Southwest carry on rules and restrictions

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In terms of baggage policies, Southwest can’t be beaten. All travelers are allowed a personal item, a carry-on bag and two checked bags — all for free. Those baggage benefits, plus an awesome rewards program with great deals on flights, means you should consider flying Southwest for your next trip. 

Just make sure you know all the rules and restrictions for baggage before you book so that you can get the most bang for your buck.  

Carry on restrictions

You can bring one carry-on onboard any Southwest flight for free. A carry-on is typically something like a duffle bag, sports bag or a small suitcase. For Southwest, these bags must be smaller than 10 x 16 x 24 inches, including their wheels and handles, but there are no weight restrictions listed on their website. Just make sure you’re able to lift your bag into the overhead bin!

Image courtesy of Southwest

If your bag’s dimensions are smaller than 18.5 x 8.5 x 13.5 inches, it’s considered a personal item. Personal items include things like purses, backpacks, and laptop bags that fit within these dimensions. Southwest allows each passenger to have both a carry-on and a personal item onboard for free, so pay attention to those dimensions and bring both if you need the extra space! Southwest lists no weight restrictions for personal items.

Example of a personal item. (Image courtesy of Southwest)

If your carry-on bag is bigger than these restrictions or your personal item qualifies as a carry-on, you will have to check a bag at the gate. While it’s still free if you’re under two checked bags, you’ll need to pick this bag up at baggage claim after your flight. If you’ve already checked two bags, you’ll have to pay for this one at the gate.

Items restricted from carry-ons

Even with these unbeatable policies, you can’t bring everything on board a Southwest flight. Here’s a list to give you an idea of what is not allowed in your carry-on, but for more specific questions, always contact TSA before your flight.

  • Any liquid over 3.4 oz (excluding medication and breast milk/formula)
  • Self-defense sprays
  • Weapons such as firearms, knives and baseball bats
  • Canoe or kayak paddles
  • Alcoholic beverages over 140 proof
  • Golf clubs
  • Fireworks

Carry-on exceptions

On the other hand, Southwest considers some items exempt from the one personal item and one carry-on bag rule. What that means is that if you bring the following items on the plane, you’ll also be allowed to bring that, a carry-on, and a personal item, all free of charge. These items include:

  • Child restraint devices for a ticketed child (like strollers and car seats).
  • Assistive devices for those with disabilities (wheelchairs, crutches etc.) This is the only item on the list that is unlimited, so travelers can bring as many assistive devices as they need. 
  • Outer garments like jackets.
  • Food for consumption during the flight in disposable packaging.
  • Duty-free items (anything purchased in the airport) can be brought on the plane in addition to your other luggage. 

Checked baggage policies

Because Southwest has two free pieces of checked baggage per traveler, it shouldn’t be a big inconvenience to check a bag on your flight, as it might be for other airlines. As long as you’re prepared and know the Southwest policies, the worst that could happen is tacking on a few extra minutes in the airport at baggage claim. 

On Southwest, checked bags must be under 50 pounds and under 62 inches total (length + width + height). If your bag exceeds either of these limits, you will be charged $75, no matter what number checked bag it is. Additionally, after your first two free checked bags, your third through fifth checked bags will cost $75.

But remember, each airline has a different policy for checked and carry-on baggage (most of which aren’t as generous as Southwest!), so be sure to check your airline before flying if it isn’t Southwest. 

The value of perks like free checked bags can really add up. (Image by sumroeng chinnapan/Shutterstock)

FAQs about Southwest’s carry-on policies

How strict are Southwest’s carry-on policies?

Southwest is pretty flexible with many of their policies, like canceling or changing their flights, and their baggage policy is no exception. It’s already generous to give a free carry-on and personal item to each traveler, but they also have no obvious weight restrictions on these items. 

The only thing you need to worry about are the size restrictions, and even then, it’s doubtful a Southwest employee will come out with a tape measure for your bag. Just be cautious of how big your items are because if they are noticeably large, they will need to be checked! 

Can I take a backpack and carry-on bag on Southwest?

Yes, and they’re both free! A backpack counts as a personal item, and a carry-on bag is in a separate category. You can also bring a purse and carry-on bag, a laptop bag and a carry-on bag. Or, any other combination of a personal item and a carry-on on the flight.

Can I check in my carry-on at the gate?

If your carry-on is within the size restrictions and you’d just rather check your bag than store it in the overhead bin, Southwest is more than likely to accommodate your request. But remember, if your carry-on exceeds the size restrictions, you’ll be required to check it at the gate.

Bottom line

Southwest has a great baggage policy that includes multiple free checked bags for all travelers. While there are some rules and restrictions to their policy, it shouldn’t be too hard to stay within the limits. Travelling can be expensive, but next time you fly Southwest, know you’ll be saving on baggage fees and enjoy the extra money in your pocket! 

Featured image by FOTOGRIN/Shutterstock.

Alexandra Maloney is a contributor for Million Mile Secrets where she covers points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel. She's worked as a writing consultant for the University of Richmond and is a features writer for The Collegian UR.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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