Travelers Are Using Pillow Cases To Outsmart Airline Carry-On Limits

Not all airlines let you bring a carry-on bag onboard the plane. If you’re flying ultra low cost carriers like Spirit Airlines or Frontier they charge extra for that. If you’re flying on United’s cheapest tickets it isn’t allowed at all.

To bring more things on board than you’re allowed to, or to save on fees, some passengers have been known to turn themselves into a human suitcase by wearing a SCOTTeVEST. Backpackers for years have stuffed their clothes into pillow cases to make pillows to sleep on.

In the ongoing game of airline versus passenger, one traveler has come up with a new way to win: using the pillow case as an extra carry-on bag. Just stuff all your items inside, instead of using it for a pillow. The overpacked pillow just takes all of the extra clothes you can’t fit within your carry-on allowance.


if you have less clothes i think an empty neck pillow would be easier

♬ Perfect (Exceeder) – Mason & Princess Superstar

Some people try a similar trick, to disguise a carry-on bag inside of a shopping bag. But that doesn’t actually work because it misunderstands airline carry-on rules.

  • It may be possible to fool a gate agent, because they aren’t thinking about a full sized bag when they see a shopping bag, but this isn’t something I would expect to work most of the time because a carry-on bag isn’t defined by whether it is a suitcase.
  • The difference between a personal item and a carry-on bag is its size. By definition the bag used to carry the carry-on has to be larger than the carry-on.

The genius here of the pillow case is that it understands the psychology people bring to the rules. A pillow isn’t going to go into the overhead bin (where a carry-on bag belongs) or under the seat (which is for your personal item). A pillow is for resting your head, so it stays at your seat.

If your pillow is full of heavy items though it really shouldn’t be out during takeoff or landing. In turbulence it actually could be dangerous though of course that’s a long shot. And with single agent boarding most airline gate staff don’t have time to look closely and think about it anyway.

Of course if everyone did this, it would become so obvious that it wouldn’t work anymore.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Ha, I look forward to someone trying this on Ryanair or some other ULCC only to be told to either put the pillow into their personal item where it will not fit, or else check the pillow (and all its contents)

  2. None of these “tactics” would be needed or used if the airlines quit with their asinine bag fees. Southwest allows 2 free checked bags. The other airlines rake in millions with their bag fees and continue to find more ways to squeeze money out of passengers for things that used to be included in the price of a ticket. I say, “more power” to anyone who can find ways to avoid these rip off fees. I have my own, but I am not stupid enough to post what I do because the airline “bean counters” read postings such as the ones posted here and elsewhere.

  3. Johhny – and I am sure that your “status” was acquired with you purchasing overpriced tickets over a long period of time. You have paid for your smugly stated “status”…..

  4. Lol, used to travel wearing a photographer vest. Amazing what you could stuff into one of those.

    I still remember the look on the faces of the screeners in Zimbabwe when I walked up, unzipped it and laid it on the scanner, then put it back on after.

    Crazy American! But it worked. Especially in countries who did weigh carry on but never gave my vest a 2nd look.

  5. Using clothes in a bag for a pillow is an old backpacker hack to be more comfortable at camp. The resulting pillow is less compressible than the ones onboard and thus is more useable. I use the pillow in the location of my lower back to lessen backaches. I should be doing this.

  6. This won’t work outside the US where most airlines have WEIGHT limits. Some as low as 6kg for personal and carry on.
    We have good in the US

  7. I’ve always felt weight limits for carry-on were disingenuous. If it truly had to do with fuel cost, and they should weigh the passenger with their carry-on. A 160 lb passenger bringing 40 lb with them cost the same as a 200 lb passenger with nothing.

  8. Just sat next to a girl on an Avianca flight that got away with a full size hiking pack as ‘personal item’ and her clothes in a pillowcase

  9. Its all an innocent hack until a plane goes down for being too heavy because too many people brought on fake pillows.

  10. May have to try this since I cancelled my card but now ended up with Two flights with them for this year. Though $99 fee doesn’t sound too bad for checked bags

  11. I’ve done this many times in the last several years, on budget airlines such as Ryanair and upscale ones like Virgin Atlantic. In fact, one year, I did it with a king-sized pillow case.

    It was way too heavy, so I’ll never so that again, I use toddler pillow cases now. But when the king-sized pillow case got incredulous glances, I simply said that I was on a multi-day journey to my final destination that included 11-hour flights and 14-hour layovers, which was true, and no one gave me a problem.

    On takeoff and landing, I put my pillow behind my lower back. I always get window seats and put pillow against the window, where it is far more comfortable than any airline pillow would be. Not that airline pillows are offered on 99% of the flights I take.

    Still, it is such a comfortable accessory on long haul flights that I now do it even when I don’t actually have too much for my luggage – space or weight-wise…which is most of the time, bc that is a real hassle when you travel long-term.

    Also, here’s a reminder that there are quite a few other things besides pillows that don’t count toward your carry-on allowance. That includes all your outerwear plus food and drink for your flight. I have a mesh backpack that I put all of that in and when I get stopped I just point out the contents they can see through the bag and they wave me through.

    Another alternative is to get a waterproof bag about 12″ X 14″ That you can clip onto the handle of your underseat bag. You can put your outerwear or other soft miscellaneous items and no one looks twice. There is always enough space to stuff it alongside or above your personal item.

    Having said all that, I can tell you – as a long-term traveler – that travel is a whole lot more enjoyable when you can easily carry everything you’ve brought. Also, comfortable, broken-in shoes are a must.

  12. Idiots. Loose lips sink ships. Months from now when Airlines either ban or charge for the “pillows”, blame this stupid assed article.

  13. Hey Slanky what’s the difference whether peoples carryon goes in the overhead bin or your forced to check it, it’s the same weight no matter where it goes

  14. The actual issue here is over packing. Unless you have substantial medical equipment or an infant, a standard unexpanded carry on should suffice for most trips. Europe or Asia for two weeks? No problems for those of us that don’t overpack.

  15. Time to price the trash out of the market. Raise the prices of tickets by 25%, reduce the amount of seating by 25%, we get more room, they save money on fuel and weight and food, and we can price the low-class idiots who don’t have the courtesy to travel in a civilized manner out of the market.

  16. Here’s the hack of all hacks: You want to avoid extra bag charges, and/or the stress of trying to cheat the system? Pack less. And if you need a different dinner outfit every night of your vacation, then check the extra bag, you cheapskates. You can definitely afford it. If you really hate the airline, don’t fly them. Swim. Or walk. I can’t stand the whining. You’re welcome.

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