Personal Item vs Carry-On: What Are the Differences?

Personal items and carry-ons are hand luggage you can take into the plane cabin when traveling.

A personal item is usually more restricted in terms of size than a carry-on and is often something like a camera bag, diaper bag, or small duffel bag.

Knowing the differences between these two bags is useful because it will help you understand what you can carry onto a plane. 

What Are the Differences Between a Personal Item and a Carry-On Bag?

A carry-on bag is the main item of luggage you can take into the cabin with you. The size allowances vary depending on the airline, but they will usually give you some strict (but fairly generous) measurements.

Although you should check the sizes with your airline, the small bag will generally need to be around 24” x 16” x 10” so it can fit in the overhead bin. There may also be a weight limit for hand luggage. 

A personal item is a smaller bag and could be anything like a purse, weekender bag, messenger bag, small backpack, or laptop bag. This personal bag does not count as a carry-on item.

A personal item cannot be larger than 14” x 18” x 8” in most cases, and you have to be able to put it under the seat in front of you. Again, you should double-check this with the airline you are flying with, as the requirements may vary.

Overall, don’t fly without checking the requirements for carry-on and personal items, or you may have to check excess bags, which can be expensive.

The point of the personal item allowance is to let passengers carry certain essentials that may not fit easily into their carry-on bags. For example, someone with a laptop computer might not want it in their carry-on with other heavy items that could damage it, so most airlines permit a separate bag.

Similarly, a parent may not want to cram baby items in with their own things, so instead, they can have a diaper bag as their personal item. 

Can I Take Both Carry-On and Personal Item Bags?

It is always worth checking with your airline, but you can usually take both a carry-on and personal item without incurring any extra fees, even with Basic Economy tickets. However, budget airlines may have different rules, particularly ones that charge for carry-ons.

Many airlines include the cost of carry-on baggage in their ticket prices, but if this isn’t the case, you should check their policy on personal items, like small backpacks, and find out whether you can carry another bag, along with your main suitcase.

You probably can have a personal item backpack since these bags are key to organization and allow passengers to store items such as sweaters, but it is crucial to make sure. If you can, you have to follow the personal item size limits so it can fit under the seat in front of you. 

If you have too many items, you can also take checked luggage with you. Checked luggage is any item that can’t fit under the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartments. 

You should also know that you can substitute certain things for your one carry-on at some airlines, such as small musical instruments. You can also take as many mobility devices as you need without having to pay extra. 

Can I Travel With Only a Personal Item?

Yes, you can travel with just a personal item. But, if you are going to do this, make sure that your personal item bag is not too large, or you may have to count it as a carry-on instead.

Often, having your bag considered a carry-on makes a minimal difference, except you will have to store it in the overhead compartment rather than under the seat in front of you. If you already have a carry-on, however, they may make you check the additional personal item bag for an extra fee.

Overall, traveling with only a personal item is ideal for most business travelers. Others may need their carry-on, personal item, and a checked bag though. 

You should also note that you may have a harder time getting to your bag if you are in the middle seat because it will be under the airplane seat. 

Do all Airlines Allow a Personal Item?

Yes, all airlines currently permit one personal item per person, even the budget ones. However, it is a good idea to check that this has remained true before you fly, just in case an airline decides to remove this option.

Also, sometimes business class passengers may get to bring more personal items. 

Finally, many people strap their under-seat luggage to carry-on luggage to increase the ease of carrying, which you should think of doing.

What Are the Advantages of Traveling With Only a Personal Item?

Most people generally bring a personal item and a carry-on, but there are a few advantages to traveling light if you can, and only taking a personal item.

The biggest of these advantages comes if you are traveling with a budget airline that charges for carry-on items since you will not have to pay the additional fee. This method can make it cheaper to travel, and if you are only going for an overnight stay, bringing only a personal item may be possible.

A secondary advantage is that personal items are less likely to get taken as checked bags if the aircraft is too full.

Airlines are allowed to make you check your carry-on if there isn’t enough space for it in the cabin. However, personal items are smaller, and it’s rare for airlines to require passengers to gate-check these.

Overall, they are too small to be worth removing from the cabin, and people need to retain access to what they’ve put in their bags – particularly valuable items or things like baby supplies.

What are the Weight Limits for Carry-On and Personal Items?

Weight restrictions on personal and carry-on items are not uniform across carriers. However, most major airlines have no restrictions at all. 

But, if you do have a good-sized personal item, you may want to check weights as well as maximum dimensions to make sure you’re in line. 

What are the Size Limits for Personal Items at Different Airlines?

Below are some of the size restrictions for popular airlines:

  • Frontier Personal Item Size – 18” x 14” x 8”
  • JetBlue Personal Item Size – 17” x 13” x 8”
  • American Airlines Personal Item Size – 22” x 14” x 9”

International airlines have their own specific dimensions. 

What Else Can I Bring as a Personal Item?

You can usually also bring items such as:

  • Pet carriers
  • Food and drinks purchased after security
  • Any small size bag, such as diaper bags or duffel bags


It’s essential to know the difference between a personal item and a carry-on so that you can choose your luggage accordingly and avoid additional fees. Overall, a personal item can make it easier to organize your things, whereas a carry-on is excellent for larger things but comes with the risk of being gate-checked.