It seems that airline luggage rules get stricter every day. Here’s how to navigate one of the trickier ones.

What’s a personal item?

Airlines will differ on their categorisation of a personal item, but in essence it is a small item like a handbag, laptop bag, camera bag, garment bag or shopping you’ve purchased in the airport. Generally it has to be able to fit under the seat in front of you, rather than needing to go in the overhead bin. A good rule of thumb here can be to think ‘bag’ not ‘luggage’ – your personal item should not have wheels or a big carry handle.

What is carry-on luggage?

There’s no official international standard that regulates, the size of carry-on luggage, but most airlines have similar restrictions. Your bag should be less than 55cm x 45cm x 25cm in dimensions. Many luggage brands will sell specific carry-on bags that fall within these specs. There’s also a weight limit, which is usually 7 kilos for most airlines (though some are very generous and allow up to 12). You can store this piece of luggage in the overhead bin.

Here’s where it gets tricky…

Some airlines, like American Airlines, also allow you an additional bulky item like a coat, umbrella, pillow or nappy back on top of a personal item. So, in theory, you could board with a compact wheeled carry-on bag, a handbag and an umbrella, and be well within the restrictions. But beware – Jetstar (among others) considers items like these to be your personal item. If you arrive with all three, you could have to check one of them for an additional charge.

Getting the most from your allowance

First and foremost, read the conditions of your ticket. Every airline is different, so just because you’ve gotten away with something on one flight there’s no guarantee that you will the next time. If you’re a frequent traveller, it’s worth investing in a special carry-on suitcase that meets the size restrictions for the main airlines. That way, you can pack it with confidence and know that you’ll make it onboard.

Try to keep your personal items as small as possible – many handbags or backpacks can be almost larger than a suitcase, so are unlikely to qualify. A small crossbody handbag or daypack are big enough to carry your wallet, passport, phone and other essentials. If you’re going to take your everyday handbag, make sure you clean out all the unnecessary stuff before you fly – it’s amazing how much you will have in there that you don’t need.

Article created in partnership with Over60