The Best Personal Item Bag For Travel Vs Carry-On Bags For Flying

Are you looking for the best personal item bag for travel? 

You know the one – that little bag you’re allowed to keep with you while you fly, tucked under the seat in front of you? NOT the carry-on you place into the overhead luggage bin…

The best underseat luggage is one that’s small enough to meet the airline’s requirements, but practical enough for everything you’ll need during your flight.

Finding the perfect personal item for flying can be tricky: these days, airlines are incredibly strict with both the personal item size and the combined weight of carry-on and personal items.  This is why before buying one, you’ll have to put some serious thought into what makes the best personal item bag for travel.

If you’re on the hunt for the best carry-on personal item for an upcoming trip, reading this guide will help. I’ll unveil everything you need to consider to buy the best personal item carry-on bag, as well as look at some of the most popular personal carry-on bag options now on the market.

Carry-on and personal item bag for flying: what’s the difference?

Before we get started, let’s be clear: a carry-on bag and personal item are NOT the same, so here we’ll answer the question: “What’s the differences between a carry-on bag and a personal item?”

Difference #1: Size
Most carry-on bags are designed to fit into the overhead bin, whereas your personal item dimensions should enable it to fit under the seat in front of you: the personal bag size is much smaller than the size of the carry-on baggage. If it’s made of soft-shell material, you’ll be able to compress it more easily when it’s time to check the size.

Difference #2: Accessibility
Your personal item luggage piece should be easier to access than something you stuff into the overhead bin, far from your reach. Of course you can open that bin any time − almost. Just not when there’s turbulence and the fasten seat belts sign is on, and not easily when you’re in a window or middle seat and have to crawl over a (sleeping) passenger or two to get to it.

Difference #3: Security
You can put a tote into the overhead bin and leave it standing up, and there’s a chance things might not fall out. You can’t stick it under the seat and hope for the same. So you need zippers, snaps and other fasteners that will keep everything from falling out.

Best personal bag for plane travel: comparison chart

Below is a quick overview of all the travel personal item bag options I review in this guide.  Keep reading below for more details of each of these.

Buying Guide

Things to consider when purchasing the best travel personal item bag

In order to buy the very best personal item bag for air travel, here are a few things you should consider:

Travel personal bag size

The personal item bag size is the most important factor. Each airline has its own specific dimensions when it comes to carry-on personal item size – although generally, expect it to be somewhere around 8 x 14 x 18 inches (20 x 35 x 45cm).

However, if you also happen to be traveling with a large carry-on and don’t need to keep much with you during the flight, then you should be fine with a personal carry-on bag size that’s on the smaller side. 

Material and shape

While what your bag is made from and the shape of it are two entirely different things, I’ve placed them together because I recommend you buy a personal item bag which is made from a soft material (not hard-sided) so you can easily shove it under the seat in front of you.

Some airline seats are strangely configured, and you’d hate to be in a situation where your hard personal carry-on can’t go under the seat and you’re forced to pop it into the overhead compartment. Plus, given that your bag will be placed precisely where your legs will be, you’ll want to be able to move the bag around to get comfortable.

Versatility of the personal item travel bag

The best personal carry-on bag is one you can also use for your day-to-day travels at your destination. Unless you want to have to buy (or bring along) both an airplane personal item and a daypack or travel purse.

Type of travel personal item Bag

There is no single type of personal item bag for plane travel. You could choose among several different ones: a personal item backpack, or a small duffel bag personal item, a laptop bag personal item or a crossbody bag – in the end, take along whatever you’re most comfortable with, just as long as it meets the airline personal items size requirements.  

When buying your carry-on personal item bag, go with whatever is easiest to use as a day bag once you land.

Security of personal bag for travel

These days, bags come with a range of great security features such as lockable zippers, hidden pockets and slash-proof fabrics. These features are particularly handy if you’re using your airline personal item bag as your day bag.

Whatever you decide, ensure you can zip it up fully to keep the contents safely inside during the flight.

Best personal item bag for airlines review

You can use pretty much any bag as your personal item – as long as it fits. But if you’re conscious about quality and like to look your best when you travel, here are some recommended personal items that fit most airline requirements.

FAQ: best personal bag for travel

Any unanswered questions about your underseat bags? Find them below.

What can I carry on a plane?

This will always depend on the airline but most scheduled (as in non-discount) airlines will allow you to take two items on board: your carry-on bag, and a personal item bag.

Ask the following questions:

  • How long is the flight? You won’t bring the same things on board for a hop from London to Barcelona as you will from Los Angeles to Seoul.
  • Is it a day or a night flight? You’ll need more to occupy yourself on a day flight. Your night, on the other hand, will partly be spent asleep (we hope!)
  • How busy must you keep? If you’re happy to watch online entertainment throughout your flight, you may need very little with you.
  • How are you feeling? Health is a major factor because you may have to bring along medicines, tissues, drops or creams.
  • What’s your body temperature like? If you’re the kind of person who goes from hot to cold and back, you may need a wrap or a light fleece on the plane.
  • What are your airline’s rules? If you’re flying on European discount airlines, for example, you’ll often have severe weight limits and that will influence what you buy.

Based on your answers to the questions above, here are some suggestions for your personal item:

  • Items for work: your laptop, phone, chargers, files, pens, papers – all this easily fits in a personal item
  • Items for relaxation: a meditation app, eye mask, earplugs, a travel blanket, essential oils, a neck pillow
  • Items for fun: solitaire or deck of cards
  • Items for education: kindle or book, travel journal
  • Items for comfort: a pair of slippers, a pashmina

One more thing: make sure the items you’ll need the most are nearer the top of your personal item or in an accessible pocket for easy reach. (See here for a full list of what to bring with you.)

What is considered a personal item?

Your personal item is something small. It can be a travel handbag, a tote, a messenger bag, a small daypack, a laptop bag, a camera bag or anything else that fits under the seat in front of you.

Is a backpack a personal item?

Usually, but not always. If the airline has specific size or weight rules for personal items, you’re in luck because it’ll be clear. Many airlines don’t and reserve the right to decide whether your item is acceptable once they see it. And that might mean your backpack won’t make it. Err on the side of caution if you bring a backpack for a personal item and go small if you can.

Is a weekender bag a personal item?

Like the backpack, it will depend on the airline’s attitude and the size of your bag. The trick is to be as discreet as you can be if no size is specified. You don’t want to call attention to yourself and be singled out by the airline at the last minute.

Does a pillow count as a personal item?

SOMETIMES it does. You might find an understanding attendant who lets you bring it on the plane in addition to your personal item but best not to count on it. Either stuff it into your existing bag, or get an inflatable pillow you can carry in your bag or, in a pinch, even in your pocket.

What else am I allowed to bring on board?

As I said above, a pillow is a maybe. So is a blanket. What is more certain is an umbrella – I’ve never seen anyone lose theirs at the boarding gate – along with duty free that you’ve just purchased, your coat or sweater (worn or carried over your arm), and a book or a magazine. I’ve boarded most major airlines in the cheapest budget class with these items and haven’t yet had to relinquish them.

What size bag can fit under an airplane seat? Airline personal item size dimensions

Here are a few sample personal bag dimensions from different airlines but remember – airlines change their rules all the time so don’t even think of just taking my word for it – check directly with the airline’s website to confirm!

  • Delta airplane personal item size: they don’t give dimensions but specify a single item – a purse, briefcase, camera bag or laptop computer. You can also bring an umbrella and jacket, duty free, or medical equipment.
  • United personal item size: an item that fits under the seat in front of you with maximum measurements of 9″ x 10″ x 17″ (22cm x 25cm x 43cm). No carry-on allowed in basic economy – just the personal item (the rules are more flexible on transatlantic flights, where you can take a carry-on as well). Special items such as umbrellas and jackets, duty-free bags or medical equipment like crutches are allowed.
  • Frontier personal item size: only one personal item is allowed and must fit under the seat; dimensions are 18″ x 14″ x 8″  (45cm  x 35cm x 20cm).
  • AA personal item size: the standard 18″ x 14″ x 8″  (45cm  x 35cm x 20cm) personal item with additional medical equipment and duty free bags.
  • Spirit personal item size: the same rules apply – a single personal item 18″ x 14″ x 8″  (45cm  x 35cm x 20cm) plus medical equipment.
  • Southwest personal item size: these are slightly different than the standard at 18.5″ x 13.5 ” x 8.5″ (47cm x 34cm x 20cm). Free extras include jackets and umbrellas, medical equipment and duty-free purchases.
  • Jetblue personal item size: must not exceed 17″ x 13″ x 8″ (43cm x 33cm x 20cm) and free extras are allowed (jackets and umbrellas, medical equipment and duty free bags).
  • Lufthansa personal item: none is allowed, only one carry-on bag weighing a maximum of 8kg (17.6lb) so if you have a personal item, it’ll have to fit into your carry-on.
  • Air France personal item size is 16″ x 12″ x 6″ (40cm x 30cm x 15cm) plus the usual free extras.
  • Qatar Airways personal item: none in economy, only a carry-on of up to 7kg (15lb) plus the usual extras.
  • Easyjet personal item: this is a relatively liberal policy because although it allows no personal item, it does let you bring aboard a carry-on 22″ x 17.5″ x 9.8″ (56cm x 45cm x 25cm) but there is no weight restriction.

So yes, that personal item can make all the difference, because there’s plenty you can fit into it and it might save you from having to check your luggage.

The perfect alternatives to personal item bags

Still can’t fit it all into the personal item and carry-on?

I do my best to stick by the rules but once in a while, I need more things than I’m allowed to carry on board. It may be that I have several connections and don’t dare check any luggage, or perhaps I have valuables – computer and cables, plus documents and the like – that have to stay with me no matter what.

Here are two things I use:

Sholdit infinity scarf

I have a wonderful grey version of this scarf and it’s the perfect accessory for those times when I don’t want to carry anything or want to keep my hands free. You won’t fit everything in here but the hidden pocket will take your passport, papers, keys, iPhone, and a few other goodies. So if you’re traveling light…Buy now, or Find out more about the Sholdit here.

Have you found the best personal item bag for plane travel?

Here’s hoping you’ve found the perfect pick from this list of best personal item bags. It’s important to take into consideration your preferences as well as crucial requirements, such as security, durability… and pockets!

Remember, the best carry-on personal bag differs from a standard carry-on bag in that it fits under the seat. This means that the size and functionality of the bag need to be suitable for this.

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