IATA Introduces International Carry-on Bag Guidelines



As part of its annual general meeting held in Miami, USA, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced a new size guideline for carry-on bags with the goal to maximize cabin storage space on board most narrow and widebody aircraft types. Refer to press release for video insert from IATA. (Originally posted on June 10 with updates on June 18, 2015).


Working very closely with its 260 airline members and aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, IATA concluded the the optimal carry-on bag size is 55 x 35 x 20 cm or 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches.

An “IATA Cabin OK” logo has been designed to assist airline staff on identifying which bags meet the new size guideline.  A number of major international airlines have signaled their interest to join the initiative and will soon be introducing the guidelines into their operations.

IATA Cabin OK bag

IATA Cabin OK bag – Image taken from IATA’s website (All Rights Reserved)

IATA Cabin OK logo

IATA Cabin OK logo – Image taken from IATA’s website on June 10, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)

“The development of an agreed optimal cabin bag size will bring common sense and order to the problem of differing sizes for carry-on bags. We know the current situation can be frustrating for passengers. This work will help to iron out inconsistencies and lead to an improved passenger experience,” said Tom Windmuller, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security.

IATA is also working with baggage tracking solutions provider Okoban to manage the approval process of bag manufacturers. Each bag meeting the dimensions of the specifications will carry a special joint label featuring IATA and Okoban as well as a unique identification code that signals to airline staff that the bag complies with the optimum size guidelines.


This is a very important announcement for the airline industry as carry-on bag sizes have been an on going item creating an unnecessary gap between passenger experience and airlines.

Passenger Experience

Given the lack of guidelines previously, passengers experienced frustration when travelling on different airlines with their carry-on baggage fitting one’s recommended size guidelines but not another. This is the case even when the passenger is travelling within the airline alliances such as Star Alliance or oneworld.

As noted in the table below, there is no specific consistency between world airlines today.

Carry-on Baggage Airline Comparison

Carry-on Baggage Airline Comparison – Information taken from various airline’s website on June 10, 2015 (information is accurate as at posting) (All Rights Reserved)

Moving forward, a common dimension guideline though smaller than the default today would bring on a better traveling experience as passenger can pack knowing that their carry-on baggage will pass inspection.

Smart Technology

We highlighted some of up and coming manufacturers with building smart technology into carry-on baggages (refer to our coverage here). Some of these companies would need to redesign to fit the new guidelines while getting themselves certified by Okoban.


Given the new dimension guidelines are smaller than some of the airlines’ own standards highlighted above, the baggages should not have a problem fitting into the overhead compartment. Flight attendants would have an easy time managing overhead cabin storage space (this has been cited as a work related health issue by the cabin crew via searches on flightsafety.org).

The following eight airlines have agreed to implement the new guideline in the near future: Air China (CA), Avianca S.A. (AV), Azul Brazilian Airlines (AD), Cathay Pacific Airways (CX), China Southern Airlines (CZ), Emirates (EK), Lufthansa German Group (LH) and Qatar Airways (QR).

Given the dimensions decreased, it is expected that overall weight to the baggages will also decrease moving forward as the available capacity is removed. This will help airlines burn less fuel.

Baggage Manufacturers

This new development will create business opportunities and challenges for baggage manufactures to design, build and market new certified items. It will make sense for some of these manufacturers to work more directly with airlines to gain a foothold into the market and build product awareness.

June 18 Update

After its initial announcement, IATA received numerous feedback and decided to delay the introduction of its Cabin OK program until further notice (refer to press release). It will spend the time to complete additional consultation with its member airlines for a better solution.  Tom Windmuller, SVP, Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security discussed the following concerns,

“Our focus is on providing travelers with an option that would lead to a simplified and better experience. While many welcomed the Cabin OK initiative, significant concerns were expressed in North America. Cabin OK is a voluntary program for airlines and for consumers. This is clearly an issue that is close to the heart of travelers. We need to get it right. Today we are pausing the rollout and launching a comprehensive reassessment of the Cabin OK program with plans to further engage program participants, the rest of our members, and other key stakeholders.”

IATA reiterated some key principles of the Cabin OK initiative which will continue to guide the reassessment: Cabin OK is a guideline for an optimally sized cabin bag, not an industry standard. Cabin OK does not seek to define a maximum size for carry-on bags, which is something each airline does individually. And no consumer will be forced into buying a new bag as a result of this voluntary initiative.

The pause is likely attributable to two main things:

1. Airlines who are charging luggage fees do not want to anger its passengers by also reducing the cabin bag limit downward. This might create a lot of public resentment towards the airlines.

2. Public does not fully understand that this is a guideline and will think that they would require to buy a new bag to satisfy it (which is very likely if airlines change their own policy).

The likely result is that IATA would recommend a new solution that is more similar to the current standard cabin bag configuration of 22 x 14 x 9 inches and 56 x 36 x 23 cm.

Final Call

Once the new carry-on baggage guidelines are implemented across the airline industry and products made are available to passengers, the confusing days of size restrictions would be reduced significantly. Although IATA has a change of hearts with respect to the rollout, it is taking the right direction in offering its member airlines guideline on what is an optimal sized cabin bag and allow them to implement a consistent program.

There will be public or even airline pressure to stick with the status quo but it is more rewarding to create a more seamless experience through this guideline over time.



2 thoughts on “IATA Introduces International Carry-on Bag Guidelines”

  1. That standard is more than 60 cubic inches smaller than Air Canada’s new guidelines 🙁

  2. Great idea, but the wrong dimensions. The depth is needlessly narrow: it should be 23 or 25cm. Already carriers are opting out, which defeats the purpose.

    Paradoxically it’s budget carriers that currently accept larger dimensions (Ryan it’s 55x40x20cm and 10kg; EasyJet 56x45x25cm no weight restriction ; JetBlue 43x330x28cm no weight restriction ; Air Baltic 55x40x20cm and 8kg). Because larger carryons still consume less fuel if the passenger doesn’t need to check a bag in the hold.

Comments are closed.