United Airlines Carry-on Bag 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.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card
  • Includes United Club membership
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $450
United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and select business purchases
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $95

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 that will reimburse you for the cost.

Credit CardFee Reimbursement Details
💳 Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite MasterCard®

  • Use your miles to cover any qualifying travel purchases of $100 or more, including baggage fees.
  • Annual Fee: $150
  • Rates & Fees
💳 Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $100 a calendar year for baggage fees at one airline. Terms Apply.
  • Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $195
💳 The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • $200 airline fee credit per calendar year on your previously designated airline. Terms Apply.
  • Annual Fee: $550
💳 The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN
  • $200 airline fee credit per calendar year on your previously designated airline. Terms Apply.
  • Annual Fee: $450
Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
  • $300 travel credit per calendar year (covers all travel related purchases).
  • Annual Fee: $450
Citi Prestige Card
  • $250 air travel credit per calendar year.
  • Annual Fee: $450

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


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