Carry On Baggage Restrictions

passengers with carry on bags

One of the best ways to reduce travel stress is to familiarize yourself with current carry on baggage restrictions. Knowing what you can and cannot pack in your carry-on will help you get through airport security quicker and easier.

Carry On Crackdown

Due to the horrific events of September 11th, and the continued security threats to aviation, including the thwarted liquid explosive bomb plot in the United Kingdom in August of 2006, nearly every country in the world has adopted carry on baggage restrictions. As such, packing for air travel requires advance planning and knowledge of current rules and regulations in regards to carry on bags.

Carry On Baggage Restrictions

As of 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently limits passengers flying within the United States to one carry-on bag and one personal item. Personal items may include:

  • Purses
  • Briefcases
  • Laptops
  • Backpacks
  • Pillows
  • Diaper bags


Size is a major issue when it comes to carry on baggage restrictions. Most domestic airlines allow passengers to carry on a bag that does not exceed 45 linear inches (the total height, width, and depth of the bag) and weighs no more than 40 pounds. International airlines have different restrictions for carry-on luggage, which is why it is imperative to check with your airline before heading to the airport, so you can obtain the carrier's exact carry on guidelines.Since the threat of terrorism is so prominent, airlines are enforcing carry on size and weight limits more strictly than they have in the past. Expect your carry on bags to be examined at security checkpoints and at the gate area. If your carry-on luggage is too big, you will be forced to check it, which in most cases means you will be charged a checked bag fee.

Prohibited Items

The list of prohibited carry on items is fairly consistent among domestic and international carriers. Firearms, ammunition and explosive materials, such as lighter fluid, gasoline and fireworks are banned from all carry on luggage. In addition, the following items are also restricted from carry on bags on domestic and international flights:

  • Box cutters
  • Ice picks
  • Sharp knives
  • Razor blades
  • Scissors
  • Swords
  • Bows and arrows
  • Baseball bats
  • Ski poles
  • Golf clubs
  • Hockey sticks

3-1-1 Rule

Following the liquid explosive bomb plot in 2006, the United States Transportation Security Administration implemented the 3-1-1 rule, which states that each passenger is restricted to carrying on one quart-sized clear, plastic, zip-top bag filled with bottles of liquids, aerosols and gels not to exceed three ounces.

Each airline passenger is limited to one quart-sized plastic bag, which must be removed from his or her carry on luggage at the security screening area. Consolidating the bottles containing the liquids and gels into one bag, so that they can be x-rayed separately from other carry-on bags, enables the security line to move faster.


There are a few exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule, including medications, baby formula and breast milk. These items are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces and are not required to be stored in a clear, plastic, zip-top bag. In addition, liquids, gels and/or aerosols, in excess of three ounces, which are purchased in the boarding area, are permitted onboard the aircraft.

Packing Tips

Reviewing the list of current carry on baggage restrictions can be overwhelming for individuals who don't fly frequently. However, by keeping in mind the following tips you can help alleviate any anxiety you have prior to boarding your flight:

  • Think small: Pack only your essentials in your carry on bag, such as prescriptions, personal hygiene items, passport, eyeglasses and other valuable items, including jewelry and cameras.
  • Think smart: Stow heavy carry ons under the seat in front of you instead of the overhead bin. Heavy carry on bags that fall from the overhead bin can cause serious injuries.
  • Think healthy: If you are a diabetic or have other medical needs, be sure you pack your medical supplies or emergency snacks in your carry on bag.

Finally, remember to put your contact information inside and outside your carry on baggage. This is extremely helpful in case you are forced to check your bag at the last minute. You should also consider placing a copy of your travel itinerary inside your carry on bag to make it easier for the airline to reunite you with your luggage in case you are separated from it.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Carry On Baggage Restrictions