United Airlines Carry-on Bag Sizes, Rules and Restrictions

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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, but the requirements for each are different.

Carry-on Dimensions

When flying United, carry-on bags can be no larger than 9 inches X 14 inches X 22 inches (22 cm X 35 cm 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 inches X 10 inches X 17 inches (22 cm X 25 cm 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, passengers are permitted to bring some other items on board. These items include:

Additional Items Allowed on Board
JacketAssistive devices (cane, crutches, etc.)
UmbrellaFAA-approved child restraint system or safety seat
Food from the airportDiaper bag
Merchandise from the airportBreast pump
Reading materialPet carrier (service charges will apply)

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.

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 on board.

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. Unfortunately, they don’t advertise fares as basic economy, so you won’t see this designation until you’ve selected your flights.

At this point, 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.

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. There are 4 credit card options to choose from: 2 personal and 2 business.

These cards also provide a free checked bag for you and a traveling companion on your itinerary. In fact, the Club cards both provide 2 free checked bags.

Unfortunately, the ability to bring a carry-on when booked in basic economy is not extended to your traveling companion. Only the cardholder is eligible to bring a carry-on on board with a basic economy ticket, even if the companion is on the same reservation.

The second way to avoid a fee is to have elite status with United. If you hold Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, or Global Services status with United, you are permitted to bring a 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 they stop you, you’ll be on the hook for the standard checked bag fee of $25 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 keeping 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 where you can use your points to pay for charges on your statement!

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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.

*Featured image courtesy of United

Spencer Howard

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).


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  1. JoAnn Sweeney · August 13, 2018 · Reply

    Can I take my c-pap machine in my carry on bag?

    • Hi JoAnn, you can find United’s policy on CPAP machines here: https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/special-needs/disabilities/customer-ventilators.html

      It states the following but be sure to visit the page for additional details:

      “Portable electronic personal ventilators, respirators and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines may be carried and used on board United flights if it can be verified by a manufacturers’ label or otherwise that the units meet applicable FAA requirements.

      A forty-eight (48) hour minimum advance notification to the Accessibility Desk (1-800-228-2744) is required for customers using a ventilator, respirator or CPAP machine on board.”

  2. Virginia Mims · August 25, 2018 · Reply

    Will I be able to carry on a garment bag?

    • Hi Virginia – United Airlines does not specifically state whether or not you can carry on a garment bag in their listed online policies. I think it would partially depend on whether you are taking the garment bag in place of your carry on/personal item or in addition to your carry on/personal item.

      It’s not a written policy but some airlines, as an act of customer satisfaction, will overlook taking a garment bag in addition to your carry-on/personal item and let you hang it at the front of the plane. Unless of course, there is no room to hang it there which can happen on some occasions (depending on the model of the plane).

      I actually called United Customer service this morning in order to ask them your question. The customer service representative I spoke with told me that YES, you are allowed to bring on a garment bag as a personal item in addition to your carry on bag. To clarify further, I asked if the garment bag would then replace the standard personal item (a purse or backpack) and the rep said that no, a purse or backpack would still be allowed in addition to the garment bag. I then asked if there was anything the customer would have to do to ensure this would not be an issue when flying and the representative stated that no, you would not have to do anything special, this is their standard rule and should not be an issue.

      That being said, of course, I must state my disclaimer here, that neither myself nor Upgraded Points should be held liable if you experience a different result once you board your flight. While United’s rep stated it was fine, I wouldn’t put it past an airline to go back on a policy (it wouldn’t be the first time) so it’s basically an “at your own risk” kind of scenario.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Laura Burgener · August 30, 2018 · Reply

    I ordered bags that were advertised as carry on but when I measured them today the width is just a hair over the 14 inch limit. Is United a bit flexible in this situation? It is a hard case bag. I don’t want any surprises at the gate!

    • Hey Laura – Unfortunately I can’t say definitively if they’ll be cool with it or not. “Technically” it is over and if they asked you to place it in the measurement container it would likely fail (being a hard case). I guess the question to ask yourself is “Would it be a nightmare if you had to check the bag?”. “Will there be valuables etc in the bag that cannot be checked under any circumstance?”. If “yes” then maybe it’s not worth the risk? Gut-feel is that you would be OK as they are pretty relaxed in my experience, but it’s totally up to you.

  4. Morgan McKay · October 6, 2018 · Reply

    What the rules on wearing a fanny pack and bringing a small backpack for your personal items? Can only one be okay or is a fanny pack considered appearal since I will have it around my waist at all times? Also I have a small suitcase than can fit overhead.

    • Stephen Au · October 8, 2018 · Reply

      Hi Morgan, in theory, a fanny pack is not a personal item if you “keep it worn on you at all times during the flight” because a personal item is supposed to be under the seat in front of you. However, the gate agent will determine whether or not it’s a personal item. It all depends on who you get at the gate.

  5. Rita johnston · October 23, 2018 · Reply

    Can i check a 24 x. 36 glass framed picture on the plane. How should it be packed ie bubble wrap and tape?

    • Hi Rita, checking anything fragile is VERY risky. Especially because United does not recommend you do so and is not liable if the item gets damaged (see their policy on highly fragile/perishable items here). It is better if you take this as a carry-on – however since it is larger than United’s carry-on restrictions (9x14x22), you will likely have to purchase an extra ticket for it. A ridiculous expense but may be worth it to you for the picture to arrive undamaged (see this policy here).

      Alternatively, you can call United’s customer service at 1-800-864-8331 and inquire as to what they recommend.

      The best practice when buying larger, fragile items is to have the merchant pack and ship it for you. It may cost a pretty penny but it will certainly be cheaper than purchasing another airline ticket for the item and it will usually be guaranteed to get there in one piece.

  6. I have a soft leather carry-on which is the correct dimensions, but the leather handles would make it taller. However, they fold over because they are not rigid. Would that be okay for under the seat?
    Thank you.

    • Stephen Au · January 4, 2019 · Reply

      Hey Grace,

      It should be fine. If you have a ticket that covers a carry-on, you can put it in the overhead bins. You don’t need to put it under the seat! Also, there’s not much enforcement with sizes the under the seat. Many people bring backpacks or other items that they put under the seat. Thanks for reading!

  7. Lam Huynh · January 25, 2019 · Reply

    By taking the battery out to carry it with my personal item, can I put my lap-top in my checked-in luggage ?

    • Catherine Luther · January 27, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Lam,

      There are currently no rules in place banning laptops from being packed in checked baggage, but the TSA recommends that you transport them in your carry-on. Baggage handlers are not known for their gentle touch so your laptop could easily be damaged then or even during the flight with the low temperatures that hold compartments reach. Hold baggage is also more likely to go missing than your carry-on item – another reason to not pack any valuable items in there. But if you do, be sure to check your insurance would cover you for the loss. Hope that helps!

    • Gordon · May 20, 2019 · Reply

      United somehow has gotten it in their head that laptops with Lithium Ion batteries are not allowed in checked baggage. While their policy online aligns with TSA regulations, their agents are trained to tell travelers that laptops cannot be checked. I have forced a rep to take my checked bag with a laptop by having them call the TSA folks. To her surprise she was told that there was no problem with it, and so they took it. I complained to corporate but all they did was send me some miles, not change their incorrect training. It’s kinda hilarious.

      The official rules are that Li-Ion batteries may be checked as long as the battery is 100 Watt-hours or less and it is installed in a device; loose Li-Ion batteries may not be checked.

      • Catherine Luther · May 22, 2019 · Reply

        Hi Gordon, thanks for sharing your experience with us. It is odd that United’s staff training does not align with the information they present on their website. Let’s hope they rectify this soon.

  8. Kimberly · February 10, 2019 · Reply

    Can I carry on two personal items with a basic economy ticket? Both fit under my seat.

    • Christine Krzyszton · February 10, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Kimberly! You can only carry on one item free of charge with a basic economy ticket.

  9. Michael · March 1, 2019 · Reply

    What About Fins? Going to belize and they will not fit in my carry on but are thin and flat and would fit on top of a carry on without any issue.

    • James Larounis · March 3, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Michael. I would recommend not taking this aboard alone, without being in some sort of carrying case or bag. If you’ve already got a carry on, then the fins will more likely be larger than a personal item and would need to be checked – in this case, I’d recommend getting a hard sided case or other protective covering so you can check your fins without any potential damage, or check your roller carry on bag.

  10. I just checked on flights via United Express from North Bend, Oregon to San Francisco, a flight I have taken twice before. There was a symbol for no carry-on being included, and a price of $60 each way if I wanted to bring one onboard. Yikes! Their smaller plane usually has really small overheads, so they stow the bag underneath the plane and I retrieve it on the tarmac when we land, but there was never a fee, and their website lists $39 as being the checked bag fee. I’m confused.

    • Catherine Luther · March 25, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Linda,

      United’s controversial carry-on bag ban came into force July 2018 for its Basic Economy fares, in line with American Airlines’ policy and to compete with low-cost carriers. Whereas American recognised the limitations of this fare for passengers and revoked the rule, United are still holding strong only allowing passengers to bring a personal item for free. They do say that the fare price should be cheaper as a result but $60 each way is a pretty hefty fee for a carry-on bag! They’re hoping passengers will pay extra for the convenience of avoiding baggage reclaim. You might be better just booking a checked bag – at least you’ll get a higher allowance.


  11. What is the weight of a checked bag and the charge?

    • Catherine Luther · April 4, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Patty,

      All checked bags with United must adhere to a max weight of 50lb for all Economy and Premium Plus fares and 70lbs for Business and First Class fares. All bags must also adhere to max linear dimensions of 62 inches. For domestic flights or to Canada, then the first checked bag is $30, and a second bag is $40. If you’re flying to any other destinations or traveling in a different cabin, then you can view allowances and other baggage charges in our dedicated article.

  12. Hi! I want to buy one of the discounted Samsonite small wheeled underseat bags as discovered through the United website however I see that the dimensions are just a very small amount above the denoted dimensions for a personal item; would I still be able to use this as a personal item?

    • Catherine Luther · April 14, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Cindy,

      As with any carry-on or personal item for any airline, there are never any assurances that a bag exceeding the maximum dimensions will be accepted. Even if United are advertising a bag on their website, the check-in or gate crew likely wouldn’t take that into consideration in the moment. I’m sure 9 times out of 10 it’s fine, but you must be prepared to take the risk of paying a fee if they do declare it oversized.

  13. Michelle · May 16, 2019 · Reply

    Are there any wheeled cases or bags anywhere that do fit United’s personal item dimensions to fit underseat….help????

    • Catherine Luther · May 16, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Michelle,

      Unfortunately I think you will struggle to find any wheeled cases that would meet United’s personal item restrictions. You would be better off with a small duffel bag or backpack that is soft enough to compress under the seat, that meets the airlines’ requirements.

  14. Carolyn Dos · May 22, 2019 · Reply

    I have a very small Anker external battery power core for my cell phone. It is slightly smaller than a deck of cards. I cannot find what kind of battery (lithium) anywhere in the instructions and if it can be taken on board in a carry-on bag. Instructions are vague for these type of power cores and TSA differs from United? Can you please help me figure if I can or can not take it with me? I leave for my flight on Thursday, May 23. Thank you!

    • Hi Carolyn, we would just be researching United’s website and relaying the info to you here. But, since we aren’t United, we wouldn’t be certain our answer is 100% correct. We **THINK** you would be fine, but what we suggest (since this is a time-sensitive issue) is that you call United’s Customer Service and inquire with them directly. This will get you the most accurate answer: 1-800-864-8331 from the US.

  15. Would I be able to bring 2 books if they go in my personal bag?

    • Catherine Luther · June 10, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Amber,

      There are no restrictions on bringing books in your personal item provided the bag does not exceed the size allowance of 9 inches X 10 inches X 17 inches.

  16. Can I bring a pen in my purse?

    • Hey Irma, it depends on what kind of “pen” you’re talking about.

      This is the portion of United’s policy regarding e-Cigarettes: “Electronic cigarettes and personal vaporizers are not accepted in checked or gate-checked baggage. These items may be stowed in carry-on baggage or on your person during travel, however, the use and charging of e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers is prohibited onboard all United flights and in United ClubSM locations.”

  17. Milla · July 8, 2019 · Reply

    If I book an economy flight using miles + fee (cost for the flight I’m looking at is 52k points + $141.33) and pay the fee with a United Explorer card, does that allow me to bring a carry-on and a personal item?

    • Catherine Luther · July 9, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Milla,

      This depends on the type of Economy ticket and destination. If this is a standard Economy fare then a personal item and standard carry-on is included. If this is a an Economy Basic fare then only a personal item is included (unless the route is a transatlantic flight.)

  18. Debra Saunders · July 14, 2019 · Reply

    Hello, I have a small tote bag that match my suitcase. Can I use that as a personal bag under seat…

    • Catherine Luther · July 15, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Debra,

      A personal item must not exceed 9 inches X 10 inches X 17 inches (22 cm X 25 cm X 43 cm) so as long as your tote bag adheres to these measurements this would be fine. This is also assuming that you are not traveling on an Economy Basic ticket (where only 1 personal item is permitted if not traveling on a transatlantic flight.)

  19. LeeAnne Jensen · July 30, 2019 · Reply

    I had a heart attack last year so now I am on a boat load of medications that I put in pill containers so I have everything I take a day in one place. Am I going to have problems with having daily pill containers with me with pills in it? I will need a whole suitcase for the meds I am taking if they have to be in the RX bottles.
    Thanks for your help.

    • Christine Krzyszton · July 30, 2019 · Reply

      Hi LeeAnne. If you are traveling domestically, it should not be a problem. Internationally, you are safer carrying the pills in their original prescription containers.

  20. Carolyn · August 13, 2019 · Reply

    My husband and I have purchased a basic economy ticket for this Friday. After reading some of the above information on your site, I have a question. The reservation was made (for two) and now I question can we both bring a carry-on to go under our seats without a charge? Thank you.

    • Hi Carolyn,

      Basic economy tickets with United do not include carry-on baggage. The only thing you may bring, without an additional fee, is a personal item like a purse or small backpack.

      Thanks for reading!

  21. Can I bring a poster rube as a personal item?

  22. john Hess · August 21, 2019 · Reply

    Can I take a disposable razor on the plane? It will be carry on.

  23. A real question. Do they allow vibrators such as wands (over 7inches) in carry-on luggage? (No batteries)

  24. william ackerman · August 26, 2019 · Reply

    Can I bring a defibrillator in my carry on bag. Small AED

    • Hi William,

      Yes, you can bring your defibrillator. Thanks for reading!

      • Sasha Duke · September 7, 2019 · Reply

        If it states no carry on bag, only 1 personal item. Can you have a carry on with you and just check it at the gate? (boarding the plane)

        • Catherine Luther · September 8, 2019 · Reply

          Hi Sasha,

          You can but you will pay extra to do this. You’ll be charged the applicable checked bag fee for your route plus a $25 gate handling fee.

  25. You state a fanny pack is ok in addition to a personal item. What about a small purse across body that is on me at all times.

    • Catherine Luther · August 28, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Tillie,

      Similar to the answer regarding the fanny pack, it will be down to the gate agent to determine whether they consider this exempt from your personal item allowance. If it’s discrete, then chances are it would be ok, but you would need to be prepared to pack this in your personal item if requested.

  26. Hi,

    I have a Basic Economy trip from Berlin to Seattle. It contains two flights Berlin-New York and New York-Seattle. The ticket itself says I can bring one full size carry-on bag (22 x 35 x 56cm) plus one personal item (shoulder bag). I am going to have only one carry-on bag.

    However, I am worried about the New York-Seattle part because it is not transatlantic itself – will I have any problems because of the bigger bag? Or the transatlantic rule is applicable for the whole trip not separate flights?

    • Catherine Luther · August 31, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Larisa,

      I believe the Basic Economy carry-on restriction applies to the domestic leg, regardless of if you’re connecting to/from an international flight. As we’re not United, we can’t confirm this for you 100% so you might want to give them a call to check.

  27. Alison Browne · September 15, 2019 · Reply

    Hi. I have a basic economy flight from London Heathrow to Lax. Do I get a carry on baggage as well or just personal item. Thank you

    • Catherine Luther · September 16, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Alison,

      Yes, on trans-Atlantic flights your carry-on baggage allowance is the same as a standard economy ticket (carry-on + personal item).

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