January 25, 2017

"Basic Economy" Airfare and Carry-on Bags

1 comment

Just a few days ago, American Airlines announced that it is joining United Airlines and Delta (the largest airline carriers in the U.S.) in offering a fare class called “Basic Economy.” The concept behind Basic Economy airfares is simple: passengers get a seat at a discount, but the lower price means restrictions are in place: Basic Economy passengers don’t get to select their seat when they book, aren’t eligible for fare upgrades, and can’t make changes to their itinerary.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant operate with similar restrictions. On these airlines, passengers can pay to upgrade their in-flight amenities. On the legacy carriers, Basic Economy passengers usually get the same access to beverages, snacks, and in-flight entertainment as those in regular Economy; however, they typically board the plane last and cannot purchase priority boarding privileges.

Each airline has its own restrictions and exceptions regarding carry-on luggage, but in general, Basic Economy passengers are not allowed to use overhead bin space or purchase extra in-cabin baggage allowances, and are limited to one bag that fits under the seat in front of them. Delta does not restrict carry-ons, but because Basic Economy passengers board last, they are unlikely to find any bin space available. Passengers who have more than one bag or whose bag does not fit in the sizer will be required to gate check and must pay a gate-checking fee in addition to the checked bag fee.

It’s important to emphasize that Basic Economy passengers can check a too-large bag voluntarily. Additionally, all three airlines have retained their regular Economy class, which allows one carry-on and one personal item. To put it another way, most Economy travelers have the option to select the fare that they want.

Those who will be most affected by Basic Economy are travelers on a tight budget (who likely don’t want to pay to check a bag), and business travelers who are required to travel in the lowest fare class available and who may not have time to wait at baggage claim for a checked bag. Those folks will want to make sure their bag fits the size requirements.

A “personal item” is usually defined as a briefcase, purse, backpack, or other small bag that can fit underneath the seat. In general, bags whose external dimensions are no larger than 36 linear inches qualify as personal item sized. In a blog post we published nearly three years ago, we listed our bags that fit United Airlines’ definition of a personal item.

We’ve updated the list to include new designs, and divided them into two categories: bags that can be used either as a personal item or a hold-all for clothing plus gear, and those that work best as a traditional personal item. Your mileage may vary depending on what you need to carry and your clothing size.

Note: Some of the bags we mention have external dimensions that are slightly greater than 36 linear inches, but as we explained in our previous post, if the bags aren’t over-packed they can easily be pressed down to fit in the sizer.

Under-the-Seat-Friendly Bags For Clothes and Gear

Western Flyer

Daylight Backpack 

Synapse 19Synapse 25

Smart Alec

Yeoman Duffel, Sizes Mini and Small 

Night Flight Travel Duffel 



Parental Unit

Large Cafe Bag

The Maker's Bag

Empire Builder

Founder’s Briefcase


Under-the-Seat-Friendly Personal Item Bags


Small Cafe BagMedium Cafe Bag

Daylight Briefcase


Brain Cell



If you have questions about specific bags, don’t hesitate to email or call us, or join the discussion about Basic Economy airfare on the Forum.


Eric Holford (aka Fat Crip) - November 19, 2019

I’ve put both an Aeronaut and my Tri-Star under the seat in front as on European airlines (RyanAir, EastJet etc.) this has been the way of things for decades. The dyneema ones work best ( I have ballistic nylon too), as it slides better. The only thing to watch is that RyanAir have a 20cm (8") maximum depth and a 10KG (22lb) weight limit and both of these bags can easily be packed to exceed these dimensions. That being said, in the literally hundreds of flights I’ve taken with them, I’ve never been stopped…maybe I’ve just got an honest face? ;-)

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