Most experienced air travelers are aware that smaller, regional/commuter-type aircraft (regional jets and turboprop airliners) have undersized overhead baggage compartments that force large carryon bags to be gate checked. However, what's not so well known is that it's possible to book a flight with a mainline or regional carrier in the US and end up on something like one of these (picture by CFIF @ Wikipedia):

Cape Air C402

As you can tell, there just is no place for an overhead compartment on a plane that small. This raises the question: what happens to your carry-on bags? Do you gate-check your main carry-on and carry on your personal item? Are you required to gate-check your personal item as well?

Furthermore, when flying on a plane that small, are there general limitations on luggage that are not imposed by larger aircraft, such as weight or size limits?

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    Iv never flown on aircraft​that small but presumably there is still some space under the seat in front?
    – skifans
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 13:16
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    @UnrecognizedFallingObject A Cessna Grand Caravan. But it was full and somehow I ended up with all my bags with me when I got on.
    – Calchas
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:02
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    @Calchas -- yeah, small planes are rather...limited in baggage space. Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:57
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    You simply hand it to a staff member as you climb in to the cabin, and they pop it in the luggage compartment, which is accessed from the outside. As you step off the plane, someone hands it to you. This is totally commonplace.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 23:19
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    In aircraft that small, weight and its distribution is a huge deal. These planes have crashed simply from all passengers in a half-full plane switching to the left side or all moving to the front or back of the plane. So if a pax comes up with 100kg of luggage you were not expecting, it can affect aircraft trim enough to put you in the danger zone. Commented May 30, 2017 at 15:31

3 Answers 3


I used to fly on Twin Otters regularly. What happened was you walked out to the plane and handed your carry-on, such as a brief case, to the copilot. They put it in a compartment at the rear of the plane. Then you board via a few steps.

It was be possible to take something aboard, but there was no overhead compartment so this left only under the seat in front.

As the flights are short and scenic on these types of planes, it really didn't matter.

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    "As the flights are short and scenic on these types of planes..." Not necessarily. I once flew 150 miles in a company-aircraft Piper Navajo where the only "view" was rain lashing the windows and a few clouds. On descent to the destination (at about 11am in summer!) the clouds disappeared, because it was too dark to see anything outside the plane - until we passed a pole with some landing lights on it, apparently about a wingspan away from the plane, and the wheels hit the tarmac hard. The overall experience was pretty much like driving a SUV down a dirt track at 70 mph for 90 minutes!
    – alephzero
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 17:17
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    ... and on the return trip, the pilot took a look at the passengers before takeoff and asked "Can the fattest guys move into the front seats, please - let's get the CG as far forward as we can." (!!!)
    – alephzero
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 17:22
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    @alephzero -- yeah, sometimes the weather doesn't allow for scenic views ('tis what IFR is for). The rearranging is also annoying, but sometimes necessary with small "puddle jumper" planes because the law of averages doesn't work as well to keep the plane nicely balanced when you have less than a dozen folks, vs upwards of a hundred... Commented May 29, 2017 at 18:42
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    @alephzero Mokulele weigh each passenger as he checks in. When it's time to board, the "seat plan" is based on these weights (and the seat plan is simply someone telling you where to sit).
    – Calchas
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 20:32
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    @alephzero that is completely normal in a small plane. Weight distribution and balance are everything. Even if the imbalance is within the ability of trim to handle, that steals some of your margin-of-control, which you may need later as you burn fuel, fight turbulence, resist stall, trim for landing etc. And of course plain overweight will kill you - that did in Aaliyah, they were right-sized for a Cessna 404 but got switched to a 402B. Pilots being seen fussing over weight/balance = Good Thing. Commented May 30, 2017 at 15:46

The aircraft shown in the picture is a Cessna 402 flown by Cape Air. Their official baggage policy for such aircraft is similar to WW.'s experience; I've emphasized the pertinent text in the quote below. There also appears to be a hard upper limit on the weight of "overweight" bags, as well as limitations on oversized items (i.e., don't bring 'em.)

For each ticketed customer, Cape Air will transport:

1 checked bag not to exceed 50 lbs or 62 linear inches plus 1 gate checked bag not to exceed 45 linear inches plus 1 personal item (e.g. small purse, briefcase, laptop) not to exceed 36 linear inches. These aircraft do not contain storage space under the seat or overhead in which to safely stow in-cabin items. Accordingly, personal, or carry-out, items must be carried to the aircraft and stowed by a Cape Air agent into the designated baggage compartments prior to boarding. ...

For each ticketed customer, Cape Air will transport, subject to available space and additional fees up to two (2) additional bags per passenger. ... All excess baggage is carried on a space available basis and is subject to an additional charge.

Baggage compartment constraints of the aircraft may restrict the weight or the size of the individual bags that may be accepted for travel. Baggage that is not accepted for travel pursuant to this section is as follows:

  • Individual bags that exceed 70 lbs in weight or that exceed 62 linear inches in size. ...

  • Bicycles, surfboards, canoes, kayaks and other such large pieces of sporting equipment exceed the capacity of the compartments and are not accepted for transport. ...

It is not permissible to transport cabin baggage in any aircraft by strapping the item to a passenger seat.

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    The other upside of this is that you actually get to see your bag loaded onto the aircraft, significantly reducing the chance of it being lost. Commented May 29, 2017 at 18:04

Boutique Air in California flies PC-12 single-engine turboprops about the size of a Cessna Caravan (photo from Wikipedia).

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Their baggage policy currently is as follows:

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Note that two of the airports they serve do not allow luggage to be stored for a later flight so if they run out of space you might have an issue.

Most people on these flights are not carrying huge piles of luggage. I carried on a fairly fat backpack with computer inside (four flight segments total) and had no issues (but was not allowed to put it in the aisle). Definitely a civilized alternative to the other option I had for LAX<->Oakland (Spirit Air). The only unfortunate thing is that you have to go through the same TSA nightmare as everyone else.

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    Flights from the commuter terminals in Hawaii do not involve TSA. Rather a novelty!
    – Calchas
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 20:22
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    @Calchas Wait. If passengers from HI don't have to clear TSA on boarding, they can't possibly disembark you into a TSA sterile area (or else terrorists would use this path to sneak non-overpriced soft drinks and bottles of shampoo larger than 1 fluid ounce onto other flights). So if you transfer, you'd need to collect your bags and re-checkin and re-enter TSA all over again. I suppose that makes sense for strictly-inside-HI travel. I wonder if Indonesia does the same (they must, those tiny airports don't have electricity, let alone X-ray machines.) Commented May 30, 2017 at 15:57
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    @Harper That's correct. You go through a gate directly onto the apron and walk to the plane, and when you deplane you walk from the aircraft back through a gate landside. Most countries separate domestic and international travellers and apply a much more stringent standard to international travellers, so this probably doesn't matter so much in Indonesia.
    – Calchas
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 17:39

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