When airlines began charging to check bags, they also ushered in the era of “gate lice.” That’s modern slang for people who jockey for early boarding to their flights in order to score valuable storage space on the plane and save a buck.
Regular flyers know that carry-on size limits can vary wildly, especially on regional aircraft with puny overhead bins. Even on huge jets that you’d assume have plenty of room for hand luggage, the airlines often install bulky power banks under the seats, taking up your precious personal space.
Nowhere are the carry-on size limitations more strict than in Europe.
The measurement guidelines on a major U.S. carrier such as Delta Air Lines are 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 35 x 23 cm).
That’s pretty tight, but on European no-frills flying bus easyJet, the limit for free cabin baggage is much smaller: a ridiculously teeny 45 x 36 x 20 cm, or 18 x 14 x 8 inches. If you want to bring aboard a bag larger than that, you have to pay a fee, and even then you’re still limited to 56 x 45 x 25 cm (about 22 x 17.5 x 9.5 inches).
On Irish carrier Aer Lingus, your carry-on can measure no larger than 55 x 40 x 24 cm (21.5 x 15.5 x 9.5 inches)—and you still might have to pay an extra fee.
Suffice to say that the carry-on bag you use for U.S. or Canadian domestic flights may be considered gargantuan by European standards. If North Americans want to be free of the burden of checking luggage while traveling abroad, they have to go smaller than they’re used to. Like, really small. Like, bring-one-pair-of-underwear-and-wash-it-in-the-hotel-sink small.
These carry-on bags will fit the bill in many cases, although of course you’ll have to double-check the specific sizing requirements for your airline and flight. All of the models below have wheels (sometimes called spinners) so you won’t have to endure shoulder straps. Many of the designs (often called underseat) will fit beneath the seat in front of you.
You will find one benefit to using these bags in North America, too—they’ll almost always be well within airline size limits and you’ll rarely be asked to check them.
Pictured above: Victorinox Airox Global Hardside Carry-on