Checked baggage fees are here to stay and checking a bag remains an unattractive option — who wants to stand around a baggage carousel or risk losing your valuables when you can keep your bags with you onboard? That lethal duo has led to a proliferation of carry-on baggage over the last decade and a persistent problem: not enough space onboard.
Good luck securing overhead bin space if you are one of the last to board — chances are you will have to check your bag to your final destination. Speaking generally, the problem is actually not that there is insufficient overhead bin space or even that carriers (other than Southwest) charge to check bags. Rather, the problem is travelers often try to slip additional carry-on items past airline gate staff and onto the plane. Budget travelers cannot bear the thought of paying to check a bag and business and more frequent travelers hate the thought of lost or delayed bags (I certainly fall in this camp, even though I would never be charged a baggage fee). So overhead bins fill up.
United Airlines Takes Steps to Discourage Excess Carry-On Baggage
Up until now, if you can slip an extra bag (or four) past the poor souls whose job it is to monitor that as you enter airport security checkpoints, you’re home free — if you can get your kitchen sink onboard, great, and if not you can have it checked for free. United intends to change that.
A Flyertalker shared the following conversation:
Heard this from a United EWR “concierge” type service worker who is normally assigned to VIPs and high government offices and who is very well informed: United plans to combat excess carry on, so prevalent since the advent of checked baggage fees, in a lucrative and possible punitory way. Gate check will now require payment of the appropriate checked bag fee for a given passenger. Bag tag printers are being installed at gates to speed the process. If you manage to get an oversize carry on or in excess of the 2 permitted, be ready to be required to gate check in order to board AND pay the checked bag fee applicable to your frequent flyer status, or lack there of, and class of service and/or ultimate destination and the bag allowance granted and possibly already used at the landside bag drop…
If true, this would be a game-changer, finally discouraging the excessive carry-on items that are routinely taken aboard aircraft.
My first reaction is to support this rumored policy — in fact, this would make me hang out in the boarding area to take in the entertainment. Can you imagine the reactions?
I used to lug extra carry-on items onboard — I even got caught five years ago — but I have changed my ways and typically travel with only my Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Cabin Multiwheel and a garment bag if I am going to an event which requires a suit. In a pinch, both can fit under my seat and the items are compact enough to fit inside the overhead bin of even a small regional jet.
As an aside, my wife is typically guilty of having five or six carry-on items. Mostly small items, mind you, but she’ll certainly have to consolidate if this new policy proves true…
If United is able to pull this off, it can speed up boarding, eliminate the need to gate check bags, and actually put some fear in people if it charges more to check at the gate than at check-in or online.
But let’s face it — in the hustle and bustle of trying to get a flight boarding and out on time, it is often difficult to enforce these sorts of rules. United gate agents are already spread thin and I just cannot picture agents roaming the gate area or having the time to pull over every offender from the boarding lane. United introduced new carry-on sizers in March 2014 that were supposed to solve this very issue, but I rarely see these used and I have flown over 50,000 miles on United this year. Put another way, I bet gate agents will not like this news.
Can United Afford the Bad Press?
Imagine the press if this proves to be true — I can see the headlines now, with consumer advocates moaning about UA’s corporate greed and passengers up in arms about whether the newspaper or baby bottle counts as a carry-on item.
But people get annoyed when other don’t play by the rules and if I read people right I think anyone who actually flies more than a couple times per year would be happy about this change, unless they are like my wife and enjoying taking a few extra items onboard.
What do you think? I think United can get through this and Delta and American will follow. I’d love for there to be a day when I can hang out in the United Club until the final minutes of boarding without having to worry about securing overhead bin space.
But be on the lookout for wearable luggage…