Why You Might Struggle To Pull Off The Sneaky Carry-On Pillow Hack On Southwest Airlines

These days, trying to get the most out of airline baggage policies can feel like a competitive sport. Thankfully, the internet is full of helpful packing hacks, including the TikTok-famous carry-on pillow hack. Content creator @infloresco posted a video of the sneaky trick, where you grab a pillowcase and stuff it with clothes and other soft belongings. The premise behind the idea is that pillows aren't counted as carry-on items by many airlines, allowing you to pack more without anyone even noticing.


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The genius hack went viral, racking over 25 million views and 1.3 million likes to date. Unfortunately, the strategy isn't fooling anyone at Southwest Airlines. The air carrier rolled out a new carry-on luggage policy on February 22, 2024, which counts pillows, blankets, and other items in its baggage allowance.

TikToker @carissamonyce experienced the new crackdown during an April 2024 trip. She explained that a Southwest gate agent instructed her to consolidate her items when she tried to board with a throw blanket. "If you're flying Southwest Airlines in the future and you like to bring your throw blanket and your big, nice neck pillow, please keep in mind that if you're not able to stuff it in your purse or in your carry-on bag, they will make you check a bag or ... consolidate altogether," the creator warned.

Southwest Airlines' new carry-on policy, explained

Southwest is known for keeping its baggage fees low, even as other carriers are raising theirs. In fact, it's the airline that lets you check two bags for free — a remarkably generous offer in the world of air travel. Still, it's good to be familiar with Southwest's carry-on policy to avoid checking a bag at the last minute (which, if you're already flying with two checked suitcases, could result in surprise charges).

Passengers boarding a Southwest Airlines flight are allowed to carry one personal item and one carry-on bag, and each must follow certain size restrictions. This is standard practice across many airlines, but what could throw off some travelers (including those wanting to try the viral pillow hack) is that Southwest is now stricter about what counts as a personal item. Purses, blankets, small cameras, food containers, and pillows (except for neck pillows, which can be worn on the body) are all considered personal items. Additional items would either be in the permitted carry-on bag or checked luggage.

Part of what makes the pillow hack so tempting is that it could, in theory, allow you to bring a second carry-on bag when flying. However, note that under Southwest's new rule, it will equate to a personal item. This means that all other purses and small items must fit inside your larger luggage to be allowed on board.

The shopping bag hack won't work either

Another sneaky packing hack that went viral online is the duty-free bag hack, in which you use shopping bags from the airport shops to carry personal belongings. To pull it off, you would ask a duty-free store employee for a bag or use an old one from a previous trip. Then, fill it with clothes, snacks, headphones, or anything else that won't fit in your carry-on luggage. Unfortunately, this, too, likely won't make it past Southwest Airlines' new policy. While the air carrier doesn't specify on its website whether an airport shopping bag would count as a personal item or not, a Wall Street Journal reporter notes that shopping bags were counted in the two-item limit during their flight.

With all this in mind, there's still no reason to skip the carry-on pillow hack (or the duty-free bag hack) as long as you remain within Southwest's baggage limits. For many travelers, one carry-on suitcase and a pillow or shopping bag filled with clothes are sufficient. If you find that you still need to pack more items, you're still covered by the airline's free checked baggage promise.