Word leaked last month that United Airlines would begin to strictly enforce its carry-on policy on March 1, 2014 and new carry-on sizers began popping up around the gate areas of many United stations. MileagePlus members received e-mails outlining the new baggage policy this week and an internal memo was sent out instructing airport staff at all steps of the check-in process to monitor for carry-on compliance. Today, the new policy officially went into effect, but reports from travellers have been surprising: business as usual, with many passengers still hauling the kitchen sink onboard with no objection from the gate agents.
For years travelers have flouted United’s two-item carry-on policy by bringing large bags and and a third or fourth (or fifth or sixth) item onboard United flights. The result is routinely that those in later boarding groups are forced to gate check their bags to their final destination. In an effort to minimize this, speed up the boarding process, and prevent the occasional nasty confrontations resulting from passengers not wanting to part with their bags, United logically determined to start enforcing their own carry-on policies.
United summarizes its carry-on restrictions in an over/under/checked approach:
- Over: One carry-on item that fits in the overhead bin (no larger than 9 x 14 x 22 inches including handles and wheels)
- Under: One personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a laptop case or other small item (no larger than 9 x 10 x 17 inches)
- Checked: Any oversized or extra items that do not comply with the over/under guidelines
United’s Contract of Carriage states:
Carry-on Baggage must not exceed the Maximum Outside Linear Dimensions of 45 inches (114 cm) (height + width + depth), which includes its wheels and handles, and may not be longer than 22 inches in any single dimension.
Personal items must not exceed 36 linear inches, which includes any wheels and handles, and may not be longer than 17 inches in any single dimension.
The problem with that is that many “carry-on” bags, including those that are marketed as carry-on bags, do not satisfy this criteria. My own Travelpro bag is one inch too long even though it easily fits in the overhead bins on nearly all United aircraft wheels-first. The fact that it does not fit in the sizer, though, renders me liable to having to check my bag at the gate and when I travel with only one bag, I have valuables in there that I am not willing to check.
So United has a solution–buy a new bag from us. Yes, United is now in the business of selling bags. But what will my solution be? To bring a second bag just in case. I won’t solve the carry-on problem, I will instead make it worse.
When people trudge onto an aircraft with six bags or a bag that is so big that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell it will fit in an overhead locker, most passengers–and FAs–just ignore it or roll their eyes and it is only later, to the delay of others, that the bag must be dragged to the aircraft door to be checked.
With carry-on abuse rife, we should all celebrate that United is finally cracking down on this. What I hope, though, is that United employees will use discretion in enforcing the bag regulations, noting that a bag that is an inch too long will still fit lengthwise in the overhead bins or allowing a mother with three bags onboard if her child has one.
But I do hope United agents will not totally ignore the rule. Today, most have reported that United’s new gate announcements include a note about the new carry-on restrictions, but that no one has been enforcing them. Some were seen still bringing huge bags onboard. With all the expense UA has put out on the new sizers and the fact that overhead space routinely fills up, it would be unfortunate if the “new” rule was just ignored. I would even encourage charging passengers a premium for checking bags at the gate rather than the current policy of checking them for free at the gate (a great way to avoid baggage fees). The rules have always said that gate-checked oversized carry-on baggage should be charged, but I have never seen it happen.
Still, a little discretion goes a long way and United must be careful not to be so strict that they let an imperfect rule overrule common sense. Let’s see if the situation improves.