These Rolling Carry-On Bags Are Small Enough for the Tightest Airline Size Limits
When airlines began charging to check bags, they also ushered in the era of "gate lice." That's modern slang for people who jockey for early boarding to their flights in order to score valuable storage space on the plane and save a buck.
Regular flyers know that carry-on size limits can vary wildly, especially on regional aircraft with puny overhead bins. Even on huge jets that you'd assume have plenty of room for hand luggage, the airlines often install bulky power banks under the seats, taking up your precious personal space.
Nowhere are the carry-on size limitations more strict than in Europe.
The measurement guidelines on a major U.S. carrier such as Delta Air Lines are 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 35 x 23 cm).
That's pretty tight, but on European no-frills flying bus easyJet, the limit for free cabin baggage is much smaller: a ridiculously teeny 45 x 36 x 20 cm, or 18 x 14 x 8 inches. If you want to bring aboard a bag larger than that, you have to pay a fee, and even then you're still limited to 56 x 45 x 25 cm (about 22 x 17.5 x 9.5 inches).
On Irish carrier Aer Lingus, your carry-on can measure no larger than 55 x 40 x 24 cm (21.5 x 15.5 x 9.5 inches)—and you still might have to pay an extra fee.
Suffice to say that the carry-on bag you use for U.S. or Canadian domestic flights may be considered gargantuan by European standards. If North Americans want to be free of the burden of checking luggage while traveling abroad, they have to go smaller than they're used to. Like, really small. Like, bring-one-pair-of-underwear-and-wash-it-in-the-hotel-sink small.
These carry-on bags will fit the bill in many cases, although of course you'll have to double-check the specific sizing requirements for your airline and flight. All of the models below have wheels (sometimes called spinners) so you won't have to endure shoulder straps. Many of the designs (often called underseat) will fit beneath the seat in front of you.
You will find one benefit to using these bags in North America, too—they'll almost always be well within airline size limits and you'll rarely be asked to check them.
Pictured above: Victorinox Airox Global Hardside Carry-on
The manufacturer, Swiss Army's Victorinox, calls the polycarbonate-shelled Airox Global Hardside Carry-on ($280) "our lightest carry-on to hit our travel circuit"—it's certainly the lightest on our list. Heavy-duty zippers snap into the built-in, TSA-approved lock to secure closure.
Measurements: 21.7 x 15.7 x 7.9 inches
Weight: 5.1 pounds
Good Housekeeping named TPRC's Smart Under Seat Carry-On Luggage its "Best Value Underseat Luggage" in 2021. At just $60, this is the least expensive of our selections—and while its construction sometimes reflects the cheap price point, you'll save so much on checked bag fees that you can buy another if it wears out. There's a pocket and USB outlet, but you must supply the cord and battery.
Measurements: 14 x 15 x 8.5 inches
Weight: 6 pounds
Another polycarbonate-encased bag with TSA-approved built-in locks, the Calpak Hue Mini Carry-On Luggage ($165) puts the emphasis on mini—it will pass even the harshest size tests on the stingiest European airlines. The four wheels spin in any direction, and the case comes in seven colors such as Jade, Poppy, and Atlantic (if those colors aren't in your crayon box, rest assured they're pretty). The bag looks plain, but there's very little space wasted on the inside. In its own tests, Travel+Leisure chose the item as the "Best Underseat Luggage."
Measurements: 16 x 14 x 8 inches
Weight: 6.4 pounds
Away's The Daily Carry-On with Pocket ($245) glides smoothly in any direction, and, inside, you'll find straps that can be used to compress clothing as well as a hidden laundry bag. There's also a removable accordion with three compartments that will fit a 15-inch laptop. A thin, fan-open pocket on the bag's front can be used to stash things like passports and boarding passes on the go. This carry-on is on the heavier side, but it's well-made.
Measurements: 16.5 x 17 x 9 inches
Weight: 8.1 pounds
The New York Times's Wirecutter section named the Travelpro Crew VersaPack Rolling Tote ($200) "Our Pick" in best underseat luggage in the summer of 2022. The exterior is flexible high-density ballistic nylon fabric, which may help you stuff the bag into irregularly shaped spaces, and there's a quick-access front compartment for stashing small items. This one fits laptops up to 14 inches. It has only two wheels, allowing for slightly more space in the cavity.
Measurements: 15.75 x 16.5 x 8.5 inches
Weight: 6.7 pounds
Amazon reviews of the American Tourister 4 Kix Expandable Softside Luggage ($80) contain multiple confirmations that this super-basic bag fits under the seats of both Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines planes. Considering 2022's checked-bag fee rates on those airlines, the bag will pay for itself with a single round trip. Because the item is soft-sided, it's easier to squish in tight spots. It's not much to look at (although you don't have to buy the hot pink version—it comes in other colors, too), but this recommendation is about functionality, not style.
Measurements: 8 x 18 x 14 inches
Weight: 5.4 pounds
For passengers who prefer pristine-looking, top-of-the-line luggage, the Baseline Global Carry-On Spinner ($700) is the most expensive hand luggage on our list. If you make the investment, Briggs & Riley is a rare luggage maker that promises to always repair or replace bags that have damage to the "functional aspects," including from wear and tear. Solid construction results in a relatively high weight—on an Aer Lingus flight, even an empty bag would account for nearly half your carry-on weight allowance. However, the bag is expandable, so if you buy extra souvenirs on the trip, you'll have the option of more space—though when it's expanded, you may have to check it.
Measurements: 21 x 15 x 9 inches
Weight: 9.9 pounds
Note: All of the above items were independently selected by the Frommer's editorial team and no product's inclusion was based on partnerships or business relationships.