InchGate: All Three Major US Airlines Slash Carry-On Size Allowance?

Posted in American Airlines, At the Terminal, Delta, Domestic US, In the Air, United

CLARIFICATION: Reader Matt points out that the 22″ x 14″ x 9″ size has always been standard on the Big Three. The difference now appears to be that previously you could have any bag whose dimensions added up to 45″ and now each dimension has to be under 22″, 14″, and 9″ respectively. On to the story…

This is bad news, friends. Following United’s lead back in March, it appears that Delta and American have followed suit and cut the acceptable size of carry-on bags from 22″ x 15″ x 9″ to 22″ x 14″ x 9″ started enforcing strict dimension limits (see note above). This is directly from American’s page on carry-on baggage allowance:

You can bring one small carry-on bag plus one personal item per passenger as long as the carry-on bag fits comfortably in the sizer without being forced and does not exceed overall dimensions of 45 inches (length + width + height).

The maximum dimensions cannot exceed any of the following measurements: 22″ long x 14″ wide x 9″ tall or 115cm (56 x 36 x 23 cm). All carry-on items should be stowed in an overhead bin.

Personal item – includes: purse, briefcase, laptop bag OR a similar item such as a tote that does not exceed 36 inches( length+width+height) and must fit under the seat in front of you. For travel after June 11, 2014, the personal item does not have specific size requirements, but must be smaller than your carry-on bag and must fit under the seat in front of you.

First of all, I don’t understand the new Personal Item rule that just went into effect this week. Was anybody checking before?

Second of all, enforcing strict dimension limits is a major issue. This is why: so many luggage makers make bags specifically to adhere to the airlines’ size requirements based on the old “cannot exceed 45 inches” rule. They want to give you the maximum amount of luggage space, so those bags are all based on the previous standard. Some luggage makers make bags that are 21″ x 15″ x 9″, which would have been fine under the old system but now that means that the luggage you bought for the very purpose of fitting into the overhead bins perfectly is now too damn big.

This is only an issue if the airlines get super vigilant about checking carry-on bag sizes — which appears to be the case. George Hobica of, the guy who brought this to the world’s attention via USA Today, certainly claims they are. He tells a tale of woe involving the TSA line at JFK, a carry-on bag he’s traveled with all over the world, and a zealous airport employee who made him measure his bag in the bag sizer before an American flight. It resulted in a trip BACK to the ticket counter to check his bag that was now oversized by exactly one inch. This could just be the case of a Red Coat taking their job too seriously, but it could easily also be the beginning of a carry-on crackdown.

There’s another issue at play here and Hobica doesn’t address it in his article. What if this is a revenue play by the airlines? With baggage fees going up and up and up, carry-on was the last frontier of free luggage. I know I for one downsize my travel gear considerably to fit everything in my carry-on to avoid baggage fees. If the airlines are instituting this InchGate (please oh please let this become known as InchGate), that means the bag you thought was going to fly free is now going to cost you at least $25. That’s a big, big problem. I would be furious if I was sent back to the counter to pay for a bag that I thought was going to travel with me gratis.

I’m fascinated to know how this is going to play out. Have you encountered this recently? Is anyone else being sent back to check a bag because it’s now too big? I want to hear about it in the comments. Let the InchGate Debate begin!


h/t Gizmodo via LA Times via Digg via USA Today


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    • When you’re dealing with the size of carry-ons, I think any reduction can be considered a slash. I appreciate the feedback though and will let you know when we’re hiring for a Headline Editor. Thanks for reading!

  1. I think it’s ridiculous to reduce it by an inch especially when so many bags are made, and have already been bought by people, to fit within the older dimensions. I bet next they will start imposing and strictly enforcing carry on weight restrictions, too.

    And the other thing is the sizers that may or may not accurately reflect the supposed dimensions.

    • That’s a really interesting point about the sizers. I wonder if the airlines will spring to replace every single sizer at every single airport. Sounds like a major expenditure and they don’t seem to be down with spending big bucks for something like that.

    • Hey Matt — you’re absolutely right. The difference is the enforcement on the actual dimensions listed versus total size. I’ve rewritten the story to reflect that and appreciate you writing in with the correction.

      • The switch to listing specific dimensions from a total linear limit is not new either. I can see 22 x 14 x 9 published on as early as 2010. Moreover, this wasn’t a change in policy, merely a clarification. Prior to 2010, the specific limits were published elsewhere, and were reflected in the baggage sizer. I remember in 1999, 22 x 14 x 8″ was the specific limits, and they may have been set some time before that.

        • It is rather new and complicated. There are places where AA still markets and/or I s legally obliged to allow 45 linear inch cabin bags without regard to also having to meet separated L H W dimensions.

          Delta and UA still have valid contracts/conditions of carriage ( from 2013) being used for flights that stipulate 45 linear inches as allowable and do so without mention of having to meet three individual dimension cut-offs too.

      • The actual dimensions have not changed either in the case of AA at least. They first published the length,width and height limits in 2010. For AA at least, the only recent change is the removal of the dimensions for the ‘personal item’ it now merely has to be smaller than the carry-on.

  2. American’s change to definition for a personal item now aligns with the long standing policy for US.

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