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Pack the Perfect Carry-On

Packing your carry-on bag for an upcoming flight is a great way to prepare for a positive flying experience.

Whether you embrace the option of using only a carry-on bag (a great way to travel light and avoid checked-bag fees) or plan to check a bag and use your carry-on for onboard needs, some advanced planning and efficient packing methods will ensure you can get everything you need into your bag.

1. Select the perfect bag. Depending on your travel needs, the perfect bag could be a rolling suitcase, duffel, tote or backpack.

Roller bags should be chosen carefully to comply with your airline’s regulations regarding sizes for overhead bin space. (Pay particular attention to both domestic and international airline policies, as the requirements for each can vary significantly.)

Duffels and totes are great for casual, shorter-duration trips; and backpacks are ideal for people who prefer a hands-free option.

2. Know where to stow. Remember, for most airlines, every passenger is allowed one carry-on and one personal item. Larger carry-ons will need to be stowed in the overhead compartment and your personal item under the seat in front of you. Pack each bag accordingly so you can access items you may need in-flight, even if the seatbelt sign stays on.

3. Know your packing style. Do you like luggage with multiple compartments or just one big space? Packing cubes or plastic bags can help you stay organized with style and also help keep clean clothes separate from dirty items.

Many soft-side bags have generous exterior pockets that make accessing items easy, and some have interior dividers as well.

4. Get the details right. To avoid wrinkled clothes, roll, don’t fold. This video demonstrates useful packing techniques to save space and prevent wrinkles. It's amazing how much you can fit into one small carry-on bag with the proper choice of clothing and some practice.

Put all liquids, powders, and gels in TSA-compliant containers, and then place inside a quart-size plastic baggie.

Cushion electronic devices or camera equipment between layers of clothing, and put all shoes in plastic to keep clothes clean.

5. Be Prepared. If your carry-on is accompanied by a checked bag, consider packing one change of clothing in your carry-on. That way, if your luggage is delayed or lost, you have something else to wear after arriving to your destination. Remember: high value items like jewelry and must-have necessities like prescriptions and eye-glasses should always be packed in your carry-on.

6. Plan ahead for in-flight needs. Make your journey more enjoyable by having food, liquids, entertainment options, and a light jacket or sweater conveniently accessible.

Food: Complimentary in-flight meal and snack options are becoming more limited. Skip high-priced packaged foods sold at airport convenient stores and pack your own snacks or even a sandwich.

Liquids: Many airports now offer water bottle refill stations near traditional water fountains. Pack an empty bottle to fill up after passing through security.

Entertainment: Readily available music, videos or reading materials can be the keys to a great flight. Pack a laptop, e-reader, tablet or phone, plus any chargers you may need, and don’t forget your favorite headphones. Noise-canceling headphones can be great for long—they help buffer engine noise and mitigate noise from talkative or fussy passengers (aka crying babies).

For ideas on how to kill time on a long flight, check out our earlier blog post.

Warm clothing option: Overall, make sure to dress comfortably for your flight—preferably in layers, but also have a light jacket or sweater handy. In-flight climates can range from balmy to downright freezing, and most domestic flights do not provide individually packaged blankets for passengers.

Make sure to drink plenty of water during your flight to help you feel the best when you land. And keep toiletries—like a toothbrush and toothpaste, moisturizer, eye drops, lip balm or make-up—close at hand so you can freshen up after arrival.


Don’t wait until the night before your trip to pack your bag! Give yourself plenty of time to organize and pack a day or two before you leave to help lower your chances of forgetting important items or feeling rushed.

Put a name tag on each bag just in case you are required to check your carry-on before boarding your flight.

Help guarantee a smooth flight (at least luggage-wise) by planning ahead and packing strategically!