When airlines started charging for checked baggage, it made for a vast increase in the size of peoples’ carry on bags. After all, if you can cram everything into your carry on and personal bags, and not check a bag, you can save yourself whatever the going rate is for a checked bag, right? Unless you take Southwest….heaven bless Southwest and their “2 free checked bags.”
Of course, you can’t bring huge bags onto the plane with you, just in the name of not checking a bag. Most airlines have their own specific maximum length, width and height for the personal and carry on bags on their planes; these were each airline’s measurements as of November, 2021.
It’s usually easy enough to fit carry on bags into the overheard space, as long as they’re within the airlines’parameters. However when it comes to personal sized bags, you may want to be very careful in what type and size bag you bag; the space under the seat in front of you may or may not be the same every time, even when comparing the window, middle and aisle seats of the same row.
In fact, I can tell you from experience that if your personal sized bag is on the larger end of an airline’s allowances, you may want to grab a middle seat or, even better, window seat, before you snag that aisle seat that you love so much.
Case in point, Joe and I were on a Delta B737-900ER from Orlando (MCO) to Los Angeles (LAX), on the first leg of our trip to Hawaii. I had my personal sized bag of choice with me – a typical sized, 20-year-old Samsonite backpack with mesh “pockets” on either side. As was usually the case when I travel, one of these pockets held a folding umbrella, and the other my 750ml Camelback water bottle. Weird thing was, this bag, which usually has no problem going under the seat in front of me, didn’t fit this time. It was too wide.
We had chosen our typical window and aisle seat, with the hope that no one would take the middle seat between us (if they did, they would “win” a window seat and one of us would sit in the middle so we could still be next to each other). I usually prefer the window seat and Joe usually likes getting the aisle seat. But this was a relatively long flight (for us), so I asked Joe if I could have the aisle seat, because I’m a middle-aged lady and invariably was going to have to use the lavatory a few times during the 5 hour flight.
Delta is one of the outliers of U.S.-based airlines and doesn’t specify how big your personal-sized item can be. But again, this backpack has been on hundreds of flights over the years, with no problems fitting. So I was kind of surprised that, all of a sudden, it was too wide.
It wasn’t a big deal – I just took my Camelback out and put it in the pocket in front of me. But I was curious and had time, so I looked at the under-the-seat space between the window, middle and aisle seats. And yep, there was a definite difference. Take a look:
Window seat (power port blocked some space, but due to the curve of the plane, there were several inches of more room on the other side):
Middle seat (still wide, but with power port hardware on both sides):
Aisle seat (no power ports taking up space, but the aisle seat’s connection to the floor was inset a couple of inches more than those of the middle and window seats, which made for an overall narrower space):
Just from eyeballing it, it looked as if the aisle seat had about 3″ less width under it than the window seat (more, if you include the extra space due to the plane curvature). And the middle set was somewhere between the two.
Of course, my backpack issue then made sense…I usually get the window seat. Or if not, then the middle seat. Both have more width under them than the aisle seat, so my backpack, when it had my umbrella and Camelback, never had a problem before.
Live and learn, right?
The next leg of our flight, from LAX to Lihue (LIH), was on a Delta B757-200(HD) and again, the space under the aisle seats were more narrow than under the middle seats, which were more narrow than the window seats.
While in Hawaii, we did one inter-island flight from Kauai (LIH) to Honolulu (HNL). We were on a Southwest 737-800. Son of a gun, it happened again – going from the window seat (which is what I had), to the middle to the aisle, the available space became noticeably more and more narrow.
Window seat (with my backpack)
I did some research and, well, maybe some of you already knew about the size discrepancy, but I honestly didn’t realize it’s been going on for years. However I found a website that can help people plan for it.
More than a decade ago, Mary-Alice Pomputius started a website called DogJaunt. She frequently traveled with her husband and their dog, a Cavalier King Charles named Chloe. So she started a blog about traveling with dogs.
Her blog includes tips about and experiences with traveling with dogs, both on road trips and on planes. One of her posts includes a master list of sorts for under-seat measurements of many different airlines and planes (pretty important info to have when you plan to bring a small dog in a dog carrier onto a plane).
Regardless of how any of us feel about bringing small pets onto planes, the under-the-seat measurements she and her readers provided can be very helpful for anyone planning to bring a personal-sized bag onto the plane with them. HERE’S THE LINK.
Please note that configurations will vary from airline to airline, even if it’s the same model plane. Also heads up that although she started the list in 2009 and updated it as available, I don’t think she’s touched it in a while. I mean, measurements for Virgin America (2007-2018) and U.S. Airways (1937-2015) are still on the list ;-). But for the airlines and planes that are still in the air, it could be a good list to have, if you’re trying to decide what personal sized bag to bring.
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