How To Fly With A United Basic Economy Backpack

A backpack is allowed when traveling on a United Airlines basic economy ticket.

The difficulty is finding a backpack that fits within the United Airlines personal item size dimensions.

Most backpacks are wider than the United Airlines personal item size and small backpacks usually are not designed as travel bags.

This post attempts to help you find a backpack that you can use when you fly with United Basic Economy and we have perhaps a better suggestion at the end of the post.

Is a backpack a personal item on United basic economy?

Well, it depends on the size of the backpack right?

United Airlines personal item size limits are 17 x 10 x 9 inches. Unfortunately, most backpacks are wider than 10 inches and they don’t have anywhere near 9 inches depth.

United even uses a backpack illustration as an example of a personal item size baggage.

Unfortunately, the real depth of the backpack in that photo is probably 5 inches.

A backpack that was 17 x 10 x 5 inches would fit within the United limits but it would also be really small making packing a challenge.

Finding a United Basic Economy Backpack

A theoretical 17 x 10 x 9 inch backpack has a capacity of 1530 cubic inches (25 liters).

For comparison, a “standard” carry on suitcase of 22 x 14 x 9 inches has a capacity of 2772 cubic inches (45 liters).

So an ideal backpack that uses the full United Basic Economy personal item allowance would be around half the size (55%) of a regular carry on suitcase.

The trouble is that backpacks don’t usually come in that shape. I couldn’t find any backpacks that were 17 x 10 x 9 inches.

Those dimension are boxier and backpacks, especially small backpackers, are usually shorter in depth.

The good news is that backpacks are squeezable so if a backpack is slightly too wide you’ll still be able to squeeze it into the United sizer so long as you don’t overpack it.

Our Top Pick

The Tom Bihn Synapse 19 is the best backpack I could find to use with United Basic Economy.

If you don’t fly with United regularly then you might not like the price tag.

An Alternative Bag

Because of the awkward boxy dimensions that United use often a backpack is not the best choice to use as a personal item.

If you want to use the full capacity that United allows then you should consider a rectangular duffel bag.

This BoardingBlue duffel has been designed specifically for use as an cheap underseat personal item on United.

The Verdict

It’s not easy to find good bags for United Airlines’ cheapest fare.

Backpacks that fit under the seat in front as your one personal item will probably not be shaped to make full use of the allowance.

Duffel bags are rectangular and can make better use of the small allocation that a UA Basic Economy ticket gives you.

If you are really struggling to imagine how you can pack everything you need into a small under seat bag then check our page on the art of traveling light and packing light.

Can I Bring a Backpack on United Airlines?

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United Airlines is recognized as the third largest airline in the world headquartered at Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois. It serves hundreds of destinations across the world, operating broad domestic and international routes. United is peculiar when it comes to baggage policies and restrictions. However, there’s a bit of confusion regarding this matter as policies differ according to the boarding ticket purchased by the passenger.

United instituted a criteria for both carry-on and personal item category. A backpack falls within the latter. The maximum dimensions for a personal item is 17” height x 10” width x 9” depth. If your backpack falls within the given parameters then yes, you can bring your backpack onboard.

Known as one of the biggest and popular airlines around the world, United set a standard in the industry. It spans around large and small cities around the United States and around the six continents. As the airline believes that whoever flies with them, they take them to the friendly skies thus the famous tagline “Fly the Friendly Sky”. With that being said, they also guarantee friendly baggage rules and regulations.

Table of Contents

Is a Backpack Considered a Personal Item on United Airlines?

United Airlines is recognized as the third largest airline in the world. It provides hundreds of destinations across the world – spanning around small and large cities not only in the country but also around the six continents. The airline operates to about 238 domestic and 120 international destinations.

United and Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, belong to one family. Thus, United operates with a large fleet of narrow and wide-body Airbus and Boeing aircraft – serving seamless direct flights for over 90 years from now. They perform duties for 358 airports around Central and South America, Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa, taking millions of passengers to the air every year.

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The airline believes that every traveler who flies with them could experience the breathtaking friendly skies thus having the tagline “Fly the Friendly Skies”. A great number of loyal clients attested to this – with their great service, safe takeoffs and landings, and equally commenced rules and regulations, there’s no doubt that voyagers choose to fly with them frequently.

As one of the most trusted and legendary airlines throughout the years, United insisted on serving their customers with unambiguous and friendly policies, proving their famous tagline. United set their own standards for baggage restrictions and limitations. Unlike other airlines, their approach regarding this matter is solely based on the class, from economy to first class, the client purchased.

United has three baggage categories – personal item, carry-on, and checked baggage. Our main focus would be on the first two brackets. Under the personal item, the maximum dimensions are 17” height x 10” width x 9” depth or 43 height x 25 width x 22 depth in centimeters. To answer your question, if your backpack falls within these dimensions then yes, you can bring your backpack onboard. However, the good thing is that for the personal items category, there are no weight limitations.

Remember that the overall dimensions include the protruding parts of your personal item. This includes the handles, straps and wheels of the baggage, if any.

Similar to other airlines, United is not strict about the brand, type or design of your backpack. As long as it fits under the seat in front of you and it measures exactly or smaller than the given parameters.

If by any chance your backpack exceeds the criteria, additional charges may apply depending on the destination. So, if you’re having doubts about the size of your current backpack and desire to avoid certain fees then it would be better to check the size before booking a flight with them.

Aside from a backpack, a purse, briefcase, laptop bag and the like can also be considered as personal items. Again, the only condition is that it must strictly follow the overall size dimensions previously mentioned to be considered as such and so it is free of charge.

Can I Bring a Backpack on United Basic Economy?

As previously mentioned, the type of baggage you could bring whenever you plan to fly with United would depend on the ticket and class you purchased. For most airlines, the order would be from economy, business, to first class. However, for United airlines there is a slight difference.

Instead of the common and standard order, for United the classes are divided into four groups, namely – basic economy, standard economy, business and first class. With that being said, there’s a slight confusion when it comes to the baggage policies under the first two classes. This is where the question above comes into light.

Let me answer that particular question so as to get rid of the skepticism every passenger who opts to fly with United faces.

The answer is yes, you can bring a backpack on United basic economy flights. The only condition is that it must be within the 17” x 10” x 9” inches given dimensions – similar to the parameters established for the standard economy class of United airlines.

So, heads up to future United passengers. Don’t get confused because for any United flights, you can bring a backpack onboard. The only information to keep in mind is the given personal item measurement as per United policy since backpacks fall under this particular category.

It may not be as significant as the other details listed under the guidelines but if you ought to avoid paying for extra fees then you have to learn about it as it differs from one airline to another.

Can I Bring a Backpack and a Carry-on on United?

Here’s one of the biggest airline questions every traveler calls for an answer. It is a fact that not everyone was born with a gold spoon on their plates. This is the main reason why a great number of people almost always try to look for certain ways where they can avoid paying for additional charges, may it be at the mall or anywhere. It is anybody’s goal to get discounts or avoid compensating for unannounced fees especially when booking for a flight on various airlines.

Commonly for most airlines in the country, personal items and carry-ons are free of charge. This also applies for United airlines, as they offer their passengers of any class with one exception which we will tackle later on, to bring one baggage per category without having to pay any expense. As per airline policy, it is already an inclusion to the ticket they purchased.

However, you must follow the size requirements of each category. Failure to conform with the given parameters would be subjected to additional charges.

Now for the exception that I am talking about, for the airlines’ basic economy flights, passengers can only bring one personal item free of charge. If you plan to bring baggage under the personal item and carry-on category, it would be much better to purchase a standard economy ticket. Inclusion wise, this particular class offers superior and worth it benefits compared to the basic economy bracket.

Backpacks are usually part of the personal item category and standard size wheelie bags fall under the carry-on baggage category. You can bring both of these as long as the overall dimensions for each baggage follows the parameters established by the airlines. When this happens and you purchased a ticket with both personal item and carry-on inclusions then it would be free of charge.

What Size of Carry-on Can I Bring on United?

As previously mentioned, you can bring a personal item and a carry-on on United airlines standard economy, business and first class boarding tickets. However, for basic economy only a personal item is free of charge. If you plan to bring a carry-on on a United basic economy flight then it would be subjected to additional charges.

So, here’s another thrilling question that almost always steers confusion to every traveler since various airlines have different carry-on baggage policies. Let me help you get rid of that big question mark in your mind.

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For United, the maximum dimensions for their carry-on baggage category is 22” height x 14” width x 9” depth or 56 height x 35 width x 22 depth in centimeters. The parameters include the parts that are sticking out of the bag such as the straps, handles and wheels.

Any carry-on luggage must fit the overhead bin on top of your specific seat. A carry-on baggage would be free of charge as an inclusion on your boarding ticket, except for basic economy, as long as it has the exactly the same dimensions or smaller than the parameters mentioned above.

If by any chance, your carry-on luggage exceeds the given criteria because of personal reasons, then be ready to prepare your baggage allowance. It is important to comply with any airlines’ baggage policies to have a peaceful entrance at the gates.

Special Items You Can Bring on United

Whenever you plan to fly with United, there are some special items you can bring onboard aside from your personal item and carry-on. The items that I will be mentioning are not part of any baggage category.

I know what you just thought of. And yes, apart from your backpack and wheeled bag, you can also bring such items on the plane and the airlines would not charge you with any amount.

It is important to be familiar with these inclusions so you don’t have to hesitate on bringing other items whenever you travel with United. However, as an obedient passenger, you have acknowledged that there are only items that you can bring onboard for free thus termed as “special items”.

  • Jacket
  • Umbrella
  • Reading materials
  • Food and merchandise you can buy at the airport
  • Assistive and respiratory devices
  • FAA approved child restraint system or safety seat
  • Breast pump
  • Camera
  • Pet carrier however additional charges may apply for in-cabin pets

Backpack Suggestions for United Airlines

Finding the right backpack with the exact or smaller dimensions than the United airlines backpack size requirements could be such a burdensome. Especially if you’re on the rush as you have to immediately book a flight for prior appointments you must attend to. So, to make it less hassle on your part, let me give you a list of backpacks following the United criteria. Here’s the list:

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I bring a backpack on United Airlines?

The answer to this particular question is definitely yes. Similar to other airlines, United allows their clients to bring a backpack with them on board. The only condition is that it must follow the airlines’ given parameters which is 17” height x 10” width x 9” depth. Any backpack must fit the under seat in front you.

Can I bring a backpack on United basic economy?

You already have an idea that for United flights, you can bring a backpack with you onboard. However, there’s a bit of confusion with regards to their basic economy class policies. A great number of people always ask if they could bring a backpack with them if their boarding ticket is marked as “basic economy”.

Let me respond to everyone’s question. Yes, you can bring a backpack on United’s basic economy flight. As I have mentioned earlier, backpacks are usually part of the personal item category as long as it fits the given maximum dimensions. Any passenger with a boarding ticket marked as basic economy can bring one personal item with them.

Can a backpack be a personal item on United basic economy?

Backpacks are usually included in the personal item category for most airlines. The only difference is that the maximum size dimensions vary from one airline to another. So, here’s a tip, it doesn’t only apply to United but to other airlines as well: as an airline passenger, you always have to take into consideration the overall size dimensions for each baggage category of the different airlines operating around the world.

A strategy that you can apply every time you opt to travel via air to avoid the burdensome and hassle of baggage checking and monitoring. Also, following their rules grants you to peacefully pass through the gates and steer clear from applicable baggage charges.

For United airlines, your backpack can be considered as a personal item only if the overall dimensions is exactly or smaller than 17” height x 10” width x 9” depth or 43 height x 25 width x 22 depth in centimeters. The parameters include the jutting out parts of the backpack such as the handles, straps and wheels.

Will they charge me for bringing a backpack onboard?

As previously mentioned, backpacks are usually considered as a personal item category, given that it follows the size requirements stated by any airline as per policy. For United airlines, if your backpack comprises the maximum dimensions under the personal item bracket then it would be free of charge. Any class of United boarding tickets permits their passengers to bring one personal item free of charge.

Thus, before booking a flight with them, make sure to check the size of your current backpack or purchase one with the similar dimensions to avoid paying for any fees at the counter before you can go across the gates.

Can I bring both a personal item and carry-on baggage on United?

Yes, you can bring a personal item and a carry-on on board. However, for the United basic economy boarding ticket, passengers can only bring one personal item. But, it doesn’t mean that you cannot bring a carry-on baggage if your ticket is marked as such. You can still bring a carry-on on basic economy yet it would be subjected to applicable charges.

For boarding tickets marked as standard economy, business and first class, personal items and carry-ons are free of charge. This is already an inclusion to these three United airlines’ fare classes. It grants their passengers to bring any type of bag that they desire as long as it follows the given size criteria of each baggage category so it’s free of charge. If you’re still decided to bring additional or larger bags then prepare your money as extra charges may apply depending on your destination.

How strict is United with their baggage policies?

United Airlines is considered as one of the biggest airlines around the world. It’s a common connotation that they don’t strictly implement their baggage rules and regulations as the prices for their boarding tickets are quite expensive. Unlike other airlines that offer cheap fares making them pretty strict when it comes to baggage policies as they get most of their revenue back from the additional fees they charge their passengers.

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However, get that thought out of your mind as United is fairly strict when it comes to implementing their own baggage guidelines. They thoroughly check their passengers’ baggage as their aircraft is quite tight in space.

United gets more strict when it comes to baggage size and weight limitations for travelers with boarding tickets marked as basic economy. The reason for this is because the airlines established a one personal item policy for their basic economy ticket holders.

If ever the plane gets busy, airline personnels have the possibility of enforcing their baggage restrictions and limitations more strictly than normal airport days. They always make sure that no one is above the law and even though they get preoccupied, they are still firm with their rules and regulations.

Given that, passengers who fail to follow such requirements are given the utmost priority.

The United Basic Economy Personal Item Explained

The United Basic Economy carry-on luggage allowance is not very generous, and United Airlines are pretty strict at enforcing their rules.

You are not permitted to bring a carry on size bag with a basic economy fare.

Instead, this budget ticket only permits you to bring one personal item that must fit under the seat.

How strict is United on personal item size?

United’s personal items are smaller than most other carrier’s personal items.

The maximum dimensions of a United Basic Economy personal item are 17 x 10 x 9 inches.

You can see from the video that United personal items must fit in the sizer and that United staff can be strict about enforcing their rules.

One thing to note is that you can’t check-in online with a basic economy ticket.

United force you to get in line for the check-in desk. At this point, they will quiz you about your personal item bag, and if it doesn’t fit in the sizer they’ll ask you to pay to check it.

This can be awkward since you’re only bringing one bag and it may have valuables in it that you don’t want to check. It’s always good to travel with a pocket-sized packable day pack for scenarios like this.

The True Size of the United Sizer

While I can’t say with 100% certainty, since I’ve not personally measured it, the actual size of the United size is rumored to be 18 x 11 x 9 inches.

If you’ve somehow got past the check-in desk with an oversize bag and approach the gate with large rolling luggage you’ll attract attention at the boarding gate.

All basic economy passengers board in the last group so it’s easy to police this section more rigorously.

If your personal item is only slightly too large and you are carrying it you’ll probably slip past unnoticed. But if you have a rolling suitcase at this point then you’ll need to pay to check it and pay a $25 fee for checking it at the gate rather than the counter.

The United Airlines Basic Economy personal item size works out to be 1530 cubic inches or 25 liters volume. This is smaller than other airlines’ personal item size.

United Basic Economy Personal ItemMost Other Airlines Personal ItemCommon Carry On Size
17 x 10 x 918 x 14 x 822 x 14 x 9
25 liters33 liters45 liters

A normal carry on suitcase holds 45 liters, the United Basic Economy Personal Item is only 25 liters.

If you are going to fly with only this small bag you’ll need to learn how to pack light, and find a bag that makes the most of the permitted dimensions.

Because United’s idea of a personal item is smaller than all other airlines and this makes it difficult to find a suitable bag.

Mission Impossible – Finding Personal Item Bags For United Flights

Sometimes I wonder…

Was United just trolling travelers when they came up with the basic economy ticket?

They allow you to take one bag that is 17 x 10 x 9 and when you try to find a suitable bag you find that they don’t really exist.

Underseater Bags

Small rolling luggage bags are often used as personal items and placed under the seat.

They are a great under seat option for most US airlines. But they are all larger than United’s personal item dimensions.

The available under-seater bags that I checked didn’t fit within the United Airlines personal item rules.


United give an example of a backpack on their site that could be used as a personal item:

The Verdict

You can’t bring a carry on bag and you can’t upgrade your ticket to allow a carry-on.

So unless you want to bring a checked bag then make sure you source a personal item that fits within United’s ridiculous size restrictions.

United are being sneaky. Their basic economy fare is designed to help them win the cheapest flight in the flight comparison search tools. Due to the lack of bags that fit their boxy dimensions, it’s not a useful ticket to buy.

In practice, if you want to bring carry-on luggage, it makes more sense to buy the more expensive Economy ticket that lets you actually bring some damn luggage with you!

Unfortunately, not everyone realizes the luggage allowances are so restrictive when they book their ticket.

So you’d think you can pay extra to bring a carry-on or upgrade from basic economy to economy… nope, you can’t. That would be far too sensible.

Of course, if you travel light you can fit all your belongings in a personal item. I just wish United would allow you a bag larger than a child’s backpack or a purse.

So if you are reading this United please bring your personal item sizing into line with the industry and change it to 18 x 14 x 8.




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