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If you plan to travel with a carry-on, you’ll need to be up to speed with airline carry-on policies. Specifically, the various rules and regulations each carrier has for what you can and cannot “carry on” to the plane. Each airline’s rules are different, so don’t assume that what works for one will work for all airlines.
While Southwest is technically a low-cost carrier, they’re much better about “a la carte” fees and won’t nickel and dime you on every little item as Spirit and Frontier will. Actually, when it comes to fees and baggage, they are better than the full-service domestic airlines, including Delta, United, and American.
That said, you’ll still want to be aware of Southwest’s policy for what you can and can’t bring on the plane.
In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about Southwest’s carry-on policy. This includes Southwest carry-on size and weight limits, liquid policy, personal items, pets, prohibited items, and other rules and restrictions you should know before boarding your flight.
Southwest Carry-On Size and Weight Limit
Southwest Airlines allows one personal item and one carry-on bag at no charge.
Southwest Airlines Carry-On Size (Dimensions)
Southwest Airlines’ carry-on dimensions are a little more than most domestic airlines at 24″ x 16″ x 10″. These dimensions include the wheels and handles, so make sure to keep that in mind when you measure your carry-on.
If you are not sure what size your carry-on is, Southwest Airlines typically provides “size check templates” located at their ticketing counters and departure gates.
However, by the time you get to either of these locations, it may be too late. If your bag is too big, you will have to check it, so it’s better always to know your bag size and the airline size restrictions in advance.
Southwest Airlines Carry-On Weight Limit
As a rule, Southwest Airlines does not impose weight restrictions on carry-on bags. However, when checking a bag, the weight limit is 50 pounds per bag.
Recommended Carry-On Bag When Flying Southwest
If you are looking for a great carry-on bag when flying Southwest, I recommend the Travelpro Maxlite 5 Expandable Spinner. I have used this carry-on for years. It’s durable, reasonably priced, and holds everything I need for shorter trips. Plus the spinner wheels make it very easy to get through the airport quickly and effortlessly.
4-wheel spinners rotate 360°.
- H: 21 in. W: 14 in. D: 9 in.
- Weight: 5.4 lbs.
This carry-on bag has been sizer bin tested to accommodate overhead bin space on most major US airlines. Fully expanded Carry-On may not meet airline restrictions.
Southwest Airlines Personal Item Size
In addition to a carry-on bag, Southwest allows each passenger to bring one personal item onboard. Personal items include purses, briefcases, cameras, food containers, or laptops (case included).
Southwest personal carry-on items must be no larger than 16.25” (L) + 13.5” (W) + 8” (H).
Your personal item must be stored under the seat in front of you. If it doesn’t fit or if there’s no seat in front of you, we’ll ask you to place it in an overhead bin.
Southwest Baggage Fees
Southwest has the best baggage fee policy of any airline in the United States.
With Southwest, there is no charge for your carry-on and personal item, plus, your first two checked bags are free (weight and size limits apply).
Skis and golf bags may also fly free, and surfboards fly free in Hawaii. Each additional bag and any oversized bag (more than 50 pounds or larger than 62 inches) is $75 per item, one-way.
Here is a table with the added fees for checked items:
|Optional Travel Charge||Fee (One Way)|
|1st Checked Bag||$0|
|2nd Checked Bag||$0|
|3rd Checked Bag (plus any more)||$75 per bag|
|Large Media Camera Equipment||$75 per item|
|Overweight Checked Bag (50-100 lbs.)||$75 per bag|
|Oversized Checked Bag (62 to 80 inches)||$75 per bag|
|Checked Baggage||$75 per bag|
|EarlyBird Check-In||$15-$25 one-way, per Customer|
|Unaccompanied Minor||$50 per Minor (ages 5 – 11)|
Southwest Carry-On Liquids Policy
The rules for carry-on liquids are set by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), not by the airline. Southwest doesn’t have its own specific Liquids Policy, they just enforce the rules and policies of the TSA.
It’s also important to note that the rules for bringing a “liquid” in your carry-on bag are different from the rules that govern what you can bring in your checked luggage. Liquids in a carry-on bag must be 3.4 ounces or smaller and fit in a 1 quart-sized container. Anything larger must be placed in your checked luggage.
- All liquids, gels, pastes, and aerosols must be in a container of 3.4 ounces or smaller.
- All liquids must be in a resealable quart-sized clear plastic bag that is removed from your carry-on during the TSA screening process.
- Special exceptions are in place for items such as medication, formula, breast milk, etc.
- Food and Drinks purchased once you have cleared TSA checkpoints are not included in these restrictions.
The TSA 3-1-1 Rule
Each passenger may carry liquids, gels, and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters and are enclosed in a sealed, one-quart-size bag. Common travel items that must comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, perfume, mouthwash, deodorant, and lotion.
Any liquid that does not meet the TSA 3-1-1 rule will either have to be checked with your luggage or will be thrown away at the security checkpoint.
Here is a little video to help illustrate this:
Exceptions to this rule are certain medications and baby food/child nourishments.
Southwest Carry-On Food Policy
The TSA also sets the rules for what type of food you can bring on the plane. There are two different scenarios pertaining to food:
- The food you bring with you from home, and
- The food you buy at the airport after you have gone through security.
When bringing food with you from home, an important thing to note is the classification of liquid vs. solid foods.
The general rule is “If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it, or pour it, then it’s considered a liquid or gel”. This means your food may be considered a liquid and will fall under the TSA 3-1-1 liquids rule, which mandates that any liquid, gel, cream, aerosol, or paste in a carry-on must be 3.4 ounces or less, and fit in one quart-size resealable bag (only one such bag is allowed per passenger).
Here’s a link to the TSA website advising what food can be brought with you on your Southwest Airlines flight. This applies to food you are bringing from home through security. However, once you are through security, you can bring just about any food on the plane that you buy at the airport.
Southwest Airlines Carry-On Pet Policy
Southwest Airlines allows small vaccinated domestic cats and dogs to travel with you in the cabin under the seat in front of you. All pets must be carried in an appropriate carrier as noted below. The pet carrier counts as either a carry-on item or a personal item.
Soft-sided and hard-sided carriers specifically designed as pet carriers are acceptable with maximum dimensions of 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide.
Does Southwest Airlines Charge to Bring a Pet on Board with You?
Yes. There is a charge to bring a pet on board with you. Below is a chart showing the pet fees Southwest Airlines charges each way. Double them for a round-trip flight.
|To/From Destination||Pet Fee Each Way|
|One Way Flights||$ 95.00|
|One-Way Flights between Hawaiian Islands||$ 35.00|
Emotional Support and Service animals have some separate guidelines. Here’s a link to Southwest Airlines’ emotional support animal rules.
TSA-Approved Pet Carrier for Southwest Airlines
If you do plan on bringing your pet with you, make sure you follow TSA’s pet policy and have an approved Pet Carrier that conforms to Southwest Airlines’ pet policy.
I have traveled with 2 dogs over the last 10 years, one was a 20 lb. Shih Tzu-Bichon (in the picture above) and another is a 12lb. Chihuahua mix. We used the Sherpa pet carrier when bringing them on a flight with us and it worked great!
Features mesh panels so your pet can breathe easily, a non-slip shoulder strap, locking zippers, and a rear storage pocket for treats and other goodies.
Approved for use on most major airlines and the small and medium sizes are included in Sherpa's exclusive Guaranteed on Board program.
Prohibited or Restricted Items
There are certain items that are considered dangerous and classified as a hazardous materials. Dangerous goods are prohibited from both your carry-on and checked bag on all flights. These rules are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Here is a list of items that are strictly prohibited on Southwest flights:
- Firearms and ammunition
- Self-defense sprays, such as mace and pepper spray
- Explosives, including fireworks and flares
- Flammable liquids, including gasoline, lighter fluid, and kerosene
- Poisonous, infectious, or radioactive substances
- Knives and sharp objects (pocket knives, cutting instruments, razors, ice picks, carpet knives, metal scissors, box cutters, or similar items)
- Any alcoholic beverage with more than 70 percent alcohol
- Camping equipment containing flammable liquids or gasses
- Hoverboards, including electric skateboards, balance boards, gravity boards, and self-balancing devices
- Medical or liquid oxygen
- Torch lighters, lighter fluid, strike-anywhere matches, and fire starters
- Wet-cell batteries
The following items are not considered “dangerous goods” and are allowed when packaged properly, in accordance with FAA regulations
- Hiking or trekking poles
- Hair dryer/Straightener
- Hair spray
- Sunscreen/bug spray
- Food as a carry-on
- Fishing hooks
- Fragile glass items
It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list and that the TSA’s rules and regulations are subject to change. Additional prohibited or restricted goods and materials can be found in the following resources:
Summary: Southwest Airlines Carry-On Size & Fees
In conclusion, Southwest Airlines’ carry-on and checked baggage policy is the best in the industry. Their generous size limits and lack of fees make Southwest a great choice for travelers who want to have the flexibility to either carry on or check a bag without having to worry about added fees.
Here is a link to Southwest’s Carry-On page to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.