The size restrictions for carry-ons are fairly easy to understand. The most common one is 22 x 14 x 9 inches, which has become an industry-standard by now.
However, when it comes to underseat luggage, the current situation is much more frustrating. The actual size restrictions vary quite a lot between different airlines, and some airlines don’t even disclose the exact measurements.
To make your life easier, we made this guide, where we show the exact underseat luggage size restrictions for 17 different airlines. Note, that these restrictions might change, which is why we’ve also linked out to their official websites. Make sure to double-check the restrictions before you start packing.
What Is Underseat Luggage?
Underseat luggage is a type of hand luggage, that you’re allowed to bring on the plane in the passenger area. You’ll have to stow it under your front seat unless you’re sitting in the emergency exit row, in which case it’ll have to be stored in the overhead compartments together with all the carry-ons.
The exact items that you’re allowed to use as underseat luggage vary between different airlines. But generally, you can use small backpacks, tote bags, handbags, messenger bags, laptop bags, camera bags, briefcases, and similar items.
Usually, underseat luggage isn’t as heavily restricted and weighed compared to carry-ons. Most of the time, the airline staff will just quickly glance over your underseat item to check if it isn’t too large, and let you pass through. The only rule is that it has to fit under the front seat. That’s because, in case of an emergency, all aisles have to be clear of any obstacles/luggage.
What’s the Difference Between a Personal Item and Underseat Luggage?
Basically, there isn’t any. When airlines refer to personal items (or personal articles, if in Europe) they mean the same thing as underseat luggage.
The only difference is that when someone says “underseat luggage”, they’re usually talking about bags/suitcases specifically designed for this purpose. “Personal item” is a slightly different term, because a personal item could also be a camera, a laptop, an assistive device, an umbrella, a child seat, a pet carrier, or something similar.
Underseat Luggage Size Restrictions for 17 Popular Airlines
Below, we’ll cover the underseat luggage/personal item size restrictions for the 17 most popular airlines in North America and the rest of the world. Unless you’re flying to remote destinations, this will usually be enough.
1. American Airlines
American Airlines states that underseat items should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches.
2. Delta Airlines
Delta Airlines doesn’t specifically mention their underseat item restrictions anywhere on their website. Instead, they say that the personal item should be a purse, a briefcase, a diaper bag, a laptop computer, and other items in similar dimensions. This doesn’t help much, because, for instance, diaper bags, can come in lots of different sizes, sometimes even above carry-on restrictions.
The actual size under the front seat in Delta varies based on which aircraft model you’ll be flying with. For instance, on the Bombardier CRJ200, it’s 18 x 16 x 10.5 inches, and on the Embraer 175, it’s 16 x 37 x 7.8 inches. For the exact size, you should contact them directly, and tell them your flight details.
3. United Airlines
On United Airlines, underseat items shouldn’t exceed 17 x 10 x 9 inches.
4. Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines states that underseat items have to be under 18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches. If they don’t fit under the front seat, they’ll ask you to store it in the overhead compartments.
5. Air Canada
Air Canada limits underseat luggage on all of its aircraft to 17 x 13 x 6 inches.
6. Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines doesn’t specifically mention any size restrictions for underseat items. Instead, they say that the underseat item should be a purse, a briefcase, or a laptop bag.
The actual size under the front seats depends on which aircraft you’re flying with. For instance, on their Boeing 737-800 aircraft, the underseat dimensions are 14 x 12 x 9 inches. To get the exact measurements, contact Alaska Airlines and tell them your flight details. They’ll reply shortly with the exact dimensions.
7. Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines has stated that underseat items shouldn’t exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches.
If you’re flying with JetBlue, then your underseat luggage shouldn’t exceed 17 x 13 x 8 inches.
9. Air France
Air France states that underseat items shouldn’t be larger than 16 x 12 x 6 inches.
10. KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines)
On KLM, underseat luggage shouldn’t exceed 16 x 12 x 6 inches, regardless if you’re flying Economy, Business, European, or International flights.
Lufthansa restricts their passenger’s underseat luggage to 15.7 x 11.8 x 3.9 inches (40 x 30 x 10 cm). Their width limit of 3.9 inches is the tightest one we’ve seen yet, which means that you’ll be able to use only slim briefcases, purses, or laptop messenger bags.
On Ryanair, underseat luggage is restricted to 15.7 x 9.8 x 7.8 inches (40 x 25 x 20 cm). Personally, I’ve used my Matein 15.6-inch laptop backpack as my personal/underseat item, which is larger than these restrictions, and I’ve never had any issues. From my own experience, they tend to inspect carry-on’s more, compared to underseat luggage.
13. Wizz Air
Wizz Air has said on their official website, that underseat luggage shouldn’t exceed 15.7 x 11.8 x 7.8 inches (40 x 30 x 20 cm). However, they mention that regardless of the restrictions, the underseat item should always fit under the front seat. Also, they are the only airline that we know of that doesn’t include wheels and handles in the size restrictions.
14. Norwegian Airlines
Norwegian Airlines is fairly strict in its underseat luggage restrictions – they must be smaller than 13 x 9.8 x 7.8 inches (33 x 25 x 20 cm). This means that even a 15-inch laptop might be too large.
Finnair limits their passenger’s underseat luggage to 16 x 12 x 6 inches. Also, their combined weight of carry-on and underseat item is only 17.6 lbs (8kg), so make sure to not bring anything heavy.
16. British Airways
Similar to Finnair, British Airways restricts underseat luggage to 16 x 12 x 6 inches. However, their weight limit is much less restrictive – underseat items shouldn’t weigh more than 51 lbs (23 kg).
17. Turkish Airlines
On their website, Turkish Airlines doesn’t disclose exactly how large an underseat item may be. They just say that you can use small handbags, laptop bags, or similar items. On their social media, they also don’t disclose the exact limits, so we’d recommend always contacting them with your specific flight details to get an exact answer.
We researched what people say on Twitter, and we found quite a few incidents, where Turkish Airlines didn’t allow their passengers to use backpacks as personal items. In one instance, they even asked a passenger to throw out their clothes from the personal item (backpack) in the trash, and place the empty backpack inside their carry-on.
Why Are the Underseat Luggage Size Restrictions so Different Between Airlines?
The exact size under each seat usually differs a lot between different aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing, Bombardier, Airbus, or Embraer. And all of the largest airlines usually have a wide variety of different aircraft in their fleet.
For instance, in January 2020, Delta Airlines has 907 aircraft in its fleet. They service over 20 different aircraft models from Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, and Mcdonnell Douglas, and each model has a different size under the front seats. That’s why Delta doesn’t specifically mention the underseat luggage size dimensions. To get an exact measurement, you have to contact them directly with your flight details.
And the current situation is very similar to other airlines as well. Usually, they have a large variety of different aircraft in their fleet. So it’s really hard for them to make a specific size restriction that fits all of their aircraft.
What Items Can Be Used as Underseat Luggage?
Here’s a list of items that, generally, are accepted as personal items/underseat luggage:
- Small backpacks;
- Tote bags;
- Small duffle bags;
- Camera/DSLR bags;
- Messenger bags;
- Laptop bags;
- Small rolling suitcases within the size limits;
- Assistive medical devices.
Having said that, from personal experience, you should always use a bag that’s made from a soft material and avoid overpacking it. This way you’ll be able to squeeze the bag underneath the front seat even if it’s slightly too large.
Theoretically, you can also use small hard-shell suitcases or leather duffles within the size limits. But sometimes they might be too large, so use them at your own risk.