Why Doesn’t My Carry-On Fit In Alaska’s Bag Sizer? (Ask Cranky)

Alaska Airlines, Ask Cranky

It’s time for another Ask Cranky question.

After getting sick of being hassled on past trips for my stuffed carry-on bag, never mind that it always fit, wheels toward the windows, in the actual bins on [United], I bought a new, carry-on bag with stiffer sides.  Yesterday, I took it to [Orange County airport] to try out the carry-on sizers for six airlines.  Each claims the same dimensions.  Five of the six airlines’ sizers gave me no problems.  I tried not one, but two sizers for Alaska Airlines.  In each, I had to struggle to shove this bag into that sizer.  It’s almost as if Alaska is intentionally shorting the size of its sizers to force bag charges.  I smell fraud, and it certainly makes me less inclined to fly Alaska.  What do you think?


This was quite the mystery, and I was pretty curious myself. Doug sent me photos of him putting his bag in sizers from Alaska, American, Delta, and United. Each of those airlines advertises a maximum carry-on dimension of 9″ x 14″ x 22″ so the bag should fit the same in each, right? Wrong.

First, I had to track down the bag itself to get dimensions. This is a Delsey bag from Costco which according to the website is actually 9.5″ depth x 15″ width x 22.6″ length including the wheels and handle. Why Delsey has decided to make a bag that actually exceeds the limits allowed by airlines is unclear to me. But this makes me think that Alaska is just enforcing its rules more tightly and not actually making the sizer smaller than advertised. Other airlines are just more generous.

This quickly turned into an evaluation of bag-sizer design. Yes, I went down quite the rabbit hole. Let’s start with United.

As you can see, United only has physical barriers on the depth and for half the width (the top is open), though obviously there is some buffer on both since it shouldn’t have fit if the sizer was rigidly adhering to the limits. For length, it leaves it wide open on both sides. The permitted length is shown on the diagram, but it looks like the wheels might have stuck out a bit had there been physical barriers on those sides. Since there weren’t, it fit.

Next, let’s move on to American.

American also has physical limits on depth and half of width, but unlike United it has barriers on length as well. As you can see, however, the barriers are low and have gaps that appear to allow for wheels to stick out. This too is more lenient.

And now, Delta.

Delta has bigger physical barriers on all sides except the top, but they appear to be designed with a lot more room than the rules would indicate. This is the most generous one so far.

Lastly, let’s look at Alaska.

In this one, the length and depth are fully locked in and appear to be at the exact dimensions permitted by the airline. For that reason, the bag doesn’t fit. And if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit… or something like that.

So is this fraud? I didn’t take a tape measure out, but I don’t think so. It looks like Alaska is just sticking strictly to the dimensions while the others give a buffer. That’s frustrating for someone who regularly carries on a bag and then flies Alaska for the first time only to be denied. (In this case, Doug was allowed to board, so at least there’s there.) If you’re flying Alaska, be careful.

It would be nice if airlines could be consistent.

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43 comments on “Why Doesn’t My Carry-On Fit In Alaska’s Bag Sizer? (Ask Cranky)

  1. Airline’s consistent? That’s like asking TSA to be consistent. But, this begs the question. Why the hell was this guy using the sizers at all? I understand that with his old bag he was hassled but just eyeballing the new bag would have raised no questions as long as it fit in the overhead bin. I’ve never used the sizer because I eyeball my bag against all the others waiting to board and because I know it fits in the overhead bin. Call it my little anarchy but it is not really because the bag causes no chaos on board.

  2. I actually think Doug is complaining without reason. He buys a bag that’s too big to start with. Most airlines in this example give him a bit of slack, even though they have the right to deny him taking his bag. Then there’s one airline that does exactly what they say they will, and then Doug talks about fraud.

    It’s not fraud: the bag is too big. Praise Delta, United, AA, etc for their leniency, but don’t complain about Alaska.

    1. Agreed. Fraud would be trying to pass off this bag that is obviously too big as one that will fit. “It fit last time…”

  3. Slow news day? Yeah, this isn’t the sort of issue that keeps me up at night as a frequent flyer. My roll-aboard is allegedly the legal size but I’ve never tested it and on 100% of the flights I’ve flown with it someone was trying to bring aboard something much larger. Quite frankly I’d love if the airlines enforced their rules more strictly. While I love the convenience of not waiting for checked bags the amount of time to deplane when everyone is lugging an over sized carry-on can be quite annoying.

  4. A huge misunderstanding about carry-on baggage acceptance is that it’s defined by the FAA. It is not; it’s defined by each individual air carrier, who submits its carry-on baggage program to the FAA for approval. So, after the program is approved, whatever that air carrier says it will allow, or not allow, the air carrier must follow. That’s why there may or not be consistency among air carriers, also. For instance, if air carrier XX’s approved program allows it to accept a bag that is 9X14X22, that doesn’t mean that air carrier YY’s program allows for the same size bag. Additionally, an approved program may allow the air carrier to accept certain sized bags on specific aircraft or in specific stowage areas and not on others. So the common whine “it fit on my last flight” is meaningless. The consistency (frustration) issue, I’ve found, is whether the air carrier follows its own approved carry-on baggage program.

      1. I’ve heard Southwest gate agents and flight attendants attribute their carry-on restrictions to the FAA a number of times. I always assumed it was a complete lie, but it’s interesting to hear that it’s sort-of true in the sense that the FAA approved the airline’s plan.

  5. One would have thought he’d employ a tape measure against his bag before writing in to accuse Alaska of fraud.

  6. Seems more like Delsey/Costco are the ones guilty of fraud. They’re advertising this bag as a carry-on but it clearly and obviously exceeeds the maximum dimensions allowed for a carry-on. Alaska is just enforcing their rules.

    Speaking of enforcement consistency, I would like to have seen tape measure readings for everyone’s carry-on sizer, just to see how much wiggle-room each airline is allowing.

    1. > Speaking of enforcement consistency, I would like to have seen tape measure readings for everyone’s carry-on sizer, just to see how much wiggle-room each airline is allowing.

      This what what I was waiting for. At the very least give people the actual measurements of the airlines’ bag sizers.

      However, when was the last time anyone really saw a bag sizer used by the gate agent for a bag that was just ever so slightly too big? Unless done to make a point to an angry customer, I doubt that any but the most anal gate agent would try to size a bag they thought were barely over the limit (as opposed to, say, 3″ over the limit), especially if the flight were at risk of departing late and hurting the agent’s metrics. Most gate agents just seem to keep an eye out for any bags that are obviously too big, and let the borderline ones pass (rightly so, IMHO).

  7. Of course, one solution is to have a bag with only one set of wheels incorporated into the bag itself and not a bag as pictured with four wheels protruding significantly out of the frame.

    I travel almost exclusively internationally and always have carryon, but I have to connect via a domestic flight. Never seem to have a carry on problem with a two wheel only bag.

    Just a thought. Gary

  8. I measured the united sizer after buying a new bag. The sizer is physically 1 inch larger in each direction than the advertised limit of 9x14x22

  9. It’s easy to give that Doug grief for not checking to see what his bad dimensions were first before going off on Alaska but this is an issue that probably befalls a lot of travelers who think they have got a compliant bag only to find out they don’t.

    Even airports can get this wrong. I remember once departing ROR and if you’ve departed ROR you know you go single file through security before you get to the ticket counters. They had a bag sizer out front and they were checking our bags prior to letting us through. Only problem; I was flying United and they were using an Asiana bag sizer to check the bags. Naturally mine didn’t fit. I had to make a bit of a scene before a manager was brought over and I could explain (now for like the fifth or sixth time) that Asiana bag size is smaller than United. I finally got waved through.

  10. Alaska used to allow up to 24 inches rather than 22. I think they made the change last year to be consistent with other airlines. Possible that when they redid the sizers they were just more specific. I’ve never seen anyone use one nor have I have seen them ask someone to use it.

  11. Don’t even start on the fact that they all use the same sizers regardless of equipment being flown from that gate! ;) Flew a AA 737-800 yesterday and could barely fit my backpack in the overhead. Flew the new 321-Neo last week and you could fit 4 monster cases per bin on their sides. One sizer does not fit all! :)

    1. Even all 737 overhead bins are not the same. The AA fleet is older and has smaller bins (It was giving its 737 fleet updated bins before issues with the installation put it on hold). A lot of the Alaska 737 fleet has the newer, much bigger overhead bins, which came with the Sky Interior. The same goes for Airbus. Depending on the age of the A320, you might find yourself with a smaller bin.

  12. I have owned a Delsey soft-sided carry on for years.

    I know that mine is slightly larger in all dimensions than the airline “standard”.

    Many of the Delsey carry on’s are slightly larger (See the Delsey web site).

    My guess is that the airlines know that the actual bins on the plane are bigger, but they round down the measurements to avoid “grey” areas.

    I have never had a problem fitting my bag in the overhead bins.

    Knowing this, I view the airlines sizing bins as guidance and not an absolute! :)

    1. That’s nice, but the airline employees at the airports DO tend to see those sizers as an absolute. ;)

      1. That probably is true but since my luggage is only about 1/4 in to 1/2 in larger, they don’t seem to notice!

        Of course, being a 1K with United and boarding early may also have something to do with getting my luggage past the gate! :)

  13. the correct answer for the Alaska one is #southofexpected

    They should have done what Delta/UA/American did, and make their sizer slightly bigger; and THEN enforced the idiots dragging backpacks that are frikken huge on board.

    1. I think this goes for all airlines, not just Alaska. No matter the airline, whenever I’m on a flight, there are always passengers stuffing bags that have no business being carry ons into the bins. I also see a number of travelers with roller bags that just shove them into the bin sideways, without even trying to put them in wheels first, despite the flight attendants saying this repeatedly and there even being signs on the bins themselves. Let’s face it, most travelers are only concerned about themselves and saving on a bag fee.

      1. Yep, I think they should let everyone check one bag for free and charge for overhead access instead (with the usual free bag perks for FF – we know what we’re doing!). Half the time they’re checking roller bags for free at the gate anyway.

  14. This is a common problem when anyone goes to a big box store and buy what is advertised as a carry on bag. When I started being a road warrior just over 4 years ago, I purchased a bag that said “Carry On”. Just like the Delsey/Costco bag in this story, the actual dimensions were over airlines limits on the bag I purchased and I was forced to gate check more than a few times. I gave up and did two things, purchased one soft bag and one roller from a well known expensive brand. The soft bag is 20” X 9” X 13” and it works fine in CRJs under the seat and in overhead of E-170/E-175s. For a casual vacation I’ve been able to go to Europe for 8 days using that bag and for business get the typical 6 days. The roller bag is EXACTLY the dimensions of the airlines mentioned in this thread and has worked perfectly for mainline aircraft (I did have to gate check once due to being on a CRJ). One thing not mentioned in this thread is that Southwest is more friendly to those big box bought “Carry Ons”.

  15. Delta removed the size wise units a couple of years ago. That would be an audit fail if on hand when an auditor arrives at the station (me). They just use signage that shows the dimensions similar to what you see in the United sizer pic.

  16. As I recall, Southwest was (is?) 10x16x24 so the Delsey bag works for them. And some aircraft (Sky interior, Delta’s retrofitted A320s) have more than enough room for those dimensions.

  17. I learned years ago to avoid the hard side carry on and stick with a soft side garment bag. Regardless of how much I’ve jammed that thing full, I’ve never been stopped. Apparently if you can carry it on your shoulder, no one gives you a second thought. On top of that, I’m convinced you can move faster through the airport with it than you could dragging a carry on.

  18. The airline sizer of the future would be one you put in your flight number and seat number and it moves to the area size exactly under the seat in front of you and then you try and put you bag in to see if it would fit.

    Can’t you just see the scramble for people trying to change seats to one with bigger under seat storage or trying to pay other people on board to change seats if their bag is smaller…..LOL

  19. It might be time for the airlines to update some of these dimensions, considering that bins have gotten a lot bigger over the years — even for aircraft that haven’t had big Sky Interior-type swivel bins installed, standard shelf 737 bins are much bigger these days than was the old standard ~20 years ago (at that time, roller-type bags actually didn’t fit in wheels first), when these sizes were set.

    If the sizer was set for the newest Sky Interior and other modern bins, you could potentially let the sizer be even bigger, but I don’t think any airline has such big bins across their entire fleet yet. Delta would just about be there when they refurbish the 737-800s and retire the MD-80s and MD-90s (717 bins are already bigger), give or take the Delta One 757s still having shelf bins instead of the swivel bins used on their other refreshed 757s.

  20. > Speaking of enforcement consistency, I would like to have seen tape measure readings for everyone’s carry-on sizer, just to see how much wiggle-room each airline is allowing.

    This what what I was waiting for. At the very least give people the actual measurements of the airlines’ bag sizers.

    However, when was the last time anyone really saw a bag sizer used by the gate agent for a bag that was just ever so slightly too big? Unless done to make a point to an angry customer, I doubt that any but the most anal gate agent would try to size a bag they thought were barely over the limit (as opposed to, say, 3″ over the limit), especially if the flight were at risk of departing late and hurting the agent’s metrics. Most gate agents just seem to keep an eye out for any bags that are obviously too big, and let the borderline ones pass (rightly so, IMHO).

  21. My hard side luggage was also marketed as carry on but is slightly too large. I’ve never gotten beef for it, nor have I had any problems placing it (obviously for some regionals it has to go under with everyone else’s). But what IS annoying is when deadheading crew board with these expandable soft rollers that are stuffed way wider than my bag could ever be. I get that they’re crew, but it’s that kinda stuff that makes the “wiggle room” in airlines’ sizers helpful in keeping my blood pressure down!

  22. As a line mechanic I would caution readers about using bags that are too big. What I have seen several times over the years is FA’s force the bins closed and the latch gets so squeezed you cannot get it open without tools. Some overheads you can manipulate easily but some you really have to gut them to get to the latch. Most of the time we can get there and get it open before the next departure but sometimes if there’s no time or if it’s really fubar, we will just tape out the bin and send yours and everyone else’s carry on to the next destinations until it hits some ground time. Subsequently everyone else using those seats the rest of the day have to get lucky and find a spot or gate check. I understand there is wiggle room, but having your carry on fly to Vegas without you while you are stuck in Indy or Dayton possibly with nothing can turn that trip you were already dreading into a dumpster fire.

  23. I’d have fired you for not taking a tape measure as this review is pretty pointless. I’ve seen a much better review where someone actually took a tape measure (gasp!) and found the true measurements of the sizers.

    You didn’t even check the dimensions of the case so who knows if the website details were correct. I have two cases that measure differently to their website’s dimensions.

    You earn money from this gig? Poor, poor journalism

  24. When I went luggage shopping here in Portland, OR, a number of months ago, the really helpful employee at a bona fide luggage store helped make sure my “larger” wheelie would fit inside Alaska’s overhead bins, as it was known that they were slightly smaller than most other airlines. My “smaller” wheelie is about half-sized for brief trips. I think the overhead bin size was referring to Alaska’s older 737s. Since Alaska flies in here a ton, it’s pertinent for local travellers.

  25. Brett,

    An old friend Eric recently bemoaned that the problem of carry-on bag sizing is even worse in Europe. Eric asks who actually sells bags that fully comply. Any guidance? Is there any uniformity on the specs among EU carriers, or is it like my Tasman Sea trip, where I had to juggle conflicting guidance on three different carriers?


    1. I don’t really have any advice on that. I’d just look up the airlines you need and then find something that matches their allowances.

  26. Brett,

    Important clarification from Eric…
    +++ Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I know it’s not possible to find a carry-on bag acceptable to all international airlines. What I’m looking for is one that meets the requirements for domestic airlines (22″ x 14″ x 9″) *and* some major foreign airlines, too (Air France, for example: 55 x 35 x 25 cm / 21.7″ x 13.8″ x 9.9″ (including pockets, wheels and handles)).

    I cannot be the only traveler who doesn’t want to own two sets of luggage (domestic and foreign). And what about travelers who have one leg on a domestic airline, and the second leg on a foreign one?

    I keep feeling like I’m missing something. I’d think the above requirements would be the mainstream.
    +++ And to think I’m feeling pain from having shrunk down to almost compliance with US domestic dimensions…

  27. I’ve been flying for 44 years and not one single airline will ask you to measure your bag beforehand. If you are putting your bag in one of these sizers you are doing it voluntarily and not being intelligent at all.

    1. I may be short on intelligence for replying to a troll, but I wanted to clear the record that Jim’s blithe prediction is false. It has already been disproved for me at SAN security, DFW security, UA BOS ticket counter and a UA IAH gate. I did not voluntarily use the sizer on any of those occasions. Staff thought they were enforcing rules, only to get overridden by calling a supervisor and arguing with them.

      After buying my new, smaller overhead bag, aiming to no longer get hassled, I took the opportunity, when dropping off a friend at SNA, to walk through the terminal with my new bag to assess what to expect from the airlines. After the surprise at the Alaska sizer, I started taking photos and sent the pile of them to Brett for an opinion. That was the launch of this article.

      I am not trying to break the rules. I do seek rules which I can understand, so I can prevent such problems. I now agree that it’s the bag manufacturers who are playing games and should be shunned by consumers. However, as others have written in this conversation, there remain problematic situations with the airlines too, like when one airline represents another, but without the same standards, or in dealing with different overhead sizes in different aircraft. I will note, when wrestling with the Alaska sizer, that an Alaska agent came over and told me it would be okay, so credit where credit’s due. But that does not reassure me that my smaller bag solved the problem of getting hassled on my way to flights. At least I’m now aware that I have to personally measure each bag I buy. It’s enough to remind me that my heart should go out to everybody who faces arbitrary harassment on a daily basis.

      My lesson learned from this conversation is that no matter how you prepare, even as a former airline employee, the miracle of flying occasionally sucks. You can learn a lot from public conversations, but sometimes they suck too. You do your best and carry on. Thanks to all who gave thoughtful replies and shared your stories.

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