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This is your captain speaking…are you looking for the best backpack for under airplane seat? You’re in the right place. This comprehensive article will show you what works, and what doesn’t. Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.
Let’s face it, flying can be a pain. The crowds, the security checkpoints, weather delays — there is a lot that can go wrong. Add to that the nightmare of checked baggage fees and lost luggage, and well, that’s enough to ruin any trip.
A DOT report estimates that there were 180,459 incidents of lost or mishandled baggage in 2018 (the last few years have been anything but typical in terms of the number of people flying so we’ll use the older data). While this works out to 3.08 cases per 1000 passengers, a mistake like that can ruin your plans and your whole trip.
One thing you can do to make it slightly easier, especially for a quick business trip or weekend away, is to carry aboard your baggage. Generally speaking, each passenger is allowed one carry-on bag per flight — unless you’re flying on one of those super-budget airlines (*cough, Spirit) and then you can’t check any.
Each airline sets their own size restrictions, so you’ll want to check with your airline prior to arrival to see what they allow, but there are some guidelines we can look at here
What size backpack fits under an airplane seat?
First, let’s get a couple of definitions out of the way.
What’s a carry on item?
This is pretty well understood – one piece of luggage, typically 22 x 14 x 9 inches (that’s the American Airlines carry on size, but it’s pretty standard), that must go in the overhead compartment. There’s the standard “baggage sizer” (the frame you have to be able to fit your bag into) at every check-in counter. How many times have you side-eyed those and hoped the check-in person wouldn’t make you test your luggage? No? Just me?
What’s a “personal item”?
Ah, now, that’s a bit more complicated. The guidance from the different airlines varies quite a bit, partly because of different aircraft, partly because the seat configuration is one of the ways they can make your life miserable … sorry, “differentiate their services”.
For our purposes a “personal item” is something like a bag or backpack that can be stored under the seat in front of you. This is a safety issue of course, they want everything stored away for takeoff and landing in case you have to, ah, de-plane rapidly.
Let’s look at just domestic U.S. airlines for now. International carriers tend to have slightly more room, so anything that works for a domestic flight should be fine for international.
|Airline||Personal Item size|
|American Airlines||18 x 14 x 8 inches|
|United Airlines||17 x 10 x 9 inches|
|Spirit||18 x 14 x 8 inches|
|Jet Blue||17 x 13 x 8 inches|
|South West||16.25 x 13.5 x 8 inches|
So a smaller backpack (say 16 x 10 x 8 inches) should be able to go anywhere, but a slightly larger one will be fine on some airlines (more if it can be squashed a bit). Don’t be tempted to push this too far. If it doesn’t fit, they will take it away and put it overhead – somewhere.
Best Backpack for Under Airplane Seat (Comfortable Fit)
Any of the following backpacks should be a slam dunk as a “personal item backpack”. They should be no issue with under seat storage, so it’s really all about functionality, durability, and looks.
Let’s go through those in more detail:
Hynes Eagle 38L Flight Approved Weekender
|18.9 x 13.4 x 7.9 inches||2.3 lbs||30 liters|
This bag is designed to make your travel easy. It is made from water resistant polyester and available in a variety of colors. It has a roomy main compartment that has inner tie-down straps and a zipper mesh pocket for maximum organization; a middle organizer compartment that will hold up to a 15.6” laptop and up to a 10.5” tablet as well as documents or books; and a zippered front compartment with interior pockets for things like boarding passes, passports, etc.
The external compression buckle straps allow you to adjust the height based on your needs. The bag has mesh padded shoulder straps, and there is an adjustable sternum strap and waist strap for added comfort and support. You have multiple carry options though because the bag has top and side handles and suppressible shoulder straps so it doubles as a duffle bag.
SwissGear 1900 Scansmart
|19 x 14 x 9 inches||3.3 lbs||31 liters|
This backpack is made from durable 1200D polyester fiber and built to last. The ScanSmart lay-flat design allows quick laptop-in-bag screening through TSA X-ray machines. In addition to the large main compartment, the dedicated laptop compartment holds a computer up to 17”, while the TabletSafe tablet pocket keeps smaller electronics secure. This bag also has multiple interior and side accessory pockets to keep your items organized on the go, and a padded media pocket with headphone port so you can stay connected.
The bag is ergonomically designed with padded shoulder straps and a padded yet ventilated back panel for comfort and support. Finally, it is available in multiple colors to suit your preference and backed with a 10-year extended warranty. See if the SwissGear 1900 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack is right for your next adventure!
eBags Pro Slim Laptop Backpack
|18 x 12.75 x 8.5 inches||3.8 lbs||21.6 liters|
This bag is made for staying organized on the go. It features a front organizational panel with several interior pockets, a front bottom zip external pocket, a front vertical exterior pocket, and a diagonal stash pocket inside the middle compartment. The padded laptop sleeve holds up to a 17” computer, and there is also a fleece-lined padded tablet sleeve.
The top handle allows you to carry this like a briefcase, while the padded back panel and removable sternum strap make it comfortable to carry as a backpack. If you are looking for organization, look no further than the eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack.
Kensington SecureTrek Lockable Backpack
|19.5 x 13 x 8 inches||3 lbs||Not listed|
This bag covers all the basics — ample space for clothing and personal items; padded device compartments for up to a 17” laptop and a 10” tablet; an organizer section to store chargers, earbuds, keys, business cards, pens, etc.; a padded back for lumbar, neck, and shoulder support; and a wheeled luggage pass through — with an added focus on security.
The SecureTrek Lock Base works by clicking all four hammerhead zipper pulls into place, then closing the stainless steel door and locking with a Kensington Portable Laptop Lock or TSA-approved lock (locks sold separately). The anti-puncture zipper protects your device compartment from interference, and the checkpoint-friendly design allows the bag to lie flat. The Kensington SecureTrek bag is also backed up by a 10-year limited warranty.
Samsonite Pro Backpack
|17.5 x 13 x 7 inches||3.09 lbs||Not listed|
The Samsonite Pro Standard Backpack is a fusion of organization and technology. This bag has several strategic compartments to keep all of your belongings well in order. The main compartment has a 1.5” expandable gusset and offers file organization.
The tech features include: a lay-flat padded compartment that holds up to a 15.6” laptop and can be adjusted as needed; a wireless charging pocket to fit your phone and battery; a detachable cord pouch to keep all your wires organized; a padded tablet sleeve; an RFID pocket to safeguard from identity theft; and an integrated USB socket for on-the-go charging.
The S-curve comfort straps and padded back panel make carrying this a breeze, and the SmartSleeve allows you to attach it to rolling luggage if needed. This really is a tech lover’s bag.
Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack
|14.17 x 11.42 x 11.42 inches (max)||2.6 lbs||24 liters|
As the name implies, this bag is made to carry on a flight. It has expandable volume made possible by a wraparound gusseted zipper. In addition to your clothing and accessories, it will hold a 15” laptop, a 9.7” tablet, and the internal slip pocket allows for additional organization. There are also external pockets for quick access on the go.
It features padded shoulder straps and a back panel for comfort and weather-resistant zippers for added durability. Add in the lifetime warranty, and the Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack may just be the right pack for you! We like the Night Blue version, but lately they seem to be having supply chain issues and its out of stock. never mind – the Jet (get it?) Black version is still available.
Best Backpack for Under Airplane Seat (but might be pushing it a bit)
Stepping up a bit in size, these backpacks should be ok on most flights, but you might find it a squeeze on some carriers.
Let’s go through those in a bit more more detail:
Lewis N. Clark Underseat Carry-on Backpack
|18 x 11.8 x 6.5 inches||3 lbs||Not listed|
As the name implies, this bag was built for under seat storage. There is a front slip pocket with magnetic closure for quick access without taking the bag out. This bag will hold clothes, a toiletry bag, a laptop, tablet, accessories, and more. The roomy main compartment has a padded laptop pocket, there are smaller interior pockets for organization, and the RFID-blocking pockets give added security.
The bag is durable with an 840D ballistic nylon bottom, and the one-year warranty provides peace of mind. The Lewis N. Clark Underseat Backpack may just be your pick for organization, storage, and style.
Tortuga Men’s Setout Collection
|22 x 14 x 9 inches (largest size in the range)||3.9 lbs||45 liters|
We love this design – its intended to “pack like a suitcase and carry like a backpack”. This backpack comes in a range of sizes – perfect for day trips or extended stays. The largest size will hold enough clothes and toiletries for a week or more of travel; up to a 17” laptop and 9.7” tablet (plus chargers) in the dedicated sleeves; and your accessories and documents in the internal organization pockets.
The hideaway shoulder straps, padded removable hip belt, and load levelers make carrying this pack for long distances a breeze. Because it uses superior materials — 900D polyester with Durable Water Repellant (DWR) coating, lockable YKK zippers, and Duraflex buckles — this a pack that can last. Setout on your next adventure with the Tortuga Setout Backpack range.
Oakley Men’s Kitchen Sink Backpack
|20 x 14 x 8 inches||4.05 lbs (shipping weight)||34 liters|
This bag is built to last, with abrasion-resistant fabric and durable outer materials. There is a spacious shoe compartment at the bottom, a hard media-player/phone compartment at the top, a padded side access panel to fit most 17” laptops, a front-zip pocket with accessory organizer panel, and a built-in optics holder (makes sense they would protect glasses and sunglasses given thats probably what Oakley are best known for). The compression-molded back panel and adjustable shoulder straps keep you comfortable while carrying. If you are looking for a rugged style and diverse function, the Oakley Men’s Kitchen Sink Backpack may be the choice for you.
Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 Anti-Theft Backpack
|21.7 x 13.8 x 8.7 inches||3.8 lbs||45 liters|
If security is a concern, you may want to consider the pacsafe® Venturesafe Anti-Theft Backpack. This bag features lockable zippers and cut-resistant material to protect your things, as well as a stainless-steel anchor cable to lock around a fixed object (Note – you’ll need your own padlock or combination lock). This bag also protects the environment, as it is made with ECONYL® regenerated nylon fiber.
It has a roomy main compartment with internal compression straps to hold your items in place. There are multiple internal pockets for organization, and it holds a 15” laptop in a padded sleeve. The pack also features external attachment points for bulkier items, and external compression straps to make carrying easier. This versatile bag can also be carried as a briefcase, and the straps tucked away when not in use.
Best Backpacks That Are Carry-On Sized
And finally, what if you just have too much stuff, but you don’t want to have yet another wheeled carry-on? The following are a couple of great options for hands-free carry that are officially carry-on sized (so they will go in the overhead bins).
Let’s look a little closer at those:
Matein Carry on Backpack, Extra Large Travel Backpack
|19.5 x 14 x 6.5 (exp. 7.5) inches||2.6 lbs||29 liters (exp. 39 L)|
This bag isn’t flashy, but it will definitely get the job done, and its budget-friendly too (we know a little something about budget backpack options). It has a large capacity to hold up to a week’s worth of luggage and an interior accessory pocket to aid in organization. The hide-away shoulder straps, top and side handles, and optional chest strap make carrying this bag easy and enjoyable. The durable waterproof polyester and metal zippers ensure longevity which is supported by the lifetime warranty. If you are looking for a basic high-quality carry-on, give the Matein Large Carry-on Backpack a try!
Standard Luggage Co. Travel Backpack
|21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches||3.7 lbs||35 liters (exp. 45 L)|
This last pack is a 3-in-1 travel backpack, suitcase, and shoulder bag. The main compartment has a full-perimeter zip that allows you to pack it like a suitcase, holds 5-7 outfits, and expands up to 10 liters for added space when needed. It is built with 1680D water-resistant nylon and comes with a rain cover for durability, and features YKK lockable zippers and a safety whistle built into the sternum buckle for added security.
The included neoprene laptop sleeve fits up to a 15” laptop and is detachable for convenience. The backpack is padded and there are 6 points of adjustability on the straps. The bag also comes with a removable hip belt, thus resulting in maximum carrying comfort. Give the Flight Approved Backpack a chance to earn your seal of approval!
It Is Now Safe To Move About The Cabin
And that’s a wrap. Not all travel backpacks are made alike and whats right for you will depend on whether your focus is budget, security, capacity or convenience. Hopefully this list will help you whittle it down when choosing the best backpack for under airplane seat! We said we had a winner though, so drum roll please, ….
For its ergonomic design, ventilated back panels, its RFID-protected pocket and TSA-friendly lay-flat-for-scanning features, the SwissGear 1900 is our choice for the best personal item backpack for under an airplane seat
One final thought. Do be nice to your fellow passengers: if your backpack is a little …. ripe … take a look at our article on cleaning and sprucing up your backpack here.
Last update on 2022-10-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API