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.

CREDIT CARDCARD INFO
UnitedSM Explorer Card (Learn More)
  • 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.

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.

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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10 comments

  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.

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