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Is Anyone NOT In Favor of Stricter Carry-On Limits?

Is Anyone NOT In Favor of Stricter Carry-On Limits?

When United announced earlier this month that it would begin strictly enforcing the size restrictions on carry-on bags, there was the predictable outcry from flyers. Or outcries, really. There were moans of “Big Brother!” And groans of “More bag fees!”

Sure, after many years of mostly ignoring its own published size guidelines for carry-ons, the airline’s sudden clamp-down feels arbitrary and heavy-handed.

And there’s no doubt that at least part of United’s motivation for the change in practice is the very real prospect of collecting more fees for bags that will now have to be checked instead of rolled aboard.

Nevertheless, this is a case where the best interests of United and its customers are more in alignment than they are in opposition.

The size guidelines, let’s remember, are designed to keep travelers from carrying on bags that won’t fit in the overhead bins. That means a much smoother boarding process. No bottlenecks caused by passengers unable to store their oversized bag. No frantic dashes against the flow of traffic to find storage space elsewhere in the cabin. No confrontations between panicked passengers and stressed flight attendants.

If the few rule-breakers are forced to pony up checked-bag fees, that’s a small price to pay for the reduction in hassle and stress experienced by those who abide by the rules.

What’s been missing — at United, and just about every other airline as well — is the will to enforce the long-in-place guidelines. Have you ever seen a passenger using a baggage sizer to determine whether his bag is over or under the limit? I haven’t. And really, there’s no incentive for doing so, or penalty for not doing so. The airlines have tolerated non-compliance for so long that it’s become the rule.

Speaking of penalties, have you ever seen a gate agent pull aside a passenger with an obviously oversized bag and demand that it be checked? In my years of flying, I can count the number of times I’ve witnessed that scenario on one hand. And that’s entirely understandable: Like most of us, gate agents are conflict-averse. They don’t want to spend their working lives arguing with customers. It’s easier to just let it slide.

It remains to be seen how strict United’s enforcement will be. Scofflaws won’t be deterred by policy changes. And the tendency among airline workers to look the other way won’t be easily reversed.

But if all goes according to plan, the shift will be a nice upgrade for most United flyers, as well as for United’s bottom line.

Reader Reality Check

Have you seen a difference in United’s carry-on enforcement since the policy change was announced?

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  • Justin

    I’d happily pay $25 to check a bag if I had a chance of retrieving it undamaged, un-pillaged (more TSA’s fault than airline, but still a problem), and within 30 minutes of deplaning. But it never works out that way, so I carry on, and pick aircraft with overhead bins so my 22″ rollaboard fits.

  • – –

    For the love of God, why don’t they simply section the overheads and assign them to the corresponding seats? ==No. Brainer Alert==

  • BobChi

    Because some people don’t carry much stuff at all. Should the bins above their seats therefore go empty? Inefficient. The current policies, if enforced, would go a long way toward solving it.

  • BobChi

    To me the time issue is paramount. I seldom check bags because I want to step off the plane and be on my way. Last trip I did check a bag, breezed through immigration with Global Entry, then stood around for 30 minutes waiting for the bag. And there’s that sense of foreboding – will this be the time that my bag doesn’t make it? It happens often enough that it’s never far from my mind when I check a bag.

  • John Hill

    While I haven’t measured it, I would be surprised if each person carried a standard roll-on that the OH bins could accommodate them. I like your idea but the airlines are counting on a certain percentage of people not carrying on any bags because all of them just wouldn’t fit.

  • – –

    Of all the bells and whistles Boeing and Airbus come up with, they don’t address this basic functionality issue. I concede that there is an averaging of carry on baggage, but I stick by the sectioning, perhaps adjustable (like the separator bars at the grocery store), such that they can at least .attempt. to keep some kind of order in the process.

  • peterknight

    It was never a problem till the bag fees started. We need to go back to the old days and include the fees in the ticket price. No one wants to acknowledge the fact that the inconvenience has a cost.

  • rgdave

    I, for one, applaud UA for finally enforcing the rules. I’m always amazed, during boarding, to see the bloated roll-aboard combinations that privileged frequent flyers bring on board. True, a laptop may be stuffed into a side pocket of a huge sample case, but that’s not quite what the airline had in mind when they said “One carryon plus a laptop or personal item.:

    The biggest carry on hogs tend to be frequent fliers, which squashes the argument that the culprit here is baggage fees. I would surmise that most frequent flyers have the ‘right’ credit card that gets them a free checked bag. The real issue is horrid baggage service. It’s rare at most airports that you see a bag come down the chute less than 20 minutes after arrival, and at JFK in NYC it can be 30 or 40 minutes for ‘first bag’. Priority baggage handling among US airlines is pretty much a joke. YOur bag may (or more likely not) be first down the chute. But the baggage tug didn’t leave the plane until all the bags were unloaded. Having two tugs would be more expensive, and no US carrier will spend a dime unless they absolutely have to.

    If a legacy carrier in the U.S. would commit to priority bags on the carousel within 5 minutes of a passenger reaching it, there would be a lot more checked bags. Or even how about a notice board with the estimated arrival time for bags? Right now, you don’t know if you’ll be standing there for 10 minutes or 30 minutes.

  • mre5765

    To answer the question, I am against stricter carry on requirements.

  • keller23

    There’s an entitlement mentality at work here, just like in society in general. This week I was boarding a CRJ. As everyone knows, CRJs have very small overheads and can’t fit much more than a laptop bag or very small suitcase. As everyone was getting a pink tag for their carry on, one woman refused. She said she is absolutely NOT checking her carry on. When the gate agent explained that it’s not really checking and she will be able to get her bag right after landing, she still insisted she is NOT checking her bag, absolutely positively not. Never mind the fact hat physically it was impossible for her bag to fit in an overhead, she was a special snowflake and therefore entitled to special treatment.

  • Deon Charles

    Is United strictly enforcing a checked baggage delivery time and payment for stolen items guarantee? When that happens, then I’ll start checking my bags.

  • Haloastro

    You must not travel very many places checking bags. I fly all over the country, and my bags have never been pillaged and have never taken > 30 mins. to arrive. In years of flying, my bag has been damaged once. I think you’re just being cynical.

  • Haloastro

    Everyone thinks it’s their right to fly! And it’s all about me…just like a small child.

  • Justin

    Had my 3rd item stolen by TSA in the last 18 months last week. You know what happens when you ASSume, right?

    Yes, I’ve reported it, and no, nothing has happened any of the three times. They make it very clear they don’t give a rats ass.

  • emcampbe

    I am most certainly in favor of the carry on limits. I’m happy to put my bag in the sizer to prove it is within its limits. If its not, I’d happily check it. That said, I don’t buy 22″ “carry on” bags because I know most don’t fit, and some don’t even fit properly in the overhead bins (wheel’s in).

    There’s a couple of issues I think. One is the bag manufacturers doing – they market so called “carry on” bags with no real standard of what that is. The manufacturers most often don’t include the wheels and handles in the 22″ dimensions, for example (or publish a second set of full dimensions in the fine print) – the airlines do. Folks assume since its marketed as a “carry on” that it meets the dimensions of all carriers, when it really doesn’t. I think there needs to be either an industry or airline standard – manufacturers could submit their bags to certify compliance and they’d be authorized to put a seal or logo so consumers know before they buy it is acceptable – either for some international standard, some US standard, or if there can’t be an agreement on that, at least for a specific airline(s) standard.

    Other issues are of the airlines doing. First, you’ve had the obvious lack of enforcement for years, so passengers use the excuse that they’ve been bringing it onboard forever, so its not a problem. Now you’ve also got the bag fees, and as they start enforcing it now, it looks like a cash grab.

    Then there’s also passenger problem. Those who insist they are important enough that the rules don’t matter to them, they shouldn’t have to pay to check, they shouldn’t have to wait, etc.

    I am based in Mumbai, and the way they do it here makes a lot of sense to me. I think there is a size limit for carry ons, but more importantly, there is a weight limit – for domestic flights its generally 7 kg and for international, 7 or 8 kg. The weight limit would probably eliminate about 75% of the carry ons brought aboard flights in North America – most 22″ bags probably wouldn’t be allowed on by even the weight standard. They also allow you to check a small amount, about 15 kgs for domestic flights. The result: there’s always enough room in the overhead, and checked bags are much easier to do since its not at cost. I have never had an issue finding overhead space here – on domestic or international flights (Asia/EU carriers, at least).

    Bags do tend to come out faster here on average (and in India – that’s saying a lot), but I don’t buy the fact that business travelers don’t have the time to wait to claim a checked bag, or have more to loss if it gets delayed. Its a good excuse, I guess. Lots of people traveling on their own want to make the most of their time at a destination as well. Waiting a few extra minutes for a bag to show up on the belt isn’t going to make or break a trip, and if it does, the timeline for the trip was probably too tight anyway.

  • Justin
  • Matt

    The issue is having a “hard” 22x14x9 size. If your bag is 21x14x9.5″ it will fit in the overhead bin still.

  • Betsy

    I flew United two weeks ago, a total of five flights, three commuter/regional and two cross-country (EWR-LAX, SFO-EWR). I did not see ANY sign of anyone enforcing the size rules, or even mentioning them. On the commuter ones they did ask people to gate-check larger items but that’s no different from before.

  • Martin

    I am currently flying all over asia for nothing on air asia. They charge for carryons. I have a small personal item only. This enables cheaper fares. I never have a problem with unbundling, even when done by spirit or ryanair. I don’t like paying for this massive bags and huge weight everyone else is carrying. I don’t need that stuff, and I would prefer to have more room aboard or a cheaper ticket, as a reward for my own light traveling ways. The quicker we get to europe pr Southeast Asia style access to lower fares, the better. Even if most of the legacy airlines stop acting like legacy airlines.

  • rdrago43

    @keller23:disqus – curious, what happened in the end with the woman and her luggage?

  • rdrago43

    @emcampbe:disqus – FYI, in my experience, the 22″ carry on limit works on Boeing jets but not Airbus. I have a 22″ carryon that I’ve measured personally to validate it really is 22″ and no more. Have no problem on Boeing jets, but, for some reason, Airbus overhead bins is a problem.

  • Edgar Numrich

    Sadly, human nature includes taking things for granted. Likewise, It’s not surprising United is again leading the way in antagonizing the public. Fortunately, there are other brand choices — I bailed on historic-first-choice UAL in 1985 — including personal experience with some remarkable changes in the opposite direction by bargain-carrier EasyJet who have relaxed very strict carry-on size at no charge.

    Nothing’s perfect in life. United just wants to make sure you know it.

  • Thomas Roth

    It’s not the 22″ part or the 14″ part that make much difference to the agents when they scan the boarding lines for oversize. It’s the 9″ part (thickness) that they are enforcing and that is ridiculous. Side by side in an overhead bin, a 9″ thick bag takes no more space than a 10″ thick bag, because the larger bins on most aircraft easily carry 10″ thick or more. (In fact UA has a current ad campaign with the header, “Overhead space friendly.”) My trusty Briggs & Riley carryon is 10″ thick and has never had a problem in the bins traveling on many carriers in dozens of countries (commuter jets excepted). And my 10″ thick bag didn’t deny anyone else overhead space because another bag would not fit on top of it in the bin anyway. The sizer has nothing to do with overhead space reality, and restriction to 9″ thick is a needless pain in the traveler ass. So many leading manufacturers make 10″ thick roll aboard bags. Now they are worthless as carry-ons. (And watch out for Lufthansa and British who actually weigh carry on bags; if it has more than a box of Kleenex in it, will probably tip the scale and require being checked!!!)

  • Paul90292

    A pilot friend told me that a standard roller bag will actually fit in the overhead bin, even though gate agents usually won’t let you on with it. Since then I’ve noticed that many of the crew’s roller bags are in the overhead. Take a look next time you’re on one.

  • Karen Kinnane

    Let’s see, LEJ to EWR someone stole the three packages of German cookies from my luggage and it was a fight to get some miles to make up for the irritation which was greater than the financial loss. On a EWR to LEJ someone removed ONE winter boot from my luggage (If I ever meet that one legged TSA agent…..”, and I skipped a complaint. EWR to DUS American cookies were stolen from my bags. Again I didn’t bother to complain. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pack any valuable in your checked bags.

  • dmach

    I live in the SFO Bay area and fly ~120K miles per year, mostly domestic and Europe. A couple of years ago, I got tired of having my 22″ x 14″ by 9″ bag fit perfectly in the bins of all Boeing planes, but not fit wheels-first in the bins of ANY Airbus plane, thanks to the Airbus bins’ goofy trapezoidal shape. So I bought a 20″ x 16″ x 9″ rollaboard that fits perfectly, wheels-first, in any bin, on any non-RJ — Boeing or Airbus. The limit specifies “45 linear inches” (to which this bag conforms), and this bag fits in the bins better than a 22″ length bag would. But if they start enforcing the 14″ vs 16″ and force me to check it, that bag will no longer be useful to me.

    My 20″ x 16″ x 9″ is 13-15 kg when loaded (not overloaded, but loaded), so I am almost always forced to check it with the European airlines, even though it always fits in the bins and I have no trouble handling it myself. I despise the wait at baggage claim after Global Entry and wondering what will be damaged inside or outside of the bag when I get it back — or the nervousness of “did the bag make it back?” Plus, the lack of checked baggage can make the difference between making an international to domestic connection or not — as I experienced earlier this week when I fortunately was allowed to carry my 20″ x 16″ x 9″ on and had to run from T5 at ORD to T1 to catch my connecting flight home, just barely making it. If I had been forced to check it, I would have been stuck at ORD.

    My solution was to order a Red Oxx bag that weighs hardly anything and will conform to sizer boxes and weight limits. It will make it harder on me to not have wheels and a handle, but at least I know I’ll always have what I need with me. It just arrived yesterday, and I look forward to testing it with my next few west coast – Europe business trips this month.

  • mags

    I have nearly 2m miles on UA and have been perenial 1k. I was amazed a few weeks ago when a gate agent pulled me out of the 1st class (group 1) boarding line because I had 3 carry ons – a 20x14x9 roll on, a purse and a tiny paper bag. Yep, 3 items. The irony is that the paper bag contained a box of chocolates for the flight crew (I try to be kind to the hard working folk). The irony? The chocolates ended up in the trash (sorry flight attendants). Such a sadly naive policy. It’s also tough for us road-warriors who can’t chance packing meeting materials. Moreover it’s also gender unfriendly (moms and business women with larger size items like heels get hit the hardest). I’m all in favor of preventing folk from carrying on clearly oversized items, but it seems to me that a more customer friendly approach (giving gate agents some authority without hard and fast rules) would go a long way. UA has become so rule bound that I walk on eggshells every time I fly with them (which is less and less nowadays, as I shift toward more customer friendly alternatives). The combination of crazy rules and depreciated status makes loyalty a thing of the past.

  • DeWhit

    Did you really bring candy for a flight crew ?
    Then you threw it away because you didn’t want the rules used on you ?
    Could the candy not have been squeezed into something else or given to the gate agent ?
    What are the “customer friendly alternatives’ for business travel ?

  • Carchar

    I always check a bag and carry on my backpack and a purse. A gate agent stopped me and told me I had to gate check my backpack and put a green tag on it. But, she allowed the man ahead of me to take on his oversized roll-on. The difference between him and me, I observed, was that he was young and cute and I couldn’t boast of either attribute. I guess I could have made a fuss, but I kept quiet and removed the green tag while walking down the jetway. I easily stowed my bag in the overhead and was already seated, while he was still trying to cram his bag into the small compartment. He ended up having to gate check his bag.

  • Carchar

    With more seats being squeezed into each row, your suggestion, I believe, is impossible to engineer.

  • mags

    I always bring something for the flight crew – even if it’s something small, they really appreciate it. It’s just a small act of kindness and I don’t expect anything in return, though the crews are always appreciative — especially those serving the coach cabin. I probably overreacted becuase I was so upset at the gate agent making a fuss over a a tiny bag that obviously had a snack and the fact I would have been permitted a big tote that could have accomodated both the purse and candy, but the fact that they weren’t combined meant that one had to go. In retrospect, I could have given it to the agent and made her feel awkward. But, that seems meanspirited, too.
    Customer friendly alternatives for business? Not many. Transcons on VA and some on Delta; the usual suspect foreign flag airlines (SQ, ANA, CX etc). Nobody is perfect, but the non-US carriers seem to be a lot less rule-bound and penny pinching.

  • qyna

    As someone who consistently checks bags that will obviously not fit into overhead bins…wait, why would anyone NOT check bags that will obviously not fit into overhead bins? Yeah, this sounds like a ludicrous statement, doesn’t it? Why would someone do this? To avoid the $25 baggage fee, that’s why! And I, for one, am sick and tired of this. I’m tired of waiting to board while some knucklehead occupies the aisle, trying to shove a huge bag into a bin that was not created for bags that size. Some passengers, of course, don’t even bother with this charde – they just hand their bag over to baggage personnel at the door of the plane as they enter,and avoid the baggage fee by doing so. And who can blame them? Getting valet baggage service (for free!) is pretty nice, while the rest of us suckers check our bags beforehand and then wait forever at the baggage carousel after the flight. I’m glad that United is finally clamping down on this eggregious behavior. The number of people lining the jetway after flights, waiting for their bags to be brought to them, only seems to be increasing in number. It’s about time the airlines do something to stop this.

  • qyna

    I have to agree with you regarding the priority baggage issue. Half the time I have to remind the counter person to put the priority tag on my bag but, in the end, it usually doesn’t matter. Tag or no tag, my bag always seems to be one of the last to come off. First on, last off rule, I guess.

  • qyna

    Funny story. Enforcement is inconsisent and sometimes, as in your case, absurd. This policy has never worked because the enforcement isn’t there – or it’s taken to ridiculous extremes, as you unfortunately discovered. I often wonder whether it’s a lack of gate personnel or lack of training that causes this.

  • rdrago43

    It depends on the model of CRJ. Most CRJ’s overhead bins are not big enough to accommodate a roller bag…

  • Mordock

    Those of you who are in favor of strict 22x14x9 inch carry on limits need to go and measure your carry on bags right now. My carry-on is exactly that size. If fits on all jets, including the regional ones. It is easily smaller than 75% of all other roller bags that I see others carrying. Most roller bags that I see people carrying are 24x15x10 or bigger. It is no skin off my nose if they enforce the carry-on bag size. But I bought mine explicitly because it was smaller than most and would fit in regional jet overheads. How ironic is that.

    However: My personal bag that I always put under the seat until I see that everyone has boarded is 17x12x8 with my laptop in it. My laptop would not fit comfortably in anything smaller in width. I have a 15.4″ laptop that is 15×10.25 bare without padding. The 17″ laptops that many people have are obviously bigger. I have never before seen dimension limits on personal items other than they must fit under the seat. Laptop bags (like mine) have always been explicitly accepted as a personal item. So far, I have found no other airline putting explicit dimensions on personal items. I know many women that carry purses bigger than 17x10x9. Based on these rules, I can’t carry on my laptop as a personal item, it alone would be my “carry-on bag” even if it was not in a bag.

    There is something seriously wrong with this picture.

  • Ellen Marshall

    Baggage handlers are notorious for going through people’s luggage. Many years ago, when my husband was in the Army Reserve, the unit was being flown from Oklahoma to St. John’s, New Brunswick, CA for training. He was the officer in charge of weaponry, so he had to accompany the checked weapons through the entire process. In the Boston Airport he personally witnessed baggage handlers opening suitcases and stealing items…even with him standing there watching!

  • – –

    I think it’s feasible and I believe that even the “wasted space” theory is questionable. FA’s have great latitude in assigning overhead.

  • Eyecarehawaii

    Frequent fliers are typically seated towards the front where seating is more widely spaced and overhead space is more abundant and from experience they know what fits and what doesn’t. Even though my wife and I have both been 1K for many years we always check in our suitcases and only bring small roll aboards with us to the plane. It is rare that I experienced any problem with overhead storage space even when other frequent fliers bring an “excess” amount of luggage onboard with them.
    In economy, however, the seat spacing is tighter and availability of overhead space is at a premium. I am often amazed at the number of large suitcases I see rolling down the aisle towards the back. I don’t recall seeing so many large bags before baggage fees were instituted so I perceive the fees themselves, along with poor enforcement practices, to be the main contributors of this problem.

  • DMartin

    I entertain myself watching the type of carry-on items people attempt to bring on. Your average person does not know the first thing about packing for air travel.

  • samoi134

    You know who stole the items? How? Airlines typically use contracted firms to load their checked bags. You really have no idea who stole the items, but are sure “they” (airline? TSA? the airport?) don’t care. You filed a claim and nothing happened? No reimbursement? You assumed TSA agents stole your items and then mock those who assume. I guess you don’t see the irony.

  • samoi134

    So your fellow passengers have to deal with overhead bins being filled before they board, and you delaying boarding and disembarking. You seem to be giving airlines an incentive to charge for carry-on bags like they do checked bags. What guarantee for stolen items isn’t being honored? Surely you don’t pack valuable items in checked bags.

  • Justin

    When there’s a sticker on my [TSA-approved] locked bag that says “we opened your bag… love, TSA” and then I open my bag and item(s) are missing, then yes, I have a pretty good idea who took it.

    I filed a claim with the TSA, and they’ve refused any compensation whatsoever. If the items were worth more than $50, I’d think about a civil case, but at this point I just consider it to be my fault–I know what happens when you check bags.