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In January I will be traveling to Belize for a week, and intend to do a fair bit of scuba diving. For that, I'd like to bring my 26" fins, and ideally, I'd like to avoid checking a bag, so I don't have to worry about losing it. However, Delta's carry-on limit is 22" in the longest dimension. Their limits for personal items are much vaguer though. One example given is umbrellas, some of which are considerably more pointy and unwieldy than scuba fins.

If I don't mind holding them the whole way, are my 26" likely to be considered "personal items"?

To clarify, I am only asking about fins and not any other gear because they are the only piece of my gear that I need to bring that is above 22"

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    "Personal items" generally have to fit under the seat in front of you, and you are not allowed to hold anything during takeoff or landing. When they say umbrellas I think they mean small ones. – Nate Eldredge Nov 24 '20 at 2:58
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    That said, you can usually get away with exceeding the size limits for carry-ons, as long as the item fits in the bin and does not excessively displace other luggage. Long thin items like fins can probably go on top of other bags and actually take up less space than a normal carryon bag. – Nate Eldredge Nov 24 '20 at 3:05
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    Devils advocates here. You're going for only a week, and the only piece of equipment you mention is your fins. Yet you say you will be scuba diving. That sounds like you will be renting a whole lot of other equipment. So why aren't you just renting some fins for the duration? – Peter M Nov 24 '20 at 3:49
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    @PeterM Mas, snorkel, weightbelt. will easily fit in a carry on and wetsuit may not be necessary in Belize. – DJClayworth Nov 24 '20 at 4:43
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    Having worked for Delta about 10 years ago I would let you bring fins as a carry-on. As long as the overhead bin can properly shut then I don't see an issue. If I don't think it would fit overhead then I would give you a gate-check tag so they'd stow it under the plane and you'd receive it on the bridge as soon as you land. – MonkeyZeus Nov 24 '20 at 13:47
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Decisions about carry-on items are judgements made by airline employees at the gate, so it's hard to give a firm answer. It's possible that someone lets it slide or doesn't notice (though a pair of 26" fins is pretty conspicuous).

But you asked what is likely, and I would say no: 26" fins are not likely to be considered a personal item. As you noted, the carry on limit is 22". Personal items are expected to be small items that can be stored beneath the seat in front of you and not held (I am not sure how you would hold 26" fins during a flight either). A personal item that is larger than even the maximum carry-on bag size seems unlikely to be permitted; if they won't let you carry on a 26" suitcase, why would they let you carry on both a 22" suitcase and 26" fins?

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    IME, airline staff is quite likely to allow overlong carry-on items if they're narrow (and not too heavy) and will fit on top of the normal luggage in the bins. Poster tubes are one example I've flown with, and I've never been asked to check one in yet. But, as you note, it's ultimately up to their discretion. – Ilmari Karonen Nov 24 '20 at 11:12
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    No matter how likely they are to say yes, you also have to be prepared for them to say no. – user253751 Nov 24 '20 at 13:07
  • @user253751 If they say no, I'll just go ahead an check the fins and hope they make it – BThompson Nov 24 '20 at 13:53
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    Worth bringing a cheap nylon bag for the fins just in case, so the buckles/straps don't get broken if you do have to check it. – Adam Specker Nov 24 '20 at 14:57
  • They do tend to allow umbrellas which are longer than 22" in one direction. – abligh Nov 24 '20 at 19:03
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For what it's worth, I'll add a dissenting opinion. I've flown Delta for years with many oddly shaped items as carry-ons including: scuba fins, skateboards, longboards, collapsing hiking poles, climbing helmets, sombreros, kites. I travel a lot for outdoor sports and I've never once had an issue with bringing something through security or on board the plane. I do get some odd looks and questions though!

Of course, you should always be prepared for them to point to the rules about the dimensions. But items that are flat in one dimension are a lot easier to get waived, since the purpose of the rules is for the 26" length of a suitcase to fit head-on in the overhead compartment.

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    I agree with this, and would like to add that my camera tripods are 26 and 27 inches collapsed. I've never had a problem taking them on any plane or airline. The tripod(s) often fit in the back of the overhead stowage where a rectangular case won't fit. Finally, when I travel with my camera back-pack, the tripod is lashed to the back-pack, and I remove and stow it separately. – Steven the Easily Amused Nov 27 '20 at 18:01
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Is 26" the total length? In theory, you can just fit 26" on the diagonal of a 22"x14" rectangle...that assumes a thin line, but maybe your fins have enough squish that you could actually get them into the carry-on size (or have a slight bulge in your bag that can be plausibly squished down).

Having everything unambiguously fit into your carry on would be the ideal situation, or putting your fins into your carry on and removing some other item(s) of the same volume but that could be put into a bag that is more clearly a personal item.

Otherwise, be prepared to check them if you have to--figure out in advance how you will package them for that. Consider that you possibly won't find out until the plane is boarding, so it needs to be something you can do fairly quickly.

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Typically airline employees have some leeway and they will make a decision based on the aircraft used and how full the flight is. So, there may not be a unique answer. If the flight is relatively empty and you fly on a large aircraft, it is probably possible, but on a full flight they may be questioning you more.

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    In addition to my comment earlier about taking my 27" tripod on board with never having a problem, I have also flown on small aircraft where my camera bag was overweight. In each case I've gotten an exception because "the flight was not full". During COVID, I think you'd have an even better chance of having an unusual item overlooked. I will also add the following: Don't "ASK" if it's ok (which calls attention to it), and don't get demanding/huffy if they say no and insist you gate check it. These are airline people making decisions, and a pleasant demeanor covers over most objections! – Steven the Easily Amused Nov 27 '20 at 18:07

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