Well, you learn something new every day… or at least I do.
Before I get into the post, I’m curious to hear the initial impressions you guys have — when flying, does a small, thin garment bag (with just one suit in it) qualify as a carry-on or personal item?
Carry-on vs. personal item
“Full service” US airlines (with the exception of United on basic economy fares) let you take on a carry-on and a personal item. The intent is that the carry-on goes in the overhead bin, and the personal item goes underneath the seat in front of you.
The exact size and weight restrictions vary by airline, though just to use American’s policy as an example:
- A carry-on shouldn’t exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches
- A personal item shouldn’t exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches
What I thought the rule was on garment bags
A lot of people travel with garment bags, since it’s often the best way to transport a suit without it getting totally wrinkled. This is especially practical if you’re flying first class on an airline with a closet, since you can hang it up.
I’ve always been under the impression that a small garment bag with just one suit counted as a personal item. Sure, if you have one of those massive garment bags that’s the size of a bag that’s your carry-on, but a small garment bag could easily be folded up in such a way that it could fit underneath the seat in front of you, and also fit within the personal item size parameters.
It’s not often that I travel with a suit, but I had to this morning, so I decided to travel with my 20″ carry-on, plus the garment bag (I left my laptop bag of sorts at home).
At security I was stopped and told “I’ll let you through this time, but just so you know, the garment bag is your carry-on so you can’t take that and a bag.”
I figured the line checker was misinformed, which wouldn’t be the first time. I also figured if I was actually violating the rules, she wouldn’t have let me through with a warning, since I feel like some line checkers derive pleasure from turning people away.
My surprising discovery
So I did some research online when I got to my gate. In online discussion boards there were all kinds of different viewpoints, though most people seemed to agree that a small garment bag qualifies as a personal item and not a carry-on.
But that’s not the case, to my surprise. Based on my research, all US airlines count a garment bag as a carry-on, and not as a personal item, regardless of how small it is. To give an example, this is confirmed on American’s website:
Soft-sided garment bags up to 51 inches / 130 cm (length + width + height) can also be taken as your carry-on item.
It’s also stated on JetBlue’s website:
FAA/TSA regulations allow each customer to take one (1) carry-on (garment bag, backpack, suitcase, pet carrier, etc.) and one (1) personal item (purse, briefcase, laptop, etc.) onboard the aircraft.
I reached out to American to clarify, and they confirmed this policy, even if the garment bag fits within the dimensions of a personal item:
AA Carry-On Policy limits passengers to one personal item that fits under the seat and one carry-on bag to be placed in the overhead bin. If a passenger is traveling with a soft-sided garment bag, this item replaces their carry-on bag.
The rule isn’t always enforced, though
I’m very surprised to learn that a small garment bag qualifies as a carry-on and not a personal item on most airlines. However, I’d note that it seems to me like this policy is rarely enforced. I constantly see business travelers with a garment bag hanging over the back of their carry-on.
There were two people checking carry-ons at my gate, and neither stopped me. Similarly, my dad almost always travels with a carry-on and a garment bag, and has never been stopped (again, we always thought this was completely fine, and didn’t realize this violated any rules).
So anyway, while it looks like these are rules against this, in practice they seem to be rarely enforced.
In my case today, I was flying a 767 in first class that had a coat closet, so I was able to hang my garment bag (as expected), and easily fit my carry-on in the overhead bin.
Am I the only person in the world who didn’t know a garment bag is a carry-on and not a personal item? What has your experience been with this?