Garment Bag: Carry-On Or Personal Item?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

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?

  1. Today in: the blurred lines between a personal blog, an informational site, and a business… lol

    Is it be or are you the queen of random, as of late, Lucky?

  2. A few weeks ago an African-American AA gate agent made me check one of my carry ons because I had a carryon, backpack, and suit bag. It was embarrassing to being forced to do that in front of everyone as we were boarding. I bet she had a chip on her shoulder because this “policy” is never enforced.

  3. I fly with a one suit thin garment bag all the time on short haul domestic flights, mostly AA sometimes UA out of EWR. And I bring a small carry-on suitcase and a laptop bag. Never once has any airline employee said a single thing other than a flight attendant offering to put the garment bag in the closet. Only time someone says something is the line checker at security, so I fold the garment bag in half, shove it in my carry on, get through security and take it right out.

  4. Back in the ancient times of air travel before rollaboards, just about all road warriors traveled with large garment bags, including myself. These were much bigger than just a suit carrier. I’m sure there are still some old timers traveling with the old style garment bags. It makes sense that these replace a carryon bag, how can one be certain that the plane will have a closet? The new AA Oasis planes hardly have lavatories, much less closets.

  5. As a KLM Platinum never had problem on AF/KL. Flew on AI in J recently EU-BKK and no problem. TG F no problem at all.

  6. OMG. 1980 called and wants it’s Garment bag back. You should have points deducted from your FF account for this.

  7. Well, in order to travel light, and with airlines where the carry on has a 7kg/15lbs weight limit, I wear my suit while flying. Blanket goes over my suit pants to protect against spillages or (like for the trip I’m on now – I pack a second suit pants.

    If I need to carry a suit I fold it up in my carry on. At the other end I’ll hang my suit in the bathroom and turn on a hot shower. An easy way to get the wrinkles out. Not so easy for a wedding dress or ball gown perhaps, but I don’t wear those.

  8. I did not know that. I fly every week for work and always bring a garment bag and have never been stopped. I’ve been doing it for 3 years now.

  9. @Donna, I agree. I went with a garment bag back in 1991 to transport my Army Greens and never went back. Over the years, fewer and fewer planes had closets to hang my bag, which used to be common. Whenever I travel 10 days or less, it’s my garment bag coming along and I always understood this to be my carry on.

    The other benefit of my garment bag vs the roller suitcases, is that I can actually carry/lift my bag whenever I approach stairs or need to lift it into the overhead bins. The trend over the last 10 years seems to be, “the smaller the person, the larger (and heavier) the carry on” which then turns any obstacle into an insurmountable challenge which requires assistance from a 3rd party, just because they’re unwilling to check bags. So annoying

  10. Wow, I didn’t know this. As long as it fits within the personal item size restrictions, I don’t see a problem, but that’s just me.

    @Eunice, IMHO, it’s pretty selfish to have 3 items when you’re only allowed 2, so it’s a good thing that the GA made you check one. At least @Jay could cram the garment bag into the carry on, but it’s still selfish to take up storage space onboard…

    The only time you should have 2 carry on bags and a personal item is if the airline allows it (premium cabins on some European carriers come to mind).

  11. @Eunice – I’m glad you informed us she was an African American GA. You racist douche. Oh the nerve you had to check a bag. How embarrassing. GTFO!

  12. @Eunice You tried to bring three items on board. The gate agent was doing her job.

    You’re not special. But you ARE evidently a racist.

  13. Is @Eunice serious or just the alter ego of one of the usual trolls on this site? If the former, she should have her head checked not just her bag.

  14. @eunice “it was embarrassing to being forced to do that…” My God you have thin skin. And as others have pointed out, you were blatantly trying to bring 3 items on. Take a lap.

  15. I use a Travelpro garment bag that is the same size as a 22 inch roller. I can fit a week’s worth of clothes including two suits. I carry it on and it fits in the overhead very nicely. Love it. So mine is a carry on.

  16. I haven’t seen these new thin garment bags.

    What I do see is people who bring a carry on, laptop case, purse, shopping bag, and goodness knows what else. Then they want all 5 items to go in the overhead compartment

    Or road warriors with garment bags the size of a Men’s Warehouse

    If you’re going to carry on, don’t be a douche about it

    I just fold my suit up into my carry on. Never really had a problem
    You just need to fold it correctly

  17. @Eunice I would pay 10000 dollars for have a look to your disgusting life :), so terrible to deal with people that work and are compliant to regulations… You sxcker…

  18. As someone who has traveled extensive since the early 1980s to date, I always regarded the garment bag as a carry-on and my briefcase as my personal item. Nothing has changed regarding the policy since the 1980s.

  19. What is the point of a garment bag, to hang a suit and to keep it from wrinkling, if you are just going to stuff it under the seat? At that point you might as well put it in your carryon bag. My guess is most people end up sticking it in the overhead after they get it on the plane, if they aren’t in first class and cannot hang it in a closet.

  20. Um, there are carryons with built-in garment bags so that you don’t have this problem and don’t have to wad up your suit under the seat! I love my Tumi!

  21. If you put it under the seat, it can be a personal item. But I have never seen anyone put a garment-style bag under a seat. Or most other bags. I wish they would enforce only one item overhead. Not one plus coat plus duty-free plus shopping bag plus briefcase disguised as a personal item….
    And @ Eunice needs help on many levels.

  22. I would say a thin garment bag with one suit should count as a third permitted item. It can usually fit on top of carry ons in the overhead the way a coat would. If you have more than one suit, then it would be something else.

    If someone called me out as having a third item, I would take the jacket out of the bag, put it on and put the bag and the pants in my carry-on. Once I got on the plane, I would reverse the process.

    Also, you guys should watch the videos on youtube about how to fold your suit and put it inside a carryon. It works pretty well and eliminates this whole issue.

  23. Whenever I have a garment bag it is always as a third item (I don’t typically make day trips where I wouldn’t already be wearing the suit and if traveling with luggage always have a briefcase as well). Not sure I see how it’s ‘selfish’ to bring 3 items. My bag goes under the ottoman in the lie flat and my roller board goes overhead – the garment bag goes in the closet where I otherwise wouldn’t be storing anything. Seems perfectly reasonable when traveling business class.

  24. A purse also counts as a personal item and I’ve seen GAs tell women they can’t havea purse and two other items. Not enforced often enough. In some cases they tell the passenger to put the purse in one of the bags.

  25. Come-on, its hardly a personal item i.e. your wallet or asthma puffer, it’s an item of luggage.
    Really air travel would be so much better for most of us if airlines refused most carry on luggage and required it be checked at the counter, not the gate or allowed to clog up the boarding process.

  26. Ah, the land of the self entitled

    3 bags, really ? I see if all the time, and the flight attendants are the worst.

    Garment bag ? What about a steamer trunk. Very rarely seen these days.

    If passengers insist on taking everything on board, they should insist the 1+1 rule.

    In some country, I can’t remember where, the X Ray machine had a sizer bar around it so that you couldn’t sneak in an oversize bag.

  27. It’s a carry-on, period. I’ve always understood it to be one. Sure, it’s inconvenient at times when you have just that one special suit, but I’ve overcome my hesitation to fold my suits and pack them.

  28. Since when is a suit carrier a ‘small personal item’ ?! If you stuffed it under your seat then it would crumple your suit and defeat the purpose of putting it in a carrier…

  29. Seriously, what kind of post is this. Never in my wildest imagination would I think a garment bag would be a personal item.

  30. I’ve been seeing some new travel tech arond for this issue: German firm Vocier has a carry-on-roller with a clever mechanism to transport your suit wrinkle free. Been around since 2018 I think, but looked very exclusive executive-style (and had the price tag) This year they just launched a more suite of travel bags that all plug together and look less posh, so now I’m considering getting one of those. I think the super-duper suit-packing-mechanisms is also available within this new generation, I must go investigate.
    I’m not affiliated with them, its just my Eagle Creek roller I’ve lugged around for 15 years is slowly showing signs of giving up, so I have an open eye what others are up to…

  31. Now that we have concluded that a garment bag is a carry-on, can we get selfish a-holes to stop putting their jackets and other clothing overhead? I’d you’re going to put your jacket up there IT GOES STUFFED AROUND YOUR CARRY-ON… NOT IN IT’S OWN SPACE!

  32. I agree with most people who commented. I do give a dirty look at people trying to board with 3+ bags and think “what a D bag” unless you are clearly a senior citizen that never flies and doesn’t know the rules. So if anything, the FA that did her job saved a dirty look from me.

  33. The issue is that most people with garment bags ask flight attendants to put the bag in the closet. Most carriers are taking closets away for more space for seats; or closets are small enough to accommodate first class jackets/coats only. In addition, a lot of suitcases do have pop-up garment bags to ensure suits are in good condition when you arrive at your final destination. Maybe those of you who travel with suits, it is time to invest in a good suitcase made for businessmen with space for suits and even for your ties. My hubby and I fly with suits everywhere and I pack them in my suitcase and never had issues. I think garment bags are overrated. There are ways to ensure you pack your suits properly (go to YouTube to see videos on how to do so) and to minimize wrinkling. As soon as you get to your hotel, take them out of the suitcase, hang them up and place them in the shower in running hot water to create steam for a couple of minutes with the bathroom door closed, leave them there and done.

  34. We called ahead of one night trip on United where we were booking basic economy and they said a garment bag was a personal item. Had no items carrying it on board!

  35. It is totally ridiculous, Just got on an American Airlines flight from Miami to San Francisco. I had a thin garment cover with one suit and one shirt and one roller board. The gate agent made me check in one saying it is not a personal item.

    With all due respect to the airlines and their FAA excuse – “YOU ARE GETTING RIDICULOUS”. Focus on passenger comfort and convenience. Not your own.

    So now I am traveling with my suit bag and laptop in the other hand.

    American Airlines – SHAME ON YOU.

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