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A Carry-on Conundrum: What Size Should My Carry-on Be?

Problems with Airline Carry-on Regulations 

In an effort to free up space in packed overhead bins, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced a new guideline to optimize the size of your carry-on on June 9, 2015.  

Previous Size Limit:


New (Optimal) Size:


It’s the case of the shrinking carry-on. This new size is significantly smaller than many carry-on suitcases and bags travelers use today. Today, any number of passengers can board a plane with a “non-regulation” sized carry-on, because every airline views the rules differently. 

This announcement by the IATA was intended to make a more generalized size requirement for carry-ons, but the problem persists:

“Seriously, What Size Should My Carry-on Be?”

Maximum carry-on luggage size

But really, there’s so much we need to bring.

With IATA focusing on an optimal size for carry-ons (and not a maximum) it’s hard to say if there is a regulated size for your carry-ons right now—as airlines set their own limits by preference. 

“Airlines around the globe have varying standards—different enough that a carry-on bag that is acceptable to one airline isn’t allowed in the cabin of another…the new guideline will not necessarily replace each airline’s rules on bag size, but gives them a uniform measurement that ‘will help iron out inconsistencies (NY Times).’”

A Cause and Effect Cycle that Carries On

Right now, the world of carry-on luggage is the wild west: all bets are off as we see larger, bulkier, fuller suitcases being carried onto flights. As more people choose to fly, the exceptions to the rules multiply. What began as an upheld regulation can escalate to aggressively stuffing oversized carry-ons into the overhead bins and heated exchanges between airline staff and passengers.

“This bag will fit in your bin. It’s fit before, and you gave me no problems. You just gotta push a little harder.” 

The Potential Preference for Cabin Ok Carry-Ons 

“Bags that do not correspond to [bag regulations] are regularly checked in at the gate, which adds inconvenience for the traveler, slows down the boarding process, increases airline costs and occasionally delays flights (IATA).” 

IATA proposed a new program to give preference of smaller bags bearing a Cabin OK logo. These branded bags would take priority over unmarked carry-ons on full flights, getting the “OK” to stay on the flight while the other bags might have to be gate-checked.

But if your bag doesn’t boast the Cabin OK logo Thomas Windmuller, a senior vice president at IATA, assured that “if it was accepted for travel before, it will be acceptable for travel now…” unless the flight is full. On a full flight, Cabin OK Carry-ons will be the only bags ensures a spot in the overhead bins (NY Times).

Having a maximum luggage size as well as a smaller, optimum luggage size could pose a big problem for airlines and make bag enforcement even more complicated and confusing for passengers trying to follow the rules. 

Will Airlines Adopt an Optimal Size for Carry-ons?

As far as a preference to the Cabin OK bag goes, confirmed interest has been voiced by 9 non-US carriers. But as far as adopting an absolute limit to carry-on size? No airline seems to completely agree. 

Many US airlines (like Delta, American, Southwest and Alaska) continue to boast an underwhelming enthusiasm in regards to these preferences, and have no plans to change their carry-on size limits. Some airlines, like Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines, are instead focusing on solving the case of the carry-on by increasing the size of their overhead bins. 

“So, where does that leave me?” 

Until size regulations become more concrete, and accepted across all airlines, the optimal size for your carry-on will be dependent on the individual airline with whom you prefer to fly. As you plan your flights and packing for your trips, always be sure to consult the regulations of the airline you are going to use.  

MyAirportTrip: Where Your Carry-on Will Always Fit

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Getting to and from your flight shouldn’t be an ordeal. With MyAirportTrip’s easy-to-use online transportation booking system, you simply pick an airport and then enter the name or address of the location you are heading to or from. Then you can browse through the available airport transportation options, refine your search, or set up your ride.