Does a Purse Count as a Carry-On?

Understanding Flight Baggage: From Personal Items to Carry-Ons

Muhammad Abubakar


Imagine you're packing for a flight, standing over your suitcase and trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind.

You plan to bring just a carry-on and a purse, but then the question arises: Does a purse count as a carry-on?

This scenario is all too familiar for many travelers, highlighting the confusion surrounding airline luggage policies.

The aim of this article is to demystify these policies, focusing specifically on the distinction between carry-on items and personal items, and to clarify where a purse fits into the equation.

Understanding the Basics: What Qualifies as a Carry-On?

A carry-on item is typically defined by airlines as a piece of luggage that passengers can bring into the cabin and store in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of them.

The size and weight restrictions for carry-on luggage vary by airline but generally fall within certain dimensions (often around 22 x 14 x 9 inches or 56 x 36 x 23 centimeters) and weight limits (usually between 15 to 22 pounds or 7 to 10 kilograms).

Airlines consider carry-on luggage in terms of the limited space available in overhead bins, aiming to ensure that all passengers have enough room for their belongings.

Identifying Your Personal Item: Definitions and Clarifications

In addition to a carry-on piece, most airlines allow passengers to bring one personal item on board.

This category typically includes purses, laptop bags, small backpacks, and briefcases. The key factors that define a personal item are its size and function.

It must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, ensuring that it does not take up valuable space in the overhead bins. The function is also crucial; the item should be necessary for the passenger's journey, containing essentials like travel documents, medications, or a laptop.

Unpacking the Differences: Carry-On vs. Personal Item

When comparing carry-on luggage to personal items, the main differences lie in size, storage location, and intended use.

Carry-on luggage is larger and designed to be stored in the overhead bin, suitable for clothing, shoes, and larger personal belongings. In contrast, a personal item is smaller, must fit under the seat, and is intended for essential items you might need access to during the flight.

A purse can fall into either category depending on its size and the contents. A small to medium-sized purse that contains personal items like your wallet, travel documents, and perhaps a small electronic device is typically considered a personal item.

However, if a purse is larger and used to carry additional items that could otherwise go in a carry-on suitcase, it might be classified as carry-on luggage. The distinction is important because bringing a purse that is deemed too large to count as a personal item could result in having to check one of your bags, potentially incurring additional fees.

Deciding Between a Carry-On and a Personal Item: What You Need to Know

Tips for Choosing Between Bringing a Purse as a Carry-On or a Personal Item when deciding whether to bring a purse as a carry-on or a personal item, consider the length of your trip, the items you need to have on hand, and the specific airline's regulations.

For short trips, you might opt to use a larger purse as your carry-on, packing essentials and perhaps a change of clothes. This approach allows you to travel light and avoid checking a bag.

For longer trips, a purse might better serve as your personal item, carrying your travel documents, electronics, and other items you need access to during the flight.

Strategies for Maximizing Luggage Space and Complying with Airline Policies

To maximize luggage space while adhering to airline policies, start by choosing luggage that fits within the most common size and weight limits. Use packing cubes and compression bags to organize and condense your items.

Consider wearing your bulkier items, like coats or heavy shoes, to save space in your luggage.

Familiarize yourself with your airline's policies on carry-on and personal items ahead of time to ensure your bags meet the requirements, avoiding last-minute repacking or additional fees.

Evaluating Backpacks: When Does It Count as a Carry-On or Personal Item?

The criteria determining whether a backpack is considered a carry-on or a personal item hinge on its size, design, and how you pack i

t. A compact backpack that fits under the seat in front of you, filled with essentials for the flight, typically qualifies as a personal item. Conversely, a larger backpack that you pack with clothes and other travel necessities, and which must be stored in the overhead bin, is likely to be considered a carry-on.

The key is the backpack's dimensions relative to the airline's size limits for personal items and carry-ons. Always measure your backpack and compare it with your airline's specifications to decide how it will be classified, ensuring it aligns with your travel plans and the rest of your luggage.

Policies by Destination: Domestic vs. International

Navigating airline policies on baggage can be complex, with significant differences not just between airlines but also between domestic and international flights. Understanding these policies is crucial for a hassle-free travel experience.

A Closer Look at Domestic Carry-On Policies

Domestic airlines in the United States exhibit a variety of carry-on policies, reflecting their unique brand propositions and customer service strategies.

While there are overarching guidelines set by the aviation authorities, each airline tailors its policies to balance operational efficiency, safety, and passenger convenience.

Generally, domestic airlines allow one carry-on bag and one personal item per passenger, but the size and weight limits for these items can vary.

Spotlight on Specific Airlines

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines distinguishes itself with a more generous baggage policy compared to its competitors. It allows two free checked bags, a rarity in the domestic market.

For carry-ons, passengers are permitted one bag plus one personal item, with the airline being notably lenient on the size specifications for the personal item.

This policy underscores Southwest's customer-centric approach, aiming to reduce travel stress and additional costs.

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines often runs special promotions and offers that can include discounts on checked luggage or additional benefits for frequent flyers, though these are subject to change and availability.

Their standard carry-on policy aligns with industry norms, permitting one carry-on bag and one personal item, with detailed size and weight restrictions available on their website.

Delta emphasizes flexibility and convenience, offering options for priority boarding that allows for easier overhead bin access.

American Airlines

American Airlines' luggage logistics are designed to streamline the boarding process and improve the overall passenger experience.

Their carry-on allowance is standard—one personal item and one carry-on bag, with strict enforcement of size dimensions to ensure overhead bin space is fairly distributed among passengers.

Comparatively, American's policies are designed to be straightforward, aiming to minimize boarding delays and baggage issues.

United Airlines

United Airlines provides clear guidelines to help passengers understand and navigate their carry-on policies.

Like its competitors, United allows one carry-on bag and one personal item, with specific size limits enforced at the gate.

United's policy emphasizes efficiency and security, with additional scrutiny at the boarding gate to ensure compliance, aiming to speed up the boarding process and enhance safety.


JetBlue takes a passenger-friendly approach to carry-ons, focusing on convenience and efficiency.

Their policy allows for one carry-on and one personal item, with the airline often praised for its customer service and the ease of navigating its luggage policies.

JetBlue aims to differentiate itself through a straightforward, hassle-free travel experience, making it a favorite among frequent domestic travelers.

International Travel Insights: Carry-On Policies Abroad

When it comes to international travel, carry-on policies can vary more significantly due to the longer duration of flights and different operational and security standards across regions.

British Airways

British Airways offers generous carry-on allowances to accommodate international travelers, allowing passengers to bring one larger carry-on bag and one personal item, with specific size and weight limits that are slightly more lenient than some of its American counterparts.

This policy is designed to cater to the needs of international travelers who may need to carry more essentials on board.


Emirates is known for its luxurious service and also extends this quality to its carry-on policies, permitting passengers a carry-on plus a personal item, with size and weight restrictions that reflect the airline's premium service standards.

Emirates' policies are designed to ensure comfort and convenience, recognizing the diverse needs of its international clientele.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines, renowned for its customer service, offers a carry-on policy that is accommodating yet precise, allowing passengers to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item, with clear guidelines on size and weight.

Their policy is crafted to balance passenger comfort with safety and operational efficiency on long-haul flights.

Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific's carry-on policy is tailored to international travel, with allowances for one carry-on bag and one personal item. The airline's carry-on dimensions are designed to maximize passenger convenience while ensuring compliance with international safety standards.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic provides a passenger-centric carry-on policy, allowing one piece of carry-on luggage plus a personal item, with specific attention to the needs of international travelers, including families and business travelers.

Their policies reflect an understanding of the complexities of international travel, striving to enhance passenger experience through flexible luggage options.

Final Considerations: The Ultimate Guide to Carry-Ons

Grasping the nuances of airline carry-on rules might appear challenging at first. Yet, with the correct knowledge and tactics, travelers can be ready and follow the guidelines, leading to a more seamless and pleasant trip.

The key to effective packing lies in knowing the constraints on size and weight, as well as selecting must-have items that improve the journey and comply with airline policies.

The Bottom Line: Mastering Carry-Ons for Smooth Sailing

Exploring airline policies from companies like Southwest, Delta, Emirates, and British Airways reveals a shared aim for efficiency, safety, and passenger satisfaction. Despite each airline's unique approach, the overarching goal remains to enhance the travel experience. The crucial advice for travelers is to understand their chosen airline's specific rules. Armed with this knowledge, passengers can pack smartly, keeping carry-on and personal items within limits and reducing travel stress. By focusing on essentials, employing space-efficient packing, and keeping up-to-date with regulations, travelers can confidently tackle the carry-on challenge.


Understanding carry-on policies should be viewed not as an obstacle but as a chance to improve travel experiences. With the right insights and tips, travelers can pack wisely, comply with airline rules, and reduce travel stress.

This guidance encourages travelers to prepare thoughtfully for their next trip, enabling them to explore the world with confidence and ease, taking only what's necessary and enjoying every step of their journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

What qualifies as a carry-on item on a flight?

A carry-on item is luggage that passengers can bring into the airplane cabin, stored either in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of them. Size and weight limits vary by airline but typically fall within 22 x 14 x 9 inches or 56 x 36 x 23 centimeters and 15 to 22 pounds or 7 to 10 kilograms.

Can a purse be considered a personal item on flights?

Yes, a purse often qualifies as a personal item if it fits under the seat in front of you. Its size should comply with the airline's specific dimensions for personal items, and it should contain essentials for your journey.

What is the difference between carry-on luggage and a personal item?

The main differences lie in size, storage location, and intended use. Carry-on luggage is larger, stored in the overhead bin, and suitable for clothing and larger personal belongings. A personal item is smaller, fits under the seat, and is meant for essential items needed during the flight.

How do airlines define a personal item?

A personal item is defined by its size and function, needing to fit under the seat in front of you without taking up space in the overhead bins. It usually includes purses, laptop bags, small backpacks, and briefcases, containing items like travel documents and medications.

Are airline luggage policies the same for every airline?

No, luggage policies vary significantly from one airline to another, particularly between domestic and international flights. It's crucial for travelers to familiarize themselves with the policies of the airlines they plan to fly with.

How can I maximize my luggage space while complying with airline policies?

To maximize space, choose luggage that fits common size and weight limits, use packing cubes, and wear bulkier items. Always check your airline's latest policies to avoid repacking or fees.

What should I consider when deciding between a carry-on and a personal item?

Consider the length of your trip, items you need on hand, and specific airline regulations. For short trips, a larger purse may serve as your carry-on. For longer journeys, a purse is better suited as a personal item.

When does a backpack count as a carry-on or a personal item?

A backpack is considered a carry-on if it's large enough to require overhead bin storage. It's a personal item if it fits under the seat in front of you, containing essentials for the flight. Check your airline's size limits for precise classification.

Why do airline policies on luggage vary for domestic and international flights?

Policies differ due to operational and security standards, as well as the longer duration of international flights. Understanding these distinctions is key to a hassle-free travel experience.

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This article is authored by Dr. Muhammad Abubakar, the Managing Editor at Maves Apparel. Boasting over five years of expertise in the fashion sector and medicine industry, Muhammad delivers the latest news, alongside in-depth analyses and insights on various aspects of fashion, apparel, and production.