What is a Personal Item? Uncovering the Mystery



When traveling, you’ve likely encountered the term “personal item” while packing for your journey. In the context of air travel, a personal item is typically a compact bag, purse, or briefcase that can fit underneath the seat in front of you during the flight.

These personal items serve as your second piece of luggage, complementing your larger carry-on bag.

Understanding the differences between a carry-on and a personal item ensures that you meet airline guidelines and pack efficiently for your trip.

What Is A Personal Item


What Is a Personal Item?

A personal item is a type of hand luggage that you, as a passenger, can bring onto a plane. It’s meant to be smaller than a carry-on and fit comfortably under the seat in front of you.

Airlines usually have specific size constraints, but these can vary between companies. Common examples of personal items include small backpacks, purses, briefcases, laptop bags, camera bags, and fanny packs.

When it comes to size, a standard industry measurement is roughly 17 x 13 x 8 inches. However, it’s essential to check your airline’s requirements, as under-seat storage space might differ slightly. Most airlines give general guidance on their own personal item policies, so you know what to expect before you board your flight.

Some examples:

  • American Airlines: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
  • British Airways: 16 x 12 x 6 inches
  • JetBlue: 17 x 13 x 8 inches
  • Frontier: 18 x 14 x 8 inches
  • Hawaiin Airlines: Must fit under seat in front

Your personal item can be a secondary bag in addition to your carry-on luggage, provided your airline allows it. Keep in mind that if you’re traveling on a Basic Economy fare, you might be restricted to just one personal item with no carry-on bag, depending on the airline.

To make the most out of your personal item, pack essentials and items you might need during your flight, such as your passport, medication, a book or tablet, headphones, and snacks.

Common Types of Personal Items

Common Types of Personal Items

When you think of personal items, there’s a wide array of objects that can fall into this category. Generally, a personal item is something that belongs to you, is small enough to be easily carried, and has specific rules, regulations, and policies governing its use.

Let’s take a closer look at some common types of personal items that you might bring on a flight or pack in your day-to-day bag.

1. Purses and Wallets

Purses and wallets are essential items for carrying your identification, cash, credit cards, and other important personal belongings. They come in various sizes and styles, so choose one that fits your needs and the rules of the specific airline you’re flying with.

2. Laptop and Tablet Bags

Many people travel with their laptops or tablets, especially for business trips or extended stays. A laptop or tablet bag is designed to protect your device and facilitate its transportation. These bags usually fit under the seat in front of you on an airplane, making them an ideal personal item.

3. Backpacks and Totes

Backpacks and totes are versatile and functional bags, perfect for carrying your essentials like snacks, books, and spare clothing. As long as they meet the airline’s size guidelines, they can be considered a personal item for your trip.

4. Briefcases

A briefcase is another common personal item, especially for business travelers. It’s a stylish way to transport and organize your documents, pens, and other office supplies while on the go.

5. Camera Bags

Whether you’re a professional photographer or just capturing memories on vacation, a camera bag is a must-have for keeping your expensive equipment safe and organized. Just make sure it fits within the airline’s personal item size requirements before embarking on your journey.

Airline Regulations for Personal Items

Personal items must fit under the seat in front

Size and Weight Restrictions

As a traveler, it is important to be familiar with the size and weight restrictions for personal items on airlines. Personal items must fit under the seat in front of you, and different airlines have specific dimension requirements to ensure this.

For instance, American Airlines limits personal items to no more than 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm), while on United Airlines, the limit is 17 x 10 x 9 inches (43 x 25 x 23 cm).

Most airlines generally do not enforce weight limits for personal items. Since personal items are usually small and lightweight by nature, they are less likely to cause issues in this regard. However, it’s still a good idea to keep your personal item light and manageable for your own convenience.

Allowed Contents

When packing your personal item, ensure that the contents are allowed by airline standards. Typically, personal items can include purses, small backpacks, briefcases, and other similar-sized bags.

Some airlines may also allow certain extra items that do not count as your personal item or carry-on, including:

Remember that airline regulations may differ, so it’s a good idea to look up the specific rules of the airline you are flying with to avoid any misunderstandings or delays. This will help ensure a smooth and hassle-free journey as you bring along your essential personal items.

Tips for Packing a Personal Item

When preparing for your next trip, consider these tips for packing a personal item to ensure a seamless travel experience.

Maximizing Space

To take full advantage of the space in your personal item, select a bag that has multiple compartments and pockets. This will help in keeping your belongings organized and easily accessible.

  • Roll your clothes instead of folding them to save space and avoid wrinkles.
  • Use packing cubes or compression bags to separate items and maximize the available space.
  • Wear your bulkiest items, like jackets and boots, during travel to free up space in your personal item.

Organizing Essentials

Keeping essentials organized is crucial as you will need to access certain items quickly during your trip.

Travel DocumentsPassport, boarding pass, itinerary, lodging information
ElectronicsPhone, charger, headphones, power bank
Health & HygieneHand sanitizer, tissues, face mask, medications

Use clear plastic bags or zippered pouches to store these items in easily accessible compartments for quick retrieval during your travels.

Adhering to Airline Guidelines

It’s essential to adhere to airline guidelines when packing your personal item. The most common size allowance for a personal item is 18 inches x 14 inches x 8 inches, but it’s important to confirm with your specific airline.

Ensure your bag fits under the seat in front of you and does not exceed any weight restrictions. A personal item can be a backpack, tote bag, briefcase, satchel, laptop bag, or even a purse, depending on your travel needs.

Being mindful of these guidelines while packing your personal item will make your travel experience smoother and avoid any unnecessary inconveniences at the airport.

Personal Item Vs Carry-On

Personal Item Vs Carry-On
A carry on and a personal item

Understanding the difference between a personal item and a carry-on can save you time and hassle at the airport. Generally, the key difference between the two lies in their size and the types of belongings they are designed to carry.

A personal item is a smaller bag than a carry on bag that you carry onto the plane with you, which must fit under the seat in front of you. Examples of personal items include purses, satchels, and small backpacks. These bags are meant for carrying delicate or essential items such as laptops, cameras, snacks, medication, and books.

On the other hand, a carry-on bag is larger and is intended to be stored in the overhead compartment during a flight. Common types of carry-on bags include duffel bags, rolling suitcases, and larger backpacks.

A carry-on is designed to hold more items, such as clothing and shoes, for short trips or as a supplement to checked luggage for longer journeys.

Personal Item FAQs

Is a backpack considered a personal item?

A backpack, provided it is not a huge hiking backpack, will be considered a personal item. It must fit under the seat in front.

Can a duffel bag be a personal item?

A backpack, provided it is not huge, will be considered a personal item. It must fit under the seat in front.

What if my personal item is too big?

If your personal item is considered too large then it will probably have to travel as hold luggage. You may have to pay separately for it to go in the hold.

Is a pillow considered a personal item?

A full size pillow may be considered a personal item by some airlines. A small pillow that wraps around your neck probably won’t count as a personal item, particularly if you wear it when you board.

Is a teddy bear considered a personal item?

Provided it is not a giant teddy bear then it is unlikely that a teddy bear will count as a personal item.