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I'll be traveling for the first time in 20 years, and I'll be bringing my MacBook Pro and an iPad Air, as well as my usual folderol. I have a decent sized backpack, roughly 19-20" tall, 13-14" wide, and about 11" deep.

I'm wondering if I should just get a new backpack for this trip. Is there a standard pack size that would pass muster for all domestic USA travel?

If I arrive at the gate and they try to get me to check in my systems I'll be walking out and hoping I can get a later flight. I don't take chances with my systems.

As my employer is handling all travel reservations, I may not know my airline until the week before departure.

Suggestions?

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    You need to share your airline - it's their decision, not the airport/TSAs. How rigid they are with the rules varies a lot between airline, airport, and how busy the flight is as well, so it would help to know where you are travelling to/from. – CMaster Jan 13 '16 at 13:27
  • With the edit, I think the question is unfortunatley too broad. – CMaster Jan 13 '16 at 13:33
  • So I have to know which airline I'm traveling for it to be specific enough? – randomblink Jan 13 '16 at 13:34
  • To the best of my knowledge, there is no general answer. Others may not agree with me though. – CMaster Jan 13 '16 at 13:38
  • I agree with CMaster. As it stands, the question can not reasonably be answered as there are too many airlines. A specific airline would be perfect. For example, many budget airlines only allow one item to be brought on board. There is no limit (well, no unreasonable limit) on checked luggage size. – Belle-Sophie Jan 13 '16 at 13:49
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eBags provides a reasonably thorough chart of US domestic airlines and their carry-on size limits.

Without knowing which airline you're using, there's no way to provide an absolute answer, but you can get a general feel this way.

Also note that just because you're permitted a bag in your carry-on allowance does not alone guarantee that you'll be permitted physically to carry it onboard. In some cases, usually on smaller, or completely full aircraft, the airline may ask or require certain passengers to check certain bags (usually the larger ones) at the gate.

Generally, they try to work with you in these situations, and will respect your desire to keep certain valuable and/or fragile items on your person. You'll just need to talk to the airline personnel at that time, if the situation arrives.

If it's any assurance, most people prefer to travel with their electronics, and airlines know this, and will generally work with you.

In a worst-case scenario, you might be charged a premium fee for this privilege (I've only ever experienced this on the cheapest of budget airlines).

  • This. I knew a resource like this existed. The level of clarity and specificity they offer here, along with links is perfection. I have now evernoted this! – randomblink Jan 13 '16 at 13:58
  • Note that you should check directly with the airline (they all publish this on their website somewhere) once you have your booking, especially as these rules can vary depending on your origin/destination and ticket class (although more often for checked luggage than carry on) – CMaster Jan 13 '16 at 15:40
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    "Most people prefer to travel with their electronics" is certainly true. In fact, many electronics cannot legally be carried in the cargo compartment of an airline: anything with a lithium battery (e.g., most laptops) must be carried in the passenger compartment. If the gate agents ask you to gate-check your bag, you might get them to demur by saying "I have two laptops in here that would be awkward to carry into the plane on their own." – Michael Seifert Jan 13 '16 at 16:45
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It would help to know which airline you will be taking as the allowed bag size is airline dependant. Anyway, I have found a page where you can spot the allowed bag size and weight for a lot of airline companies : http://wikitravel.org/en/Airline_baggage

  • Unfortunately, I'm in municipal government and after the Mayor signs off on approval for the travel I then have to wait for Office Admin to purchase tickets and hotel reservations. It is theoretically possible that I won't know the airline until a week prior to leaving. This is why I am open-ended on the airline. I'm assuming there is a standard sizing that fits ALL airlines for inner-usa travel. – randomblink Jan 13 '16 at 13:26
  • @randomblink - The "standard size that fits all" would be to check the rules for all the different airlines you will be travelling with, and go with the minimum dimension for each. There are no overarching regulations. (There was a proposal by the industry to standardize, but it got a lot of criticism for being smaller than some airlines existing rules, so I have heard little on it since) – CMaster Jan 13 '16 at 13:28
  • I haven't traveled in so long that I'm not even sure where I would go to find a list of all airlines that I might find myself on. – randomblink Jan 13 '16 at 13:31
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    I have checked Delta Airlines and it is 22" x 14" x 9" so yours would probably not make it. You might want to check other companies to see and order your ticket based on that. – Olielo Jan 13 '16 at 13:33
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    So as @CMaster said, you probably need to check the routes on Kayak and the other flight comparator to find out which airlines could potentially make it and then check the allowed bag size of each of them. Then based on that, you can evaluate the risk you'll face for your bag to not be allowed... – Olielo Jan 13 '16 at 13:37
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One of the other answers noted that bags will sometimes be gate-checked. In my experience, a bag that is obviously small enough to fit under the seat in front of you will never be gate-checked. Airline under-seat measurements vary, as noted, but the folks at DogJaunt.com seem to have done quite a lot of under-seat measurements. (In-cabin pets must be put under the seat, of course, which is why this info is on a pet-travel site.)

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