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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 what works for one will work for all airlines.
If you are going to be flying United Airlines, they have very specific guidelines for carry-on sizes, liquids, and other unique items that you may want to bring on board.
In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about United’s carry-on policy. This includes United’s 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.
United Carry-On Size & Weight Limit
United Airlines allows you to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item onboard with you at no additional charge. The only restriction is that one of the items must be small enough to be stored under the seat in front of you.
Carry-On Size (Dimensions)
United Airlines’ size requirements for a carry-on are 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm), including the handle and wheels of the bag.
If you aren’t sure what size your carry-on is, United 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 (and possibly pay a fee), so it’s better always to know your bag size and the airline size restrictions in advance.
If any bags are larger than the carry-on size listed above, or if you bring additional items, you’ll have to check them to your final destination. Additional charges may apply.
Carry-On Weight Limit
As a rule, United 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 United
If you are looking for a great carry-on bag when flying United, 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.
United Airlines Personal Item Size
United Airlines allows you to bring a personal item onboard with you as long as it will fit under the seat in front of you. The maximum dimensions for a personal item are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm).
Personal items include items such as a purse, briefcase, laptop bag, duffle bag, or small backpack.
Other items allowed (in addition to your personal item)
In addition to your one carry-on bag and personal item, you can bring the following items on board:
- A jacket
- An umbrella
- Reading material
- Food or merchandise that you buy at the airport
- Assistive devices (such as a collapsible wheelchair, cane, crutches, medical device for prescription medications, or portable oxygen concentrator)
- FAA-approved child restraint system or safety seat
- Diaper bag
- Breast pump
Carry-On Policy for United Basic Economy
If you’re traveling on a Basic Economy ticket, only one personal item is included in the price of your ticket (unless you are flying internationally, then you can bring a carry-on bag too).
If you bring a full-size carry-on bag to the gate, you’ll need to gate-check it. You’ll also have to pay the applicable checked bag fee and a $25 gate handling charge. To keep it simple at the gate, you’ll need to pay by credit card.
If you’re traveling on a Basic Economy ticket and one of the following exceptions apply, you can follow our normal carry-on bag policy and bring both a personal item and carry-on bag at no additional fee:
- Customers traveling to South America, across the Atlantic, or across the Pacific
- MileagePlus Premier members or a companion traveling on the same reservation as a Premier Member.
- Primary cardmembers of qualifying MileagePlus credit cards or Star Alliance Gold members
United Express Carry-On Rules (Regional Planes)
United’s regional partner airlines (United Express) use smaller planes with limited overhead space. If your carry-on is larger than the personal item dimensions, you must gate-check your bag before boarding.
All carry-on bags within United Airlines’ size restrictions will be gate checked, free of charge, during the boarding process and returned upon deplaning. Depending on the time of year and where you are flying, this will give you the opportunity to hang out with 50 of your newest friends in either a steaming hot or freezing cold jet bridge. Fun!
Despite this “official rule” there are some bags you can carry on a regional jet. Check out this article on the best carry-on luggage for regional jets.
United Airlines Carry-On Liquid Limit
The rules for carry-on liquids are set by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), not by the airline. United 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.
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. Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels, and aerosols. 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:
United Airlines Carry-on Food
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.
A general rule of thumb 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 United 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.
United Airlines Carry-On Pet Policy
A pet traveling in the main cabin must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of you and remain there at all times.
The maximum dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high (44 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm). The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm).
United Airlines Carry-on Fees
You can bring a pet on board with you, but there is a charge to do so. Below is a chart showing the pet fees United Airlines charges each way. Double them for a round-trip flight.
|To/From Destination||Pet Fee Each Way|
|Approved United Pet Carrying Destinations||$ 125.00|
Pets can’t be in-cabin on flights to, from, or through Hawaii and these international cities, but they are allowed in-cabin on select United flights. Pit Bull breed dogs aren’t allowed in the cabin.
Service animals have some separate guidelines. Here is a link to United Airlines’ service animal rules.
TSA-Approved Pet Carrier for United Airlines
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 and Restricted Items on United Airlines
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 not specific to any airline and are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Here is a list of items that are considered dangerous goods and are strictly prohibited on United Airlines 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 TSA regulations:
- Hiking or trekking poles
- Hair dryer/Straightener
- Hair spray
- Sunscreen/bug spray
- Food as a carry-on
- Fishing hooks
- Fragile glass items
It’s 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: United Airlines Carry-On Policy
If you understand the fine print and comply with United Airlines’ carry-on policy you will avoid additional fees and delays at the airport. It’s very important to review United’s policy before packing for your flight and to ensure that all bags meet the requirements when you arrive at the airport.
By doing so, you can avoid potential problems and enjoy a smooth and stress-free travel experience with United Airlines. Here is a link to United’s Carry-On Rules page to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.