American Airlines Carry On Policy: Are They Strict?

May, 23, 2023
silhouette of woman in black jacket and pants walking in airport with rolled luggage in black and white photo

American Airlines is the largest airline in the United States. With over 6,700 flights per day, American Airlines is tasked daily with getting tens of thousands of passengers where they want to go. While its route network is expansive, its customer service and baggage policies often receive scrutiny from passengers.

​Since most major airlines charge for checked baggage these days, many passengers have begun to travel with just carry-on baggage. Naturally, fitting a week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on item can be a real challenge, and it is very common to surpass the low weight allowance.

This post is going to dive into whether or not you can get away with using a bag that is larger or heavier than American Airlines’ baggage policy technically allows.

Disclaimer: This post describes some of our own personal experiences flying on American Airlines and its partners. Our experiences may provide a good reference to answer your questions about carry-on baggage, but there is always a chance that you have a different experience. In that case, we are not liable for any damages or fees you may incur.

What is American Airlines Carry-on Baggage Policy?

Per American Airlines’ Carry-on Baggage Policy, passengers are allowed to bring one personal item and one carry-on bag onboard. Using your carry-on wisely can be extra prudent, especially if you need to go through Customs before a connecting flight. This policy states the following about both personal items and carry on bags:

American Airlines Personal Items Requirements

  • A personal item is something like a purse or small handbag that can fit under the seat in front of you. 
  • Personal item dimensions should not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm).
  • Diaper bags, breast pumps, small, soft-sided cooler bags of breast milk, and certain types of baby equipment like child safety seats and strollers do not count against your personal item allowance.

American Airlines Carry-on Baggage Requirements

  • Bags must not exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches / 56 x 36 x 23 centimeters (including handles and wheels)
  • Carry-on luggage must fit in the sizer at the airport
  • If your items don’t fit in the overhead bin or under the seat, they may need to be checked. 
  • There may be additional carry-on bag restrictions at certain airports or on certain airplanes.
  • Soft-sided garment bags up to 51 inches / 130 cm (length + width + height) can also be taken as your carry-on item.
  • Small musical instruments are also considered a carry-on item and must fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.
  • Sports equipment can be considered carry-on baggage as long as it is within the size requirements. 

For more detail on carrying sports equipment onto an American Airlines flight, read their sports equipment policy.

How Strict is American Airlines with Personal Items?

We have flown American Airlines countless times, and we each bring a personal item every time. We fly with a lot of photography and computer equipment. This makes our personal items are always much larger and heavier than the policy technically allows.

Each of our backpacks normally weighs over 20 pounds, and both are full-sized, fully-packed backpacks. To be clear, we do not bring massive hiking backpacks.

We bring normal backpacks like you might take to school, college, or work. We have never been stopped for stuffing them to the brim, even when they clearly won’t fit under the seat.

We have never once been stopped by American Airlines for stuffing our backpacks to the brim.

Weight Restrictions for Personal Items on American Airlines

Technically, American Airlines doesn’t even have a weight limit for personal items. The total dimensions matter more to them, as the item needs to fit under the seat in front of you. While budget airlines tend to be very strict with personal items, American Airlines is normally very relaxed…especially on international flights.

Technically, American Airlines doesn’t even have a weight limit for personal items.

They expect a laptop bag, small backpack, or small purse, but this doesn’t have to be the case. If you decide to bring a larger-than-allowed personal item for your American Airlines flight, just know that while there is a good chance you will board with no issues, there is also a chance you will be forced to pay to check it. As long as you are discrete near the check-in counter and the gate, you will probably go unnoticed.

traveler with suitcase standing in front of glass while taking photo of plane

How Strict is American Airlines with Carry-on Baggage?

In my experience, American Airlines cares even less about carry-on baggage than it does about personal items. Every passenger is entitled to a free carry-on that must be stored in the overhead bin space throughout the flight. While the bag shouldn’t exceed the maximum dimensions of 45 linear inches, there may be some leeway depending on the airplane you’re flying on.

Overhead compartment sizes vary per airplane type. If you fly on an airplane with small overhead compartments, you will likely get busted for having an oversized carry-on. However, if you fly on a plane with larger overhead compartments, your slightly oversized bag might go unnoticed. 

Just like the USPS commercials used to say, if it fits, it ships. This is a major advantage of using a soft-sided bag like a duffel bag as your carry-on, as it can be bent and smooshed to fit in the overhead cabin.

The allowed American Airlines carry on size is the same as most major airlines in the United States. The full American Airlines carry on policy specifies that bags can be no larger than 22x14x9 inches.

Weight Restrictions for Carry-on Bags on American Airlines

Just like with personal items, American Airlines doesn’t list a maximum weight for carry-on bags. They regulate the maximum size tightly but don’t regulate the bag’s weight whatsoever. If your bag falls within the size restrictions listed above, gate agents are always going to let it fly. 

This system is a bit backward, as you could pack a lot of weight densely into a small bag. However, if you’re like us and fly with heavy equipment like a camera bag, laptops, and other technology, this is a huge advantage. We are confident each time we fly that as long as the overall dimensions of the bag will fit in the compartment and all of its contents are legal in the eyes of TSA, we will have no issues.

a close up of a black piece of luggage with locks

​American Airlines Basic Economy Baggage Allowance

If you purchase a Basic Economy ticket on American Airlines, you are entitled to both a carry-on bag and a personal item. The carry-on allowance is the same for all fare classes on American Airlines, regardless of whether you fly basic economy, business class, or even first class. Almost all American Airlines flights offer basic economy tickets, and the baggage allowance doesn’t change.

If you fly basic economy, you will probably be charged additional fees for any checked baggage. Bag fees are normally $30 for the first bag on domestic flights, with additional bags costing more. If you have one of American Airlines’ credit cards, you may be entitled to a free checked bag, regardless of what the American Airlines baggage allowance is for your fare class.

Bag fees also vary depending on the destination to where you fly. Flights to South America, Central America and Puerto Rico may have different baggage fees than regional flights within the US.

flying american airline airplane

Does American Airlines Baggage Policy Apply on Partner Airlines?

American Airlines is a part of the OneWorld Alliance. This is one of the most robust airline alliances in the world. With marquis international carriers like British Airways, Qatar Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and Iberia, the alliance connects American Airlines passengers to destinations all over the world.

On an international flights with American Airlines, at least one flight leg will probably be run by a partner airline. While you book through American, a codeshare agreement allows you to ride on a different airline’s plane. In cases like this, your baggage allowance will be specified on the American Airlines app before you travel.

Size limits are usually very standard across airlines. American Airlines baggage fees are usually right in line with its partners. Most international airlines specify size requirements in centimeters instead of inches, but the actual measurements are usually the same or very similar.


Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.


  1. Reply

    Justin Willaims

    August 9, 2023

    AA has changed drastically in the past 2 years that I have noticed. I had to check a carry on bag because the guy decided to make me put it in the bin at the gate. First he told me I had to have my FANNY PACK in my personal bag because it is considered a personal bag. Then when I wen to do that, he made me try to put the carry on in the bin thing. At the time it was very stressful becuase everyone was in line, so I had no time to transfer things out and in and I had to check my carry on which included a lot of expensive electronics. The dude was not having any discussion and made a scene. In order to not make a scen, I just had to comply.

    This happened again 2 more times at the gate when they saw my fanny pack. I have also seen them weigh my carry on before too. They are continuously increasing cost on bags and are scrutinizing bags more and more as well…all while being the most unfriendly people on planet earth.

    I did give AA a chance as I travel frequently to South America and I thought they got their shit together, but they are just going south again.

    • Reply


      September 18, 2023

      I’m so sorry to hear that! I fully agree. AA is just terrible, and I always stick to Delta and its partners when I can.

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Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.