Luggage in front of an airplane

Is a Purse Considered a Carry On? (No, It’s a Personal Item)

A purse is not considered a carry-on for most airlines; it is instead considered a personal item. 

The difference between a carry-on and personal item is size and where you expect to store the bag. Carry-on bags are larger and go in the overhead bins. Personal items must fit underneath the seat in front of you.  

Carry-on baggage is confusing, especially if you are a first-time flier. This article will give you a clear outline of the rules and tips to use on the major American airlines. 

As a former Flight Attendant, I have seen all the carry-on luggage rules and am here to help you navigate the world of cabin baggage. We will go over the differences between personal items and carry-on bags. I will also provide specific dimensions for all the major airlines and tips for choosing the right bags to bring on the plane with you. 

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Does a Purse Count as a Carry On? 

A purse does not count as a carry on for most major airlines in the United States. Instead a purse counts as a personal item that can be brought on the plane separate from any carry on baggage allowance.

So what’s a personal item anyway? It’s a common question, as the definition is a little murky, so let’s demystify that in our next section: 

What is a Personal Item?

Hand luggage that can fit completely underneath the seat in front of you is considered a personal item. Common personal items other than purses can include a diaper bag, laptop bag or a small backpack.

By contrast, a carry-on bag is an item you plan to put in the overhead bin. They are larger in dimension and are not always accessible during the flight. Examples are duffel bags, suit bags, small rolling bags and full-sized backpacks. Child safety seats are usually exempt from the carry-on and personal item allowance.

✈️ The following table shows the maximum dimensions, including handles and wheels, for carry on items and personal items for major US airlines:

Airline Carry On Item Maximum dimensions (L+W+H)Personal Item Maximum dimensions (L+W+H)Link to baggage policy page
DeltaCombined maximum 145 linear inches; Individual Measurements: 22”x 14”x 9”Not given – use American and United dimensions:

17”x 10”x 9”

Delta Policy Page
United Airlines22”x 14”x 9” 17”x 10” x9”United Policy Page
American Airlines22”x 14”x 9”  – Or – Soft-sided garment bags up to 51 inches  (L+W+H) 17”x 10”x 9”American Airlines Policy Page
Southwest Airlines 24”x 16”x 10”Must fit in the 16.25” (L) x 13.5” (W) x 8” (H) space beneath the seatSouthwest Baggage FAQ
Spirit AirlinesCombined maximum of 62 linear inches, Maximum weight of 40 Ibs (18.1 kg). 18”x 14”x 8”Spirit Baggage FAQ

Tips for Carrying Cabin Baggage on a Plane

A man putting a luggage on the overhead bin

If you are using a rolling bag as a carry-on, make sure the essentials for your flight are in your personal item. Due to the layout of planes, there is not enough space in the overhead bins for everyone to bring a rolling bag on board. So pack your carry on with the things you don’t need, and put anything you’ll need to access in your personal item.

It is possible you will be asked to check your larger carry-on bag at the gate. Busy flights often offer this free of charge. If enough people don’t volunteer, the gate agent will need you to check your carry-on. 

There are also often weight restrictions for the carry-on bag. A good rule of thumb is you need to be able to lift it over your head and pivot while holding the bag. This will ensure you can get the bag into the overhead bin yourself. Flight Attendants are not allowed to put these bags up for you.

A man sitting on a plane during his flight

If you are using a small backpack as a personal item, do not overstuff it. A personal item that looks like it can comfortably fit underneath the seat is far more likely to pass a casual inspection. This will save you time at boarding because the gate agent will not need to measure it. If you need a bag, check out our list of the best personal item backpacks.

Here are a couple other quick tips for packing your personal item and carry on luggage:

  • 👜 Make sure your personal item is soft-sided and flexible 
  • 🎒 Remember, you will be putting your personal item on the floor where thousands of shoes and bags have been. This is not a good time to use your beloved designer bag.
  • Label your carry-on items with something colorful and visible from the sides of the bag. It will make finding your carry on much easier in the shuffle to get off the plane. 

Purse-Friendly Organizers for Flying

Now that you know that a purse doesn’t count as a carry on, you can get on to organizing your purse for that upcoming flight. Here are a couple of purse-friendly purchases to consider to make your trip smoother: 

Travelon Mesh Pouches

Travelon Set of 4 Mesh Pouches, Gray, 9.5 x 12.75 x 0.5

These personal item bags make organizing your carry-on and purse easy. Use one for chargers, another for important papers. I always have one with a couple pens and a notebook. It makes navigating through the airport much easier when you are not scrambling to find things in your bag you know right away where something is. 

14 Pack Travel bottles

14 Pack Travel Bottles, TSA Approved Containers, 3oz Leak Proof Travel Accessories Toiletries, Travel Shampoo And Conditioner Bottles, Perfect for Business or Personal Travel Essentials, Squeezable Silicone Lotion Liquids Tubes

Take the guesswork out of your liquid allowance and buy some TSA Approved travel bottle containers. Security is used to seeing kits like this and know at a glance they are compliant, which will save you time. It also saves you the stress of not going through all of your toiletries checking ounces and working out the allowances yourself.

FAQs About Carrying Purses on Planes

Does a purse count as a personal item on a plane? 

A purse counts as a personal item on a plane. Other common personal items are diaper bags, laptop bags and small backpacks.

What size purse can you take on a plane?

Your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. A good general rule for most airlines is that your personal item needs to be 17″ (L) x 10″ (W)  x 9″ (H) and soft-sided. Budget airlines like Spirit have smaller seats, so these dimensions will be smaller on their flights. 

Can I bring snacks in my purse on the plane?

You can bring most snacks in your purse on a plane. Avoid any snack food that is a container of liquid or gel that exceeds 3.4 oz. For simplicity’s sake, stick to snacks like granola bars, dry nuts, crackers etc. Also, if you are going on an international flight, do not bring whole fresh fruit or vegetables with you. Customs will often confiscate it.

Can I carry jewelry in my purse on the plane? 

You can carry jewelry in your purse on a plane. Keep it all together inside your purse (use a bag or container), so you can remove it while going through security.

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So I hope that answers the question “is a purse considered a carry on?” 

As we have seen, a purse is always considered a personal item because of its size and portability. If you want more tips on what to pack in your carry-on baggage check out this article about packing for long haul flights.