera bag, or laptop bag. 

Also, remember that personal articles should be big enough to contain your essentials like your laptop computer, passports, and other documents. 

Read Also >> Does a Fanny Pack Count as a Personal Item?

Maximum Number of Carry-on Bags Allowed on the Plane

American Airlines allows two backpacks, one bag for placing under the seat and the other in the overhead compartment. Or, you can use both a backpack and a laptop bag, diaper bag, small handbag, or carry-on suitcase. 

But, the bigger one must have the dimensions 22 x 14 x 9 inches, and it must fit in the overhead bin. The other must go under the seat.

There aren’t any dimensions for the smaller backpack provided by the airlines. So, you should call the airlines to confirm the size limit.

Otherwise, if it doesn’t fit, it will have to go in the checked luggage.

Finally, remember that pet carriers count as either a carry-on or personal item. You can also bring things on the plane like food and drinks purchased at the airport. 

Carry-on Allowance by Major Airlines

Let’s see what some popular international airlines say about using a backpack as a cabin bag. 

Below are airline dimensions for your personal item and for bags in the overhead bin. 

However, remember that these limits are for a basic economy ticket. A business class ticket may be different. 

United Airlines

Personal items are anything that will fit under the seat. 

The dimensions fixed by United Airlines for the personal item are 9 inches x 17 inches x 10 inches. Meanwhile, overhead backpacks require dimensions of 22 x 14 x 9 inches.


JetBlue has similar rules to United Airlines, except they have slightly different hand luggage dimensions for your personal item. 

The personal item must not be larger than 17 x 13 x 8 inches. The dimensions for items placed in overhead bins are the same. 


You can have backpacks as big as 22 x 15 x 8 inches in the overhead bin space. Also, the baggage must not exceed the maximum weight restrictions, which top out at a 15-pound weight limit.


Spirit charges you $26 for a backpack, and the size limit is 18 x 14 x 8 inches for personal items in the overhead cabin. 

Additionally, you don’t get any space under the seat in front when traveling with Spirit, so you can’t have multiple bags. 

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines has a unique guideline for carry-on baggage size limitations. They say if your personal items fit in the overhead cabin, you can bring another bag as long as it can go under the seat in front of yours.  

There do not give specific dimensions. 

American Airlines

According to American Airlines, your bag is a personal item if the backpack fits underneath the seat in front or carry-on luggage if you put it in the cabin above. But the dimensions for both the carry-on bag and the personal bag are 22 x 14 x 9 inches because their aircraft have large under-seat spacing.


Delta also describes the personal item as anything that fits under the seat in front, but they don’t have any specific dimensions. On the other hand, carry-on bags must not exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches. 

If your personal item doesn’t fit or your carry-on bag is oversized, they must go with the checked baggage.

Read Also >> Do Garment Bags Count as Carry-on?

How to Get the Most Out of Your Backpacks When Using Them as Carry-ons or Personal Items

Now that we have seen what backpack sizes the airline requires, let’s talk about luggage management, so you don’t have to break into a cold sweat every time you think about packing. 

Thus, here are some tips that can help you fully utilize the limited carry-on space.

Compartment Bags

If you still have a lot of stuff after packing your backpack, you should use compartment bags. Compartment bags are best for carry-on bags and have accurate dimensions of 22 x 9 x 14 inches, as specified by most airlines.

Compartment bags have different compartments for clothes, shoes, food, cosmetics, and other items. Plus, compartments allow you to stuff much more in your bag.

Use Packing Cubes

If you don’t have a compartment bag, packing cubes are the best alternative. Packing cubes are small box-shaped zipped bags that you can use for more organized packing.

You can use multiple cubes for different items in your carry-on. 

But, keep in mind that packing cubes do not save space. They just compartmentalize the luggage.


As long as the backpack follows the maximum dimensions, it can be a carry-on item. Or if it will fit under the seat in front of you, it is a personal item.

But you should always contact your airlines to confirm as rules vary. Also, consider that low-cost airlines usually have more limited space.