When packing for a trip, one of my main concerns is not overpacking, and ensuring that my bag will meet airline weight restrictions. If it’s too heavy, it means having to take items out, pay overweight luggage fees, or buying a second bag to check, and paying for that, too. When picking luggage, dimensions have to be considered, too. If the bag you want to take doesn’t meet the airline’s carry on restrictions, you’ll be forced to check it.
Last October, I provided some tips for ensuring you meet airline carry-on restrictions when traveling. Here, I’ll discuss in more depth about what constitutes “lightweight” luggage, the differences among the dimensions and weight restrictions of some of the top airlines, and our picks for some great luggage options that fit the lightweight carry on bill.
What is lightweight?
In most cases, you’re pretty safe for carry-on sizing if you don’t get a bag that’s larger than 9 x 15.5 x 21.5” (that’s Air Canada’s size restrictions) and 22 lbs. (when filled.) In many cases, you can also bring an extra personal article, like a purse, computer bag, or briefcase, on top of that. And all airlines offer exceptions for items like a diaper bag, breast milk, assistive devices, human organs, and so on.
Naturally, the less a piece of luggage weighs when it’s empty, the more you can actually cram into it without exceeding weight limits. Lightweight luggage should be under 10 lbs. when empty. Consider that features like larger, heavier wheels might make navigating easier, but could add some extra poundage.
The most important questions to ask to determine if your luggage is light weight enough:
Can it easily fit in the overhead bin and/or under the seat in front of me?
Can I lift it myself to get it into the bin?
Does it fit inside the little rack that sits outside of the security checkpoint in most airports? (meant for checking if your carry-on meets dimension requirements.)
If the answer is yes to all of the above, you’re almost definitely in good shape.
That said, sometimes you may come across an airline or security employee who’s extra strict, or just having a bad day. So with that said, here are the exact dimension and weight restrictions for carry-on baggage on 10 top airlines. In all cases, the dimensions include the handle and wheels.
Air Canada: 9 x 15.5 x 21.5”; 22 lbs.
Air Canada Jazz: 9 x 15.5 x 21.5”; 22 lbs.
WestJet: 21 x 9 x 15”; must be light enough to fit into the overhead bin, and be placed there unaided.
Sunwing: 9 x 16 x 20”; 11 lbs.
Air Transat: varies based on destination – to/from destinations in the U.S. and domestic flights within Canada is 9 x 16 x 20”; 22 lbs.
Alaska Airlines: 10 x 17 x 24”; subject to space availability; no specific weight restriction indicated
Delta Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9”; no specific weight restriction indicated
United Airlines: 9 x 14 x 22”; no specific weight restriction indicated
Southwest Airlines: 10 x 16 x 24”; no specific weight restriction indicated
American Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9”; no specific weight restriction indicated.
Tips on keeping your carry-on—and checked luggage—as light as possible?
The most obvious way to keep weight down is to pack as lightly as possible. Keep in mind that you might be bringing home a few extra items, which means leaving a few grace pounds available to account for those souvenirs and gifts.
Wear what you can
If it’s on you, it can’t count as a separate personal item. So instead of packing away that jacket, scarf, or hat, wear it on the plane. Once seated, you can always take it off and even use a sweater as a makeshift pillow to catch some ZZZs, or shove it under the seat or in your bag if there’s still room.
Make use of the personal item allowance
Since you’re allowed a second personal item, make the best use of it. Bring the largest purse you can find, and use the extra space in your briefcase or laptop bag to hold items that may have put your checked back over the weight limit.
Think ahead of what you might buy
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, most times you come home with a little something extra. If you know you’re going to go shopping for shoes, socks, or intimates, for example, don’t pack as much as you’ll need and leverage your new purchases right away.
5 great lightweight carry-ons
At just 20” long, this suitcase will meet the carry-on criteria for every airline noted above, with an inch or more to spare. Plus, it’s lightweight at just over 6 lbs. when it’s empty. The hardshell exterior, made of durable polycarbonate, makes it extra sturdy, and it comes with four multi-directional spinner wheels so it’s easy to move around.
Measuring 21.7 x 13.4 x 9.1” and weighing a mere 6.6 lbs., this one employs a pretty funky design which means if, for whatever reason, you need to gate check it, you’ll be able to spot it a mile away amidst a sea of plain black and solid-coloured luggage.
Guess Frosted 21” Soft Side 8-Wheeled Spinner
This one is great if you want to travel in style, and boasts features you’ll appreciate, like water-resistance, eight double spinner wheels for easy navigation on and off the plane, and an expandable design so you can throw your sweater inside once you’ve boarded. Plus, it’s just under 7 lbs. when empty.
Delsey Helium Optima 16” 2-Wheeled Trolley Tote
If you really only want to bring a few things on board, this smaller carry-on will suit just fine. It measures just 15 x 16 x 7.5” but can hold 29.5 litres of stuff inside, and weighs under 6 lbs. on its own. Ideal for an overnight business trip, there’s even a suit section with a universal hanger clip for packing an extra sport coat or dress shirt.
TUMI Voyageur 21.5 Super Leger International
What’s particularly appealing about this carry-on is that it was specifically designed to meet requirements for travel in Europe and Asia. So if you often travel internationally, this is a good option. And its measurements will meet most restrictions in North America, at 21.5 x 15 x 8” – you might even get away with the extra inch for some if you don’t run into a stickler. But the best part? Despite its nice size, it only weighs 5.4 lbs!
If you have to check your bag, keep in mind that most airlines now charge a $25 fee for even the first checked bag (!) unless you’re a member of a loyalty program, or have a particular status that waives this fee. Keep it well under 50 lbs. and 62” in length and you should be good to go.
But for a day or weekend trip, you may just be able to get away with a spacious, lightweight carry-on that leaves enough room and weight allowance for you to bring everything you need on the plane with you.