Yes this is another guide that we have written in response to other websites offering misleading and poorly researched information about carry-on luggage. We have gathered a list of only the best hard shell carry-on luggage. We have taken the time to carefully research this topic and we are excited to share what we found with you. If you are interested, take a look at what luggage we own.
If you are familiar with our website, you will already know that we take the security of our luggage very seriously. We work in the industry and we see everyday what your (and our) luggage goes through once you hand it over to the airline. If you are not aware of the risks to your luggage, we encourage you to visit our main page and take a look.
But how does all this apply carry-on luggage? Well, it does not really apply as long as your carry-on luggage remains carry-on and with you. Many airlines are getting very strict about enforcing their carry-on size and weight restrictions. This is resulting in many unsuspecting travellers having to check their carry-on bags during the check-in process.
In most cases, because the traveller did not expect to be checking the bag, these carry-ons contain expensive items that they would not have placed inside if they knew that they were going to check the bag. Thieves working behind the scenes love this as it opens a whole new trove of treasures for them to plunder.
So unless you can tell the future 100% of the time, we still implore you to follow our "safe suitcase rules" even for your carry-on luggage.
Next to security, keeping your eye on the size and weight of your carry-on is of the utmost importance and will save you money and annoyance by avoiding the airline deciding to check your carry-on luggage because it is over their limits. And just because they didn't weight or measure your luggage on the way out does not mean that it won't be scrutinized on your return. Awkward!
What's on This Page:
1) Why Do I Need a Safe Hard Shell Carry-on?
2) Why Are Airlines Getting Stricter on Carry-on Size and Weight?
3) What to Look for in a Hard Shell Carry-on
4) What's the Best Material for a Hard Shell Carry-on?
5) Aren't Hard Shell Carry-ons Heavier Than Soft Sided Carry-ons?
6) What is the best size for carry on luggage?
7) How To Measure My Carry-on Luggage
8) Airline Carry-on Size and Weight Restrictions
9) Carry-on Size and Weight Restriction Chart)
10) Some Airport Restrict Carry-on Weight Too
11) What About Gate Check?
12) Our Selection Criteria
13) Hard Shell Carry-on Luggage Comparison Chart
14) Hard Shell Carry-on Luggage That Is Within Two Inches Of The Size Limit
15) Some of Our Favorites
16) Victorinox Lexicon Hardside Carry-on
17) Andiamo Elegante Aluminum Frame Carry-on
18) Hanke Suitcase Carry-On
19) Andiamo Luggage Classico Carry On
20) Zero Halliburton Classic Polycarbonate Carry On
21) Frequently Asked Questions
To answer this, first we need to review our definition of what makes a safe suitcase or our "safe suitcase rules". They are very simple and easy to remember...
See, that wasn't so bad was it?
You need a safe and secure carry-on because you are not always going to be there to protect it. The two main times that a safe carry-on will be worth it's weight in gold is when you are forced to check it in with an airline or when you leave it alone in your hotel room. In both of these cases, your carry-on is a target for thieves whether they be airport baggage handlers or hotel house keepers.
The reason why we still treat carry-on luggage like it was checked baggage is because increasingly, airlines are strictly enforcing their carry-on size and weight restriction and forcing travelers to check their carry-on luggage - for a fee. You just never know when an airline is going to force you to check your carry-on bag so you should always travel prepared for the worst.
Once your carry-on bag is injected into the baggage handling system, it is subject to all of the bad things that can happen to your checked baggage.
But you gate checked it? Sorry to tell you this but your gate-checked carry-on is still at risk of being popped open and riffled through while it is being loaded into the belly of the aircraft.
There are several reasons for why airlines are getting stricter on carry-on size and weight limitations. You can narrow the reasons down to greed, passenger behavior and economy.
Let's look at greed first. It was reported in a CNBC report on baggage fees that all domestic US airlines combined collected over $5 billion dollars in checked baggage fees in 2018! That is far more than we would have guessed. So yes, part of the move to check carry-on luggage (for a fee) may be fueled by profit.
As soon as airlines started to charge for checked baggage, many travelers, enraged at the thought of paying for something that used to be free, began to simply put all their stuff into larger and larger carry-on luggage and carry it on-board to avoid the expense.
Over time, this resulted in big problems in the airplanes with too many passengers vying for overhead locker space.
This leads us to our next issue: passenger behavior. You may not believe this but one of the airline industry's leading concerns is customer satisfaction. It's true. They know that you have a choice in who you fly with so keeping you happy is paramount to them so you keep coming back. We know, it may not always appear to be the case but it really is.
All of these large carry-on bags were causing big troubles in the cabins. There have been delayed departures (these cost the airline money) because passengers cannot find room for their carry-ons, unhappy customers who were forced to check their carry-on for a lack of space and even some fights amongst passengers and crew.
Oh, the third reason, economy? Many airlines have downsized their fleets of aircraft in favor of smaller and more fuel efficient regional jets. These new planes have much smaller cabins and therefor much less overhead locker space. There is not much that can be done to fix that.
The airlines seem to have found a solution - enforce their carry-on size and weight restrictions. All these problems seem to have gotten better by simply limiting the size and number of carry-on bags on-board. Doing this at the check-in counter seems to be the key to success. This is a win-win-win for the airlines because they get the check-in fee, they get more peaceful airplane cabins and departure delays are kept to a minimum.
When shopping for a hard shells carry-on, we recommend that you follow our "safe suitcase rules":
After you have the security and airline eligibility issues out of the way, you can now focus on the fun stuff like:
You will find five main materials used to make hard shell carry-ons. They are polycarbonate, polypropylene, ABS, Aluminum and carbon fiber. We have written an in depth explanation about the differences in these materials.
The lightest materials will be polycarbonate, aluminum and carbon fiber so we would lean towards one of them. Be warned, aluminum and carbon fiber carry-ons are very expensive. (in most case really expensive) So, our recommendation for the best all around material for a hard sided carry-on would go to polycarbonate.
Normally we shy away from this material for checked luggage because it feels too light but it is perfect use in carry-on luggage.
You may be surprised to hear that in some cases, hard sided carry-ons are actually lighter than their cloth soft sided counterparts. We did a little research to create a side-by-side comparison for you.
For the soft sided carry-ons, we selected the top five rated soft sided wheeled carry-ons on Amazon.com. We made sure to report only the dimensions with handles and wheels. Of course, we threw out any that exceeded the average maximum carry-on dimensions or were very heavy (over 10 pounds).
We were surprised how many top rated carry-on we had to ignore because they were just too large. There must be a lot of disappointed travelers out there.
For the hard sided carry-ons, we selected five hard shell suitcases from our website. Again, we made sure to report only the dimensions with handles and wheels and not use cases that weighed more than 10 pounds.
|Soft||Caribbean Joe Luggage Castaway||21.5" X 14" X 9"||7.1lb|
|Soft||Lily Bloom Luggage Night Owl||21.5" X 14" X 9"||7lb|
|Soft||it Luggage Quilte Lightweight||21.5" x 14" x 8.5"||5.34lb|
|Soft||Lucas Ultra Lightweight||22.8" X 14" X 9"||5.8lb|
|Soft||American Tourister Lynnwood||17" x 14" x 9"||6.6lb|
|Hard||Andiamo Elegante||20" X 13.2" X 9"||8.2lb|
|Hard||Merax Flieks Aluminum||21.4" x 15.4" x 9.6"||8.5|
|Hard||Samsonite Cruisair||21" x 15" x 10"||9lb|
|Hard||Samsonite S'Cure||19.5" x 14.5" x 7.8"||6.4lb|
|Hard||Samsonite Tru-Frame||19" x 14" x 9.3"||7.5lb|
You only need to look at our carry-on size and weight restriction chart further down on this page to see the most common airline carry-on size and weight restrictions. Let us save you the trouble and tell you that by far the average maximum carry-on size for most airlines is:
45 linear inches (115 centimeters) to a maximum of 22" x 14" x 9" or 55cm x 35cm x 22cm.
The average maximum weight is 15lb or 7kg. Some airlines go as high as 30lb or 14kg. Many airlines do not place a maximum weight restriction but instead they state that you must be able to lift the bag into the overhead locker by yourself.
This is easy to do but many people still get it wrong and end up literally paying the price for their mistake.
There are two numbers used by various airlines.
Most tell you the maximum height, width and depth. (H, W and D in the picture) This is pretty straight forward but you must keep in mind that the dimensions include all wheels and handles (in the retracted position of course).
Most airlines have cages made to their maximum dimension located in the check-in area for you to verify if your bag is within the airline's requirements. You just slip you bag into the cage and if it fits, you are good to go. If it doesn't you may be asked to check it in and pay the fee so make sure that your carry-on is allowable before you head out to the airport.
A few airlines simply tell you one linear number. This means that the three dimensions of your luggage must not add up to more than that number. For example, Height plus Width plus Depth must be less than 45 inches.
Let's face it, this is what really matters when it comes to deciding on which carry-on to buy. The chart below lists twenty one of the top airlines in the world and the precise dimensions and weights that they each allow for carry-on baggage.
Please don't think that you will be able to slip through or talk you way out of checking your bag. Airlines are getting very strict on this point. Make sure that your carry-on will be allowed on-board before you leave for the airport.
Unlike other internet articles on this subject, we did not just do a quick search and let Google's knowledge graph answer the question because the answer is sometimes not the complete picture (or not true). Instead, we did actual research and visited the carry-on baggage pages for each airline and recorded the dimensions and weights that we found on the airline's website. (Straight from the horse's mouth) We even include a direct link to the airline's carry-on baggage limitations pages in the chart below so you can double check our work.
The conversion. Only United States based airlines quote carry-on sizes in imperial units (inches). All other airlines quote metric measurements (centimeters or cm) first and then maybe a conversion to imperial units if you are lucky. In cases where airlines do not provide the conversion, we have made it for you.
The metric system and imperial measurements do not convert exactly so some airlines round up the conversion decimal places and some round it down. This could make or break it for some carry-ons. So remember:
A few notes about what we found:
|Airline||Dimensions||Max Weight (E, B, 1st)||Source|
|Air Canada||21.5" x 15.5" x 9"
(55cm x 40cm x 23cm)
|You must be able to lift it yourself||Link|
|Air New Zealand||Max linear up to 118cm (46")||Economy 7kg (15lb)
Other 14kg (30lb)
|All Nipon Airways||Max linear 115cm (45") not exceeding 55cm x 40cm x 25cm (22" x 16" x 10")||10 kg (22lb)||Link|
|Alaska Airlines||22'' x 14'' x 9'' (55cm x 35cm x 22cm)||You must be able to lift it yourself||Link|
|Alegian Air||22" x 14" x 9" inches (55.9cm x 35.6cm x 22.9cm)||No published weight limits||Link|
|American Airlines||22" x 14" x 9" (56cm x 36cm x 23cm)||No published weight limits||Link|
|Cathay Pacific||56cm x 36cm x 23cm (22" x 14" x 9")||7kg (15lb), 10kg (22lb) & 15kg (33lb)||Link|
|Delta||Max 45 linear inches (or 114 cm) 22" x 14" x 9" or 56cm x 35cm x 23cm||No maximum weight applies to carry-on baggage (free gate check on small aircraft)||Link|
|Emirates||22" x 15" x 8" (55cm x 38cm x 20 cm)||7 kg (15lb)||Link|
|Frontier Airlines||24" x 16" x 10" (60cm x 40cm x 25cm)||35lb||Link|
|Hawaiian Airline||45 linear inches (or 114 cm) 22" x 14" x 9" (56cm x 35cm x 23cm)||25lb (11.5kg)||Link|
|Japan Airlines (JAL)||Max 45 linear inches (or 115 cm) 55cm × 40cm × 25cm (21" x 16" x 10")||10kg (22lbs)||Link|
|Jetblue||22" x 14" x 9" (55.88cm x 35.56cm x 22.86cm)||You must be able to lift it yourself||Link|
|JetStar||56cm x 36cm x 23cm (22" x 14" x 9")||7kg, 10kg & 14kg||Link|
|Qantas||Max linear 115cm (45") up to 56cm x 36cm x 23cm (22" x 14" x 9")||10kgs (complicated)||Link|
|Qatar Airline||50cm x 37cm x 25cm (20" x 15" x 10")||7kg and 15kg||Link|
|Singapore Airlines||Max 115 linear cm (45")||7kg||Link|
|Southwest Airlines||24" 16" x 10" (60cm x 40cm x 25cm)||No published weight limits||Link|
|Spirit Airlines||22" x 18" x 10" (56cm x 46cm x 25cm)||No published weight limits||Link|
|United Airlines||22" x 14" x 9" (56cm x 35cm x 22cm)||No published weight limits||Link|
|Westjet||53cm x 38cm x 23cm
(21" x 15" x 9")
|You must be able to lift it yourself||Link|
It is common in Asia for the airport to place a maximum weight allowance on carry-on baggage too. It is unclear why but the best guess that we can come up with is that it is intended to limit wear and tear on pre-board security screening X-ray machines. Larger bags can do real damage to the automated belts in the X-rays and they are very expensive to repair.
Here are a few airports that impose their own weight limits on carry-on luggage:
Around the time when the airlines started to charge a fee for checked luggage, some travelers (my own colleagues included) found and exploited a clever work-around. They would cart there full-sized luggage (that by all estimations should have been checked) through pre-board screening and start to board the aircraft knowing very well that there was no way the luggage was going into the cabin.
Airlines started assigning staff to stand outside the door of the aircraft and pull oversized luggage aside and "gate check" it. The traveller received a receipt and there was no charge for this. It was a great scheme. Their luggage was even returned to them at the door of the aircraft upon arrival!
Needless to say, this loop hole did not last very long. Gate checking, or rather the abuse of it, is one of the main reasons why airline representatives at the check-in counter are now so diligent about enforcing the airline's carry-on size restrictions.
Gate check still exists to this day but many airlines now charge a premium, far in excess of the normal fee, to check your luggage this way. Delta is one of the few airlines that offers a free Gate Check for smaller aircraft with limited overhead storage capacity.
Checking your luggage in this way does not ensure that it will not be opened and stolen from in between the door and the cargo hold of the aircraft. These guys are that fast and there are no cameras down there.
For this article, we are focussing on our five main concerns:
All of the carry-on suitcases listed in the chart below meet our safe suitcase rules and are within the carry-on size restriction of all domestic American airlines.
Here is our list of safe carry-ons that are within the most common airline size limitation of 22" x 14" x 9".
During our research for this article we were really surprised how difficult is was to find a safe carry-on that would be within the most common airline limitation of 22" x 14" X 9". Many great bags missed out by as little as half an inch.
We were so disheartened that we decided to make a second list of carry-on bags that were within an inch of being compliant. Hopefully, these bags would get a pass from the airline because they are so close to the limits.
Here is our list of safe carry-ons that are only slightly over the most common airline size limitation of 22" x 14" x 9". They are only over by a maximum of two inches (okay, one is over by 2.5 inches). As you can see, we had a much easier time finding many more safe carry-on suitcases that are are slightly over the common size limit than under it. In fact, we had to cap it at ten to keep the length down.
This makes us wonder why carry-on luggage manufacturers insist on flaunting the rules.
* Over limit dimensions are in bold
19.5" x 14.5" x 7.8"
(49.53cm x 36.8cm x 19.8cm)
Well, we had a tough time finding any carry-ons that were within the average airline carry-on limits and adhered to our safe suitcase rules but we did find a few. Let's delve into these carry-ons in a little more detail:
The Lexicon is made with polycarbonate shells that are held closed using double racquet YKK (puncture resistant) zippers. This will keep prying hands out of your carry-on if it is ever checked or left alone in a hotel room.
Victorinox has kept the size of this carry-on beneath the average US airline maximum requirements for carry-on luggage.
At a Glance:
• Available in 2 colors" Black and Titanium
• 34 Liter volume
• Well within most airline allowances: 20.8 " x 13.7" x 9" (53cm x 34.7cm x 22cm)
• 6.7 lbs / 3.04 kg
• 100% virgin polycarbonate
• Integrated external USB charging port (battery pack not included)
• Interior hanging pocket for USB battery pack
• Ultra secure double racquet coil YKK zippers
Being American based, they seem to really understand the size constraints of domestic American airlines. This makes the Andiamo Elegante almost the perfect carry-on. It is made safe thanks to the polycarbonate shells, aluminum frame and dual TSA locks. It is bang-on the average size limitation for most US airlines giving you the maximum space without the worry of having to check it.
You can read more about this on our Andiamo Elegante feature page.
At a Glance:
• Available in 3 different colors (Black, Black Pearl & Quartz)
• Polycarbonate shells with an exclusive alloy metalline finish
• Aluminum reinforcing frame
• Within most airline allowances: 22" X 14" X 9" (55cm x 35cm x 22cm)
• 29 liter volume
• Weight: 8.2lb (3.7kg)
• Dual front mounted TSA locks
• Interior lining material: Jacquard lining
This carry-on is well reviewed and very secure. The three layer polycarbonate shell and the double racquet cold YKK zippers make this case your traveling fortress.
The interior features many clever organization features - our most favorite being the wet and dry pockets.
At a Glance:
• Available in two colors (Black and Ivory White)
• 100% Polycarbonate shells (3-layer Bayer PC)
• 37 Liter size
• Weighs 6.83lb (3kg)
• Dimensions: 19.29'' x 13.46'' x 8.78'' (49cm x 34.2cm x 22.3cm)
• Main material: 80% NYLON, 20% POLYESTER
• Fully lined interior
• Separate wet and dry pockets
• Double racquet coil YKK zippers
• Rubber coated wheels for very quiet movement
Andiamo is an American company who makes great looking luggage. They understand American air carriers and their limits on carry-on luggage. They even went out and tested to make sure that the Classico will be allowed by each domestic American airline's carry-on restrictions.
This is the heaviest carry-on that we are recommending but it is also the nicest looking (in our opinion). Just be careful to weigh it and be sure to keep it under the airlines weight requirements.
You can read more about this on our Andiamo Classico feature page.
At a Glance:
• Available in three colors: Black, Red Ruby and Royal Sapphire
• Black anodized aluminum frame
• Perfect dimensions: 22" x 14" x 8.5" (55cm x 38.8cm x 21.5cm)
• Weight: 10.4lb (4.7kg)
• 35 Liters
• Dual front mounted TSA locks
• Fully lined interior
• RFID blocking pocket
• Ergonomic handles
• External USB port for charging your devices on-the-go
• 70/30 shell split gives the case a vintage look
The Zero Halliburton name is synonymous with simple luxury and elegance. They started out in the oil fields of middle America. From day-1 they were known for their protection and strength. This reputation has lasted more than eighty years. You have seen these suitcases in movies, television shows and probably plenty of airports too.
The Zero Halliburton Classic Polycarbonate carry-on lives up to this company's long tradition of excellence. It employs strong polycarbonate shells supported by an aluminum alloy frame for extra strength. No corners were cut in the making of this case.
Zero Halliburton hit the ball out of the park on this carry-on by making it exactly the maximum allowable size to give you maximum space inside.
You can read more about this on our Zero Halliburton Class Polycarbonate feature page.
At a Glance:
• Available in four colors: Black, Blue, Gold and Silver
• Sturdy aluminum alloy frame
• Perfect dimensions: 22" x 14" x 9" (55cm x 38.8cm x 22.86cm)
• Weight: 7.9lb (3.58kg)
• Dual front mounted TSA locks
• Custom draw-bolt latches
• Fully lined interior
• Self retracting handles
• Multi-position locking telescoping handles
•Fully lined interior
Yes they do. This is in response to the many travelers who decided to carry their large suitcases through security and onto the airplane rather than paying to check it.
The international weight limit for carry-on bags and personal items is usually 40 pounds. This includes the bag and all its contents.
The average maximum size limitation for carry-on baggage for domestic American airlines is 22" x 14" X 9".
Lithium batteries with more than 100 watt hours may be allowed in carry-on bags with airline approval, but are limited to two spare batteries per passenger. TSA Lithium Batteries
Yes airlines do enforce carry-on luggage size and weight limits. If your carry-on is in excess of the airlines limitations, they will force you to check it and pay a fee.
To be sure that your carry-on luggage is compliant with most major airline size restrictions, buy a carry-on bag that is smaller than 22" x 14" x 9". This measurement includes all handles and wheels.
Unfortunately, Delsey does not make a carry-on that would be allowed on most American airlines. They do make several great bags that are an inch or two too large. Too bad, they make great safe suitcases.
So that's it... our list of safe and compliant carry-on luggage. We enjoyed doing the research on for this article. We learned a lot about carry-on luggage and we hope that it will help you in choosing one that is best for your needs and purposes.