In Summary: The Samsonite Wheeled Underseater won the top pick for the best under seat carry on. It's not that much smaller than a regular carry on and it fits most airline under seat dimensions perfectly.
The knockout punches were:
The secret to using the under seat space for your luggage is knowing the dimensions of the space under the seat. Doh!
We cover this in detail in this post. It also helps to learn how to travel light.
If you can do this you might progress from a wheeled rolling underseat bag to a smaller backpack like this one especially for weekend trips or overnighters.
"welcome to my world won't you come on in"
I was flying from Malta to Budapest last week on Wizzair. The flight was delayed by 1 hour but they didn't announce the delay... they just told everyone to go to the gate.
Because the flight was delayed some people ended up standing in line for almost 2 hours before they could board.
I never jump up when the gate is announced and I'd never pay for priority boarding. I just sit somewhere I can keep an eye on the size of the line. It's so much easier to walk up to the gate when the queue is almost at zero. Trust me. I arrive at my destination at the same time as everyone else!
At the risk of pointing out the obvious... the plane isn't going to leave any faster just because you got to your seat quicker. The only argument for rushing to the front on the boarding line is that you'll get a good place in the overhead bins to put your carry on bag.
When you store your carry on under the seat you don't need to care about overhead locker space. Your under seat area is always free! You just need to make sure you have a bag that is going to fit!
The first time I stored my carry on under the seat it was an accident. It just happened because all the overhead spaces were taken. I actually had a carry on backpack that time and it went under no problem at all. That was the day of my under seat enlightenment and I've never looked back since.
Now I know this tactic isn't for everyone. Because many travelers are still desperate to fly with the maximum legal carry on size. And the under seat area is smaller than the limits for overhead bins.
But if you can get your carry on bag just a little smaller then you can reap the benefits described above. No more fighting for overhead bin space!
Or if your airline has generous baggage policies you can use an underseater as a 2nd personal item. For short trips where you don't need a lot of things you can use the underseater alone. And for longer trips you can use the underseater plus a regular sized carry on.
Under seat baggage helps shorter people that might not be able to easily reach the overhead. They're also good for people who do not have the strength or inlination to lift a heavy bag into the overhead bin.
The general consensus is that these underseat bags can fit about 3 days worth of clothes. That makes them a great option for short trips, weekends away and for people who only own 3 days worth of clothes anyway!
Welcome To My World
I'm James Eagleman aka The Carry On Guy. Flying doesn't need to be stressful and under seat luggage is one way to make your flight a lot calmer.
This post is all about using underseat carry on luggage. The Jim Reeves classic song above has nothing to do with that... but maybe it will put you in the mood 🙂
The vibe of this song best expresses my pleasure in traveling with a good under seat bag that slips easily under the seat. But that's not always easy to make happen 🙂
Airlines don't actually tell us what the size under the seat is. It's different for different types of plane.
There is a good trick that you can use to find out though.
When people carry pets on board flights they are not allowed to go in the overhead bin. That would be cruel!
You must keep your pet in the space under the seat in front of you. Bingo!
So we can use the published size information about pet carriers to give us a good idea of the under seat dimensions.
The airlines below are some of the most common sizes. Please do your own research and even contact your airline to check.
The area under the middle seat is usually the widest so it gives you extra room. But well... it's the middle seat...
Checkout these seats from an old Boeing 737:
You can check with SeatGuru and it will let you know if any seats have electrical gear or anything else under the seat that might cause an issue.
You can put all sorts of bags under the seat. Backpacks and duffels can work well. Also there are quite a lot of bags designed for the express purpose of being stored under the seat.
It's best to avoid a hard case for putting under the seat. You really will get on a lot better with a bag that has some squeeability. Also if you are packing antique crockery you might want to opt for the overhead bin.
With an under seat backpack I just stuff it in the best I can and then kick it futher under using my feet. Underseaters can sometimes take up some of your leg room so if you can put it under an empty seat (again it helps to board last since you can see which seats are empty).
Our top pick bag is 16.5 x 13 x 8 inches. That means it holds about 28 liters.
I often recommend the Lipault Paris Carry On since it's 21 x 14 x 8 inches and this works with a lot of airlines (for overhead bins). That carry on is 38.5 liters.
So the underseater space is about 30% smaller than the size of a regular carry on.
The best way to store you bag under the seat is with the top handle facing the aisle and the bottom where the wheels might be facing the window. This will give you the most leg room.
These sizes are for pet carriers that must go under the seat.
Pet Carrier Under Seat Size Limit
21 x 15.5 x 9 inches
18 x 15 x 8 inches
18 x 14 x 9 inches
18.5 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches
16 x 10 x 8.5 inches
17 x 11 x 9.5 inches
18 x 14 x 8 inches
17 x 12.5 x 8.5 inches
19 x 13 x 9 inches
18 x 11 x 11 inches (for soft sides)
A WORD OF WARNING
Don't assume that because a manufacturer has labeled a bag as "an underseater" that it's going to fit under your seat. That would be too simple!
Under seat luggage is a very tricky subject since different airlines, planes, and seats all have different size limits.
Unless you buy a very small bag then there will always be a chance that you run into problems getting it under your seat.
What advice can I give...
Do your research as best you can... but at the end of the day don't freak out if you run into problems.
Remain calm 🙂 This is just part of the under seat deal. You've been warned. Remember using the underseat space is still a good option 99% of the time.
The Samsonite Wheeled Underseater comes in 2 different sizes both of which can work well as underseaters.
If you are using this bag as your main carry on and not trying get away with it as a second item i'd recommend getting the larger bag to allow you to take more stuff.
The Samsonite is styled like regular carry on rolling luggage it's just a little smaller. This is great when you want an under seat carry on for business travel and when a backpack or duffel doesn't look professional enough.
The large bag is 16.5 x 13 x 9 inches. You can see from the under seat sizes listed above that this bag will fit under the seats in some but not all airlines.
You especially need to be careful with the depth of the bag. The measurement from the floor to the underside of the seat varies between 8 and 9.5 inches. If you are flying on an airline with a smaller space don't pack it too tightly.
Briggs & Riley make a few bags that fit under airplane seats and the Expandable Cabin Bag is one of my favorites.
It's 16.5 x 11 x 4 inches when not expanded... small right?
But when it's expanded it's 16.5 x 11 x 8 inches. That's not too shabby!
That works out to be about 22 liters capacity so it's roughly about half the size of a maximum legal carry on. This means it's great for short overnight trips or longer trips for minimalist packers.
The black styling means it will look professional for business trips. It's more professional that a holdall or backpack. It also comes in olive green if you have a strong stomach for hideous colors.
It will fit laptops up to 15 inches in the middle compartment but you might want to get a padded sleeve to protect your laptop.
I love how this bag expands. This means on longer trips you can use it as a 2nd personal item. On shorter trips it expands and you can just it as your main carry on.
Briggs & Riley always make a quality product. This bag is no exception. It's not cheap but if anything goes wrong with the bag you'll be covered by the Briggs & Riley warranty.
The only reason this didn't get the top pick was because it doesn't have wheels and I think most people will be looking for a rollaboard.
I would say that this Delsey rolling tote is targeting women from the color schemes and styling.
You can attach it to a larger suitcase using the horizontal strap on the back and use it as a personal item. Check that your airline has a generous 2nd bag allowance before you try this!
If you roll it in wheels first you'll be able to access the main contents even when it's under the seat. It also has a pocket on the top to store things that you want to keep handy.
It weighs 5 lbs 9 oz which is about average.
It should be good to put a laptop up to 13 inches but be wary if you computer is larger than this. A 15 inch laptop is probably not going to fit in here.
It would have been nice if Delsey had included a shoulder strap for carrying. Sometimes wheeling isn't an option for stairs or cobbles and you will be stuck with the handle.
There are no locks to if you want to secure it you'll need to buy luggage locks. However since it's going to be sitting right at your feet you might not need them!
The front pocket is not going to fit a laptop but it might fit a tablet or a kindle.
The bag measures 14.5 x 14 x 9 inches and has a 28 inch handle (40 inches from floor to handle including the bag). These are pretty good sizes or under seat luggage but the 9 inches is what worries me. The depth of the bag (or the height under the seat) is often where people get caught out.
In terms of workmanship, there have been quite a lot of reports of the interior ripping. So if you do decide to buy this bag be gentle with the interior lining. The good news is the 5 year warranty but it's always a pain to replace or repair things. It's better if you can avoid it in the first place.
If you are looking for a bag to use with spirit airlines be wary. Spirit are further reducing the size of permitted personal item to 18 x 14 x 8 inches.
The official stats of The LUCAS are 15.7 x 15.7 x 9.8 inches and that includes the wheels. It weighs 6lbs. In reality once you pack it's more like 16 x 16 x 10 inches.
Strictly speaking a lot of US airlines have size limits of 22 x 14 x 9 inches. This would mean that this bag is actually too chunky at 9.8 inches. And it's too wide at 16 inches. Yet, in practice it's not likely you will be challenged because it looks small. However, you should know that often you will be exceeding 2 out of 3 dimensions. It's not smallest carry on luggage with wheels!
You can increase your chances of it fitting under the seat by not putting anything in the front pocket which is adding an extra inch to the dimensions.
The other point about it being 16 inches wide is that you might not be able to put it into the overhead bin on it's side. You'll need to lay it flat to be able to fit it in. Older style bins take 4 carry on side by side on their back. Newer style space bins take 6 carry on bags on their side since the bin is 14 inches tall.
I would suggest chooosing window seats or middle seats if you want to fit this one under the seat though.
It comes in black, dark blue or red and is made from polyester and has 2 inline wheels.
There's no pass through strap to secure it to larger carry on bags. You can do it with the handles but it's not as secure as a strap designed for that purpose.
That 9.8 inches will be too deep for Spirit airlines after they change the rules in April.
It should fit laptops up to 15 inches.
It might have a strong odor when you first buy it but it should fade with time.
It has a single telescopic handle. This means you'll find it hard to balance your purse, handbag or briefcase on top.
The Rockland Melrose comes in 7 different flavors ranging from plain old black to funky owls.
It's got a strap for attaching it to a larger carry on if you want to try your luck using it as your personal item.
And if you want to sit a smaller purse or hand bag on top it has a double pole handle. That helps when you are trying to balance your 2nd personal item if you are taking one.
It measures 15 x 14.5 x 9 inches and as with a lot of underseaters you might be better booking a window or an middle seat.
The Travelon comes in Red, Khaki, Black and Eggplant. It's another quilted design, they seem to be all the rage for under seaters!
At one point there were 2 versions of this bag, a large one and a small one. So make sure you get the smaller one if you want an underseater... it's officially 14 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches. But if you count the wheels and stuff the side pockets it's more like 15 x 15 x 8.5 inches.
At that size you won't have any problems using it as a carry on. And it's a certainty to fit under the window or middle seat.
It's also getting close to the holy grail of an underseater carry on that fits Spirit Airlines. Spirit will change their limits from 16 x 14 x 12 inches to 18 x 14 x 8 inches on April the 3rd 2017.
It will fit 13 inch laptop inside the main compartment but if you have a 15 inch then it's going to be a stuggle.
It weighs 7lbs which is a little heavers than some of its competitors but probably not too much of a difference. But if you are moving to an smaller underseater bag because you want something lighter then keep it in mind.
If you want to be sure it will fit under the seat book a middle seat or a window seat.
The Lily Bloom Underseaters come in a range of colorful and stylish designs.
It's a canvas bag whereas a lot of the other options are polyester.
Size wise it's marketed as 15 x 13 x 8.5 inches meaning it's a decent size to have a go at this under the seat thing. Strangely though if you measure it with a tape measure it's 15 x 15 x 8.5 inches. There goes that magical manufacturers measuring tape again!
15 inches wide could actually make it too wide to be a carry on let alone an underseater. 99% of the time you'll be fine but the rules are the rules...
There are better underseaters at similar prices so if you buy this bag then buy it for the style. If you don't especially like the styles then I'd say look elsewhere.
Also be sure to check the Nicole Miller NY Underseater if you like this style.
The Verdi comes in at 15 x 14 x 8.5 inches. That means it's probably going to fit under a window or middle seat and you take your chances with an aisle seat.
It's more business-like than other underseaters so it's perfect for looking sharp.
It's made of polyester and very light at only 4lbs so if you it should be easy to lift into the bins if you need to.
The first thing I thought when I saw the Travelpro Maxlite was wow that's wide! You'll need to carry this bag down the aisle so remember that if you are trying to minimise physical effort.
It's 13 x 15.5 x 8.5 inches as per the manufacturers dodgy measuring tape. But 16.5 x 15.5 x 8.5 inches when measured correctly.
The width of this bag might mean that you need to slide it under the seat sideways. That will mean that it's harder to access it during the flight and it might stick out a bit.
There is good news if you need to back a large laptop. You should be able to fit a 17 inch device.
It comes in 4 different colors from smart black to bold and brazen red.
The Briggs & Riley Baseline Cabin Bag is different. It's made from ballistic nylon and has a lifetime warranty.
Ballistic nylon is a lot more durable than polyester so you can expect this bag to last a lot longer.
The bag has a pocket at the front that should fit an ipad and also a small pocket for travel documents.
Unfortunately it doesn't have a padded laptop compartment which would have been nice.
It's really easy to pack because it opens up fully to give you great access. There are fairly decent handles if you'd like to carry it briefcase style.
The measurements are 16.5 x 12.5 x 9 inches. It's what I call a landscape bag rather than a portrait.
As an underseater it's 16.5 inches wide. That means that it's not always going to easily go under the seat in its back with the handle facing you. The benefits of that are you can still access the zippers when it's under the seat.
Briggs & Riley also have a spinner model which is very highly regarded so check it out too.
This Travelon weighs about 5 lbs so it feels nice a light to drive.
It's got a strap so it can piggy back on your large carry on.
The real world measurements are 16 x 13.25 x 9.5 inches.
Don't pack it too tight because that extra .5 inches of depth can get you into bother. A common depth limit for bag sizers is 9 inches.
Also often it's that depth dimension that gets people caught out since the gap under seats is not very high.
Could you say Tumi are the Rolls Royce of carry on luggage? There is certainly a luxury feel to the Olso 4 Wheel Compact.
This bag is not for the occasional traveler. It's more suited to someone that travels frequently and would get the value from a more advanced product.
The dimensions are 15 x 14 x 8 inches.
For an under seat I love that it's only 8 inches in depth. That should really help for sliding it under seats without catching from above.
The only problem is that the easier it goes under the seat... the smaller the bag. This one won't fit a 15 inch laptop. That's just the laws of physics folks! There is not much we can do about that!
It's lightweight and made from durable nylon. While not a lifetime warranty like Briggs & Riley the Tumi comes with a 5 year warranty which is longer than standard.
I often travel with a backpack because I pack very light and I'm fit and able enough to do so. But if I couldn't take the weight on my back anymore I'd seriously be thinking about making the Tumi Oslo my full time carry on.
Welcome to my world! Won't you come on it? Miracles I guess... still happen now and then.
Isn't that Jim Reeves song awesome and relaxing? I might try to remember to listen to it next time I'm boarding a flight!
Knock and the door will open. Seek and you will find 🙂
Airline travel doesn't need to be so stressful. Instead of standing for 2 hours in that boarding line you could be sitting sipping a cappuccino. 10 minutes before take off you can waltz on and slide your bag underneath your seat.
You just need to reduce you carry on size by about 30%. That's not so hard really when you know how.
And for peats sake people! When the plane lands you won't get getting off for a good few minutes.... so stay in your seat and remain calm.
You can't get off the plane until they park and open the doors!!! So sit down, chill the f*ck out, and listen to some Jim Reeves :)