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United Airlines Carry-on Bag Sizes, Rules, and Restrictions

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Spencer Howard
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Spencer Howard

Former Content Contributor

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Always a fan of flying, Spencer wanted to find ways to upgrade his travel experience. Over the years, Spencer has been a guest speaker on multiple YouTube shows as well as podcasts on maximizing point...
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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If you plan to bring a carry-on bag and personal item with you on a United Airlines flight, make sure you know the rules and restrictions ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

Travelers already face plenty of hassles at the airport, from long check-in lines to even longer security lines (if you don’t have TSA PreCheck) to tiny cramped economy seats.

Today we’re going to discuss how you can avoid some of these obstacles when flying United with a carry-on and personal item.

United Carry-on and Personal Item Requirements

Both carry-on bags and personal items are required to meet certain standards that are set by United. You may bring 1 of each with you when flying United (excluding Basic Economy on a non-transatlantic flight), but the requirements for each are different.

Carry-on Dimensions

When flying United, carry-on bags can be no larger than 9 x 14 x 22 inches (22 x 35 x 56 cm). These dimensions include wheels and handles, so make sure you include those in your measurements.

If your carry-on bag does not meet the dimension requirements, you could be forced to check your bag and pay United’s standard checked baggage fee.

Hot Tip: Check out the best ways to avoid checked baggage fees on United.

Unlike checked baggage, carry-ons don’t have to meet certain weight requirements to avoid an extra fee.

Personal Item Dimensions

Personal items must fit under the seat in front of you. Common items include backpacks, laptop bags, and purses. These bags can be no larger than 9 x 10 x 17 inches (22 x 25 x 43 cm).

Like carry-on bags, personal items do not have to meet a weight requirement.

Additional Items

In addition to a carry-on bag and a personal item, primary cardmembers of an eligible Chase United MileagePlus card are permitted to bring some other items on board. These items include:

  • Assistive devices (cane, crutches, etc.)
  • Breast pump
  • Diaper bag
  • FAA-approved child restraint system or safety seat
  • Food from the airport
  • Jacket
  • Merchandise from the airport
  • Pet carrier (service charges will apply)
  • Reading material
  • Umbrella

You must purchase your ticket(s) using your card in order to qualify.

Musical instruments such as guitars, violins, and other small instruments are permitted on board if the instrument is packed in a hard case and space is available in an overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you.

If you choose to bring a musical instrument with you, it will count as part of your carry-on allowance, so keep that in mind when you’re packing.

What Items Are Allowed in Your Carry-on Bag?

The items allowed in your carry-on baggage are regulated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA allows liquids, gels, and aerosols to be packed in your carry-on bag, provided they are in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml).

United Express Flights

United Express
Regional United Express jets have less overhead storage space, which means you might have to gate-check your carry-on bag. Image Credit: United

United Express flights are operated by regional airline partners that use smaller aircraft. As such, the overhead compartments have less space than on United’s mainline aircraft. Roller bags and larger carry-on bags often won’t fit in these overhead bins at all.

If this is the case, you may need to gate-check your carry-on before boarding. These gate-checked bags will not be sent to the baggage claim area when exiting the airport. Instead, they will be brought to you just outside the aircraft, often in the jet bridge.

If you are forced to gate check your carry-on bag, any personal vaporizers and e-cigarettes should be removed and stored in your personal item onboard.

You will not incur a fee to gate check your carry-on in this case.

United Basic Economy Carry-on Rules

United has introduced Basic Economy fares to compete with low-cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines.

During the booking process, you can pay extra for an economy ticket that comes with a few more benefits. If you choose to keep your Basic Economy ticket, you won’t be allowed to bring a carry-on bag on board at all (unless you’re flying on a transatlantic, transpacific, or South American route).

You will still have the option to bring a personal item with you that can be stored under the seat in front of you, but that’s it.

If you go to the gate with a carry-on and you’re sitting in Basic Economy, you will be required to check the bag and pay the applicable checked bag fees plus a $25 gate handling fee.

Avoiding Basic Economy Carry-on Fees

If you are stuck with a Basic Economy ticket, there are 2 ways to ensure you can bring a full-size carry-on bag on board with you. One is easy, while the other is expensive and time-consuming.

If you pay for your Basic Economy ticket using a co-branded United credit card, you can bring your carry-on bag with you at no extra charge.

LIMITED-TIME OFFER
United℠ Explorer Card
U.P. Rating 
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

With priority boarding privileges, no foreign transaction fees and more, MileagePlus members will definitely enjoy their partnered card.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)
With priority boarding privileges, no foreign transaction fees and more, MileagePlus members will definitely enjoy their partnered card.
Limited-time offer: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
60,000 bonus miles
$720
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
21.99% - 28.99% Variable
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

You travel United all the time, but you have heard that there could be ways to make your travel experiences even better, including priority boarding, free bags, and more miles.

You should consider the United℠ Explorer Card, because this card does all that and more!

Pros
  • 2x miles per $1 on United purchases, dining purchases (including delivery services), and hotel stays
  • 1x mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • First checked bag free for you and up to 1 traveling companion
Cons
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee
  • Does not earn transferable rewards
  • Limited-time offer: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases
  • Up to $100 Global Entry, TSA PreCheck® or NEXUS fee credit
  • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights and on Club premium drinks when you pay with your Explorer Card
  • Free first checked bag - a savings of up to $160 per roundtrip. Terms Apply.
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Member FDIC
Financial Snapshot
  • APR: 21.99% - 28.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
Rewards Center

United MileagePlus Frequent Flyer Program

LIMITED-TIME OFFER
United Club℠ Infinite Card
U.P. Rating 
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

Perfect for frequent United flyers who want premium perks like United Club access and free baggage benefits.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)
Perfect for frequent United flyers who want premium perks like United Club access and free baggage benefits.
Limited-time offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Earn 90,000 bonus miles
$1,080
$525
21.99% - 28.99% Variable
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Excellent (740-850)

The United Club℠ Infinite Card is a premium card designed for the most dedicated of United frequent flyers who are looking for a card that provides the opportunity to earn extra United MileagePlus miles and receive lounge access via a yearly United Club membership.

United frequent flyers will find that the United Club Infinite card provides an enhanced experience on their United flights thanks to the money saved on each flight and the conveniences it provides.

Pros
  • 4x miles per $1 on United purchases
  • 2x miles per $1 on travel and dining purchases
  • Complimentary United Club membership
Cons
  • $525 annual fee
  • Does not earn transferable rewards
  • Limited-time offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases
  • Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel and dining
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Free first and second checked bags - a savings of up to $360 per roundtrip (terms apply) - and Premier Access® travel services
  • 10% United Economy Saver Award discount within the continental U.S. and Canada
  • Earn up to 10,000 Premier qualifying points per calendar year (25 PQP for every $500 you spend on purchases)
  • Member FDIC
Financial Snapshot
  • APR: 21.99% - 28.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
LIMITED-TIME OFFER
United Quest℠ Card
U.P. Rating 
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

The United Quest card is a fantastic option for United flyers looking to earn more miles and enhance their flights.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)
The United Quest card is a fantastic option for United flyers looking to earn more miles and enhance their flights.
Limited-time offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
70,000 miles
$840
$250
21.99% - 28.99% Variable
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

The newest addition to United’s lineup of cards is the United Quest℠ Card. With it, you can bolster your United MileagePlus miles, thanks to the bonus categories, while enjoying the card’s many perks designed to help save you money on each United flight.

With an annual fee that falls between the United℠ Explorer Card and United Club℠ Infinite Card, the United Quest card makes for a fantastic card option for United frequent flyers.

Pros
  • 3x miles per $1 on United purchases
  • 2x miles per $1 spent on travel, dining, and select streaming services
  • $125 annual United credit
Cons
  • Does not earn transferable rewards
  • Does not offer airport lounge access
  • Limited-time offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 PQP after qualifying purchases
  • Earn 3 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel, dining and select streaming services
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Free first and second checked bags - a savings of up to $360 per roundtrip (terms apply) - and priority boarding
  • Up to a $125 United® purchase credit and up to 10,000 miles in award flight credits each year (terms apply)
  • Earn up to 6,000 Premier qualifying points per calendar year (25 PQP for every $500 you spend on purchases)
  • Member FDIC
Financial Snapshot
  • APR: 21.99% - 28.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
LIMITED-TIME OFFER
United Gateway℠ Card
U.P. Rating 
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

The United Gateway card is a great option for those looking to earn more United miles without paying an annual fee.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)
The United Gateway card is a great option for those looking to earn more United miles without paying an annual fee.
Limited-time offer: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, 0% intro APR for 12 months from account opening on purchases. Learn more.
30,000 miles
$360
$0
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months; after that, 21.99% - 28.99% Variable
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

The United Gateway℠ Card is a great option for those looking to earn more United miles without wanting to pay a credit card annual fee. Plus, the card offers other solid benefits like a 25% back on United inflight purchases, purchase protection, and rental car insurance.

Pros
  • 2x miles per $1 on United purchases
  • 2x miles per $1 at gas stations and on local transit and commuting, including rideshare services, taxicabs, train tickets, tolls, and mass transit
  • 1x mile per $1 on all other purchases
Cons
  • If you are a frequent United flyer, other cards offer more perks
  • It does not earn transferable rewards
  • Limited-time offer: Earn 30,000 bonus miles
  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at gas stations, on local transit and commuting
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights and on Club premium drinks when you pay with your Gateway Card
  • Member FDIC
Financial Snapshot
  • APR: 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months; after that, 21.99% - 28.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
United Club℠ Business Card
U.P. Rating 
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

The United Club Business card is a great option for frequent United flyers looking for United Club access.

The United Club Business card is a great option for frequent United flyers looking for United Club access.
Earn 50,000 bonus miles + 1,000 Premier qualifying points (PQP) after $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
50,000 miles
$600
$450
21.99%–28.99% Variable
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

The United Club℠ Business Card is a premium card option for dedicated United loyalists seeking a card that offers complimentary United Club access, helps them earn and retain status, and doesn’t skip on the benefits.

From free checked bags to upgrades on award tickets and the ability to earn Premier qualifying points, there is plenty to the United Club Business card that United flyers are sure to love.

Pros
  • 2x miles per $1 spent on United purchases
  • 1.5x miles per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Complimentary United Club membership
Cons
  • $450 annual fee
  • Earning rate for United purchases is poor compared to other United cards
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles + 1,000 Premier qualifying points (PQP) after $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Earn 2x miles on United purchases
  • Earn 1.5x miles on all other purchases
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • United Club membership — up to a $650 value per year. Relax in comfort while waiting for your flight with complimentary beverages, snacks, high-speed Wi-Fi, and more
  • Free first and second checked bags for you and a companion, save up to $320 per round-trip
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
Financial Snapshot
  • APR: 21.99%–28.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: $0

In addition to our 2 favorite cards above, a free carry-on bag is also included with these credit cards:

  • Banorte United Credit Card
  • Banorte United Universe Card
  • First Hawaiian Bank United® Card
  • United Club℠ Business Card
  • United MileagePlus® Awards Card
  • United℠ Business Card
  • United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Business Card
  • United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Card

The standard carry-on bag benefit also extends to your travel companions if they are traveling on the same reservation (and space permits).

The second way to avoid a fee is to have elite status with United or Star Alliance. If you hold MileagePlus Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, or are a Star Alliance Gold member, you are permitted to bring a standard carry-on bag.

Earning status requires a high level of spending, so this is mostly applicable to business travelers who work for companies that pay for their travel.

Hot Tip: Use a United MileagePlus credit card from Chase if you have to purchase Basic Economy tickets so you can bring a carry-on bag with you.

How To Handle Basic Economy Bag Issues

United baggage fees
With a little planning, you can avoid or offset baggage fees even when flying Basic Economy.

So if you don’t hold elite status with United, what’s the best way to ensure you can bring your carry-on bag for free?

First, if you really want a carry-on with you so you can jet off the plane to a meeting or catch a train, use one of the co-branded United cards to book your flight. This is the easiest way to ensure you can bring both your personal item and carry-on on board, even with a Basic Economy ticket.

If you don’t have one of the co-branded cards, don’t try to sneak a carry-on bag on board — it’s unlikely to work. When stopped you, you’ll be on the hook for the standard checked bag fee of $30 plus the additional $25 gate handling fee.

Rather than going through this hassle and paying double, plan ahead by putting everything you can in a checked bag and only keep essentials such as medicines in your personal item. By checking the bag at the United check-in desk, you’ll still have to cover the checked bag fee — but it will be half of what you’d pay at the gate.

Finally, if you’re going to check a bag, pay for it with a credit card such as the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card where you can redeem your miles for a statement credit against travel charges within the last 90 days.

While you might have a carry-on bag, using one of these cards can offset any extra cost you will be charged. Keep in mind that to use an American Express airline fee credit on checked bags with United, you must designate United as your selected airline before making the purchase.

Final Thoughts

If you book a ticket in first class, business class, or economy class, carry-on baggage and personal items won’t be much of a worry for you. Just make sure they fit the required dimensions.

It’s when you’re stuck in Basic Economy that you need to consider your needs. You’re likely going to have to check a bag if you want to bring anything more than a personal item, so planning ahead is advisable. Fortunately, you can use any of several credit cards to offset the checked baggage fees.

This is just another hassle to flying Basic Economy, but with the right information in hand, you can at least make the best of a frustrating situation.

The information regarding the Banorte United Credit Card, Banorte United Universe Card, First Hawaiian Bank United® Card, United MileagePlus® Awards Card, United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Business Card and United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

The information regarding the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the United Club℠ Business Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does United allow you to bring a carry-on bag for Basic Economy fares?

No, if you’ve booked a Basic Economy fare you will have to pay extra for a carry-on bag. This excludes flights to/from South America, transatlantic, and transpacific regions.

What are the United carry-on dimensions?

The United carry-on dimensions are 9 x 14 x 22 inches (22 x 35 x 56 cm).

Are carry-ons free on United?

Passengers may bring 1 carry-on bag and 1 personal item, with the exception of those with a Basic Economy ticket (unless you’re flying on a transatlantic, transpacific, or South American route). Basic Economy passengers may only bring 1 personal item on board.

Can I have a backpack and a carry-on on United?

Yes, you’re allowed to bring 1 carry-on bag (9 x 14 x 22 inches (22 x 35 x 56 cm)) and 1 personal item (9 x 10 x 17 inches (22 x 25 x 43 cm)) on most flights.

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About Spencer Howard

Always a fan of flying, it was only natural that Spencer was drawn to finding a way to improve the travel experience.

Like many, he started this journey searching for cheap flights to take him around the world. This was fun for a while, but Spencer was intrigued by the idea of flying in business and first class!

Throwing himself into what became an extensive research project, Spencer spent 3-4 hours per night learning everything he could about frequent flyer miles over the course of several months (he thinks this is normal). He runs Straight to the Points, an award-seat alert platform.

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