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What's the maximum hand luggage volume you can take with you to match all (or important) airline regulations considering only international connections?

In case my question is not clear, I'm looking for the one biggest carry-on bag that is accepted by all (or important) airlines on international connections. Accepted dimensions tend to be somewhat different on different airlines, meaning that a specific bag might be allowed on one airline, but not on another.

So, my question is what is the biggest bag that meets all (or important) airline requirements?

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3  
Usually there is not a volume restriction, the limit is on linear dimensions. Unless this is a mathematical puzzle to optimize volume based on linear dimension restrictions? – Harry Vervet Feb 28 at 18:48
    
Obviously, this involves mathematics. The point is that different airlines set different dimensions for hand luggage so that one particular bag might be allowed by one airline but not by another. – MastaBaba Feb 28 at 19:21
1  
Also, a few airlines with volume restrictions: Ryanair, Easyjet, Wizzair. – MastaBaba Feb 28 at 19:35
    
Define 'important' airlines. Full service carriers tend to offer more generous bag sizes, budget airlines more restrictive. Airlines with one or two aircraft types tend to limit bags to what fits those planes, airlines with a variety of types tend to set bag size based on the aircraft with the smallest overhead bins in their fleet. – Tom Feb 29 at 9:31
    
@Tom: All except when the calculation becomes too complicated or undefined, then as many as possible. (Yes, this is vague, but I am not aware of the exact decision space.) – MastaBaba Feb 29 at 20:52
up vote 7 down vote accepted

To calculate the maximum volume piece of luggage one has to determine what the minimum limit on length, width, and height of a piece of luggage across all the major airlines is. With the data of 35 major airlines from Carry On Guy, I determined the following:

  • The minimum length limit of all these airlines is 18.9 inches (48 cm): Aurigny
  • The minimum width limit of all these airlines is 13.5 inches (35 cm): Air France, Aurigny, Flybe, KLM
  • The minimum height limit of all these airlines is 7.8 inches (20 cm): Icelandair, Lufthansa, RyanAir, Thomas Cook, Thompson

Therefore, the maximum volume of hand luggage you could take and still be able to bring that piece of luggage onboard any of these airlines is the product of these three dimensions:

18.9 × 13.5 × 7.8 = 1990.2 in3 or 1.15 ft3

Or for the metrically minded:

48 × 35 × 20 = 33,600 cm3 = 0.0336 m3 = 33.6 Litres

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+1 and could be even better if you ad this information also in the metric system. – mts Feb 28 at 22:06
    
Nice. Though this would be slightly too large to avoid Wizzair's large cabin bag fee. – MastaBaba Feb 29 at 20:58

22" x 14" x 9" is used by American Airlines, Delta, United, Virgin Atlantic and probably quite a few more.

Ryanair is 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm that is 21.5 x 15.7 x 7.8 Inches. There are other low costs using this size. Note that many airlines use 55 x 40 x 23 but according to http://travel.stackexchange.com/a/30181/4188 the sizer is only 21.2cm so I would not expect a 23cm bag to work out with Ryanair. Of course unless you have a hard shell or packed your bag to the gills some squeezing might allow for a 23-thick-advertised bag to fit the sizer.

Therefore 21.5" x 14" x 7.8" / 55 cm x 35 cm x 20 cm is the biggest bag you can safely carry. This is the IATA recommendation as well per this 2015 June BBC article. The closest non-wheeled (because that's just extra weight which you don't need when you have a severe weight limit often anyways) I am aware of is the Magma Digi Control XL backpack is 54 x 35 x 20 cm which I just bought exactly because of this and also because I have a 19.5" monitor to carry on and it happens to fit into its laptop pocket which is pretty rare and it has a second laptop pocket which pushes it into unicorn territory. Has its own drawbacks: it doesn't open like a suitcase or a "convertible" backpack and also there is no size handle.

You might be able to get away with slightly bigger: the main US airlines' sizers are actually 23" x 15" x 10" United Delta so we can conclude that 15" instead of 14" is doable which increases your maximum bag to 21.5" x 15 " x 7.8" / 55cm x 38cm x 20cm. This is the size Emirates actually allows.

So if you want to go nuts, buy a 22 x 15 x 9 / 56cm x 38cm x 23cm duffel style bag if you can find one, pack lightly (8kg is not unheard of as a limit, 10kg is common) and prepare to squeeze. Perhaps you want the Red Oxx Medium Aviator Bag and a few of their luggage compression straps that you set up to cinch it to a width of 9" -- the other two sizes are just what you need, I have the Extra Small One, I find the price surprisingly low given the building quality. Of course, there's no structure but that's what you want from it. Get packing cubes :)

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This would incur the Wizzair large cabin bag fee, right? – MastaBaba Feb 29 at 20:56
    
Yes, the Wizz Air free is way too small to be useful. The large cabin bag is, well, large: the 45 cm in the second dimension is useless as no other airline even with trickery above goes above 38 cm. – chx Feb 29 at 22:55

You definitely want to check out the Carry On Guy.

Ryan Air tends to have one of the smallest (by dimensions) carry-on luggage allowances and also have one of the strictest. 55x40x20cm (21.5 x 15.7 x 7.8 Inches) But they allow a generous weight of 10kg. The most restrictive weight allowance for a carry on seems to be about 5kg.

You can be pretty safe if you get a light bag that meets these dimensions. However another common dimension limit you will find is: 56x35x22cm (22 x 14 x 9 Inches)

This means to be absolutely sure, your bag should be at the most 55x35x20cm

EDIT:

To throw an extra spanner in the works. Wizz Air have a more restrictive "free carry on" luggage allowance, while charging a fee for the "Large cabin bag".

Small cabin bag (Free): 42x32x25cm

Large cabin bag: 56x45x25cm. - Online Price: €10 - €18 depending on route, Airport Price: €40

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So, your calculations suggest 42x32x20, correct? – MastaBaba Feb 29 at 20:56
    
@MastaBaba only if you take Wizz Air (often), you might want to consider going with the larger cabin bag at the cost of ₤9 if you don't take Wizz Air all that often. A backpack with dimensions of 55x35x20cm is much more "standard" and will allow you much more baggage space, especially if you don't have check-in luggage – EdmundYeung99 Feb 29 at 22:02
    
@MastaBaba or you could buy a £9 backpack that you dedicate for Wizz Air travel – EdmundYeung99 Feb 29 at 22:04
    
My concern is primarily for when stringing a series of flights together, when you won't be able to swap bags mid-journey. – MastaBaba Mar 1 at 16:57
    
@MastaBaba as I said, it depends how often you take Wizz Air flights, and how much you typically pack in your carry-on. But for most people, the small bag would not be enough for more than an overnight trip, and Wizz Air (based in Hungary) would not be the primary choice when making short continental trips – EdmundYeung99 Mar 1 at 20:02

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