If you’ve traveled on United Airlines lately, or just happened to walk by a UA gate, you may have seen them: stiff-sided compartments into which travelers can place their carry-on and personal items to see if they fit.  These baggage sizers, as United calls them, are part of the airline’s efforts to more strictly enforce the size and number of bags passengers bring on board. Beginning on March 1, carry-ons can be no larger than 9” x 14” x 22” and personal items no larger than 9” x 10” x 17”. If your bag can’t fit in the baggage sizer, you’ll have to check it gate-side and pay the checked baggage fee.

This announcement has been the subject of some discussion on the Tom Bihn Forums (although we have nothing on the multiple threads on Flyertalk, some of which are running 60+ pages).  We’ve gathered information and rounded up the dimensions of all of our most popular travel bags to hopefully shed some light on United’s policy, which TOM BIHN bags make the cut, and give you some packing tips to ensure your bag fits.

TOM BIHN | United Airlines Carry-On Luggage Restrictions

(Synapse 19 and Tri-Star in the new bag sizer with room to spare. Thanks to @tadbell for the photo.)

The Real Dimensions of the Baggage Sizer 

Do the math quickly and you’ll see that the dimensions given by United add up to the current FAA standards, which state that carry-on luggage must not exceed 45 linear inches.  What makes United’s policy different than the standard is that they are giving precise dimensions for both carry-on and personal items, which are not specified by the FAA.  This might seem draconian and unfair, but what United isn’t telling you is that the baggage sizers are actually a bit bigger than the published requirements:

Published carry-on limit: 9″ x 14″ x 22″

Actual sizer dimensions: 10″ x 15″ x 23″

Published personal item limit: 9″ x 10″ x 17″

Actual sizer dimensions: 9″ x11″ x 18″

(Source: Flyertalk)

This is good news for those traveling with TOM BIHN bags, since many of them fit or can be made to fit these dimensions; more challenging is determining what combination of bags to use for the carry-on and personal item.  The list below will tell you which bags fit easily and which exceed the published and/or actual baggage sizer dimensions.  It sort of goes without saying that a traveler with, say, a sensibly packed Aeronaut and Cadet or Tri-Star and  Synapse 19 will likely draw less attention than one struggling with an over-stuffed Aeronaut and a bulging Super Ego, even though all three combinations fit within the size parameters.

Carry-on Safe:

Aeronaut

Tri-Star

Western Flyer

Guide’s Pack (without the Side or Lead’s “Admin” pockets)

Brain Bag

Smart Alec

Synapse 25 / Synapse 19

Ego

Empire Builder / ID / Zephyr

Cadet

Founder’s Briefcase

Brain Cell (all sizes)

Pilot / Co-Pilot

Swift / Little Swift

Upper Limit Carry-ons:

Super Ego (.5” taller than the published limit but fits within the actual limit)

Personal Item Safe:

Pilot / Co-Pilot

Swift / Little Swift

Small Cafe Bag

Medium Cafe Bag

Ristretto (all sizes)

Upper Limit Personal Items:

Smart Alec  (1.5” wider and 1.75” taller than the published limits)

Synapse 25 (3” too wide and 3.4” too tall)

Synapse 19 (1.4” taller than the published limit but fits within the actual limit)

Super Ego (4.5” taller than the published limit)

Ego (3.3” taller than the published limits)

Empire Builder (1.25” wider and 2.75” taller than the published limits)

ID (2” taller than the published limit)

Zephyr (2.2” taller than the published limit)

Cadet (2” taller than the published limit)

Founder’s Briefcase (.7” wider and 2.4” taller than the published limits)

Brain Cell (Sizes 1-6Z are all between 1.4”–2” taller than the published limit; the 13” MacBook Pro Retina size is .4” taller than the published limit but fits within the actual limit)

Large Cafe Bag (2.9” taller than the published limit)

Packing Your Bag so it Fits the Sizer

You’ll notice that many of the personal item-sized bags are a bit taller than the sizer’s published or actual dimensions, but in general there is no need to worry, for a few reasons.  First, gate agents will not likely be examining all bags, but will rather be on the lookout for items that grossly exceed the dimensions (so don’t try to pass off your Aeronaut as your personal item).  Second, gate agents typically look to gate check rolling luggage first since those types of baggage are generally the most onerous to fit in the overhead bins.  Finally, the soft sides of our bags make it easy to stuff them into the sizer, so you may be able to use a TOM BIHN bag that is technically too large to be a personal item (for example, one FlyerTalk member reported that his Super Ego fits easily into the Personal Item sizer; another member recommends the Western Flyer).

The important thing to keep in mind is not to overpack.  These bags’ wonderful squishability, which allows you to cram them into otherwise unusable nooks and crannies of overhead bins, also allows them to expand.  If you pack your bag to the gills, it is quite possible that it won’t fit into the sizer, even if its published dimensions are within the safe zone.

To avoid overstuffing your bag, you might try employing packing cubes and making sure that they are filled evenly to the edges, since extra volume in the middle of the bag often causes it to develop a barrel-like shape.  The slimmer your bag looks, the less likely you’ll be subjected to the sizer.

When you’re carrying a backpack, try to utilize as much of the horizontal space as possible so that everything doesn’t migrate to the bottom (once again, the goal here is to reduce bulk).  Some forum members have found success using their Side Effects as internal backpack pouches, which can then double as handy in-flight compartments using S-Biners.

If you’re new to TOM BIHN bags, read our Forum to discover what (and how) people pack, and tips for streamlining your travel wardrobe and your toiletries while retaining some of your creature comforts.  Finally, if you have questions about what will or won’t fit in the Baggage Sizer, or what will or won’t fit in a specific bag, don’t hesitate to email or call us.