Carry-On Crackdown: United Enforces Bag Size Limit

NEW YORK (AP) -
A United Airlines airplane is prepared to be pushed back from a gate at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark NJ. during a recent snow storm. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A United Airlines airplane is prepared to be pushed back from a gate at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark NJ. during a recent snow storm. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

United Airlines is getting tough on passengers with oversized carry-on bags, even sending some of them back to the ticket counter to check their luggage for a fee.

The Chicago-based airline has started a push to better enforce rules restricting the size of carry-on bags — an effort that will include instructing workers at security checkpoint entrances to eyeball passengers for bags that are too big.

In recent weeks, United has rolled out new bag-sizing boxes at most airports and sent an email to frequent fliers, reminding them of the rules. An internal employee newsletter called the program a “renewed focus on carry-on compliance.”

The size limits on carry-on bags have been in place for years, but airlines have enforced them inconsistently.

United says it is just ensuring that bags are reviewed at the security checkpoint, in addition to the bag checks already done at gates prior to boarding.

Passengers are typically allowed one carry-on bag to fit in the overhead bin, which can be no larger than 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches. Fliers can also bring one personal item such as a purse or laptop bag that fits under the seat in front of them.

People flying with oversized bags can have the suitcase checked for free at the gate, a longstanding practice. But those who are halted at the entrance to security must now go back to the ticket counter and pay the airline’s $25 checked-luggage fee.

Some travelers suggest the crackdown is part of a larger attempt by United to collect more fees. The airline says it’s simply ensuring that passengers have space left for them in the overhead bins. In recent years, the last group of passengers to board has routinely been forced to check their bags at the gate because overhead bins were already full.

“The stepped-up enforcement is to address the customers who complained about having bags within the size limit and weren’t able to take them on the plane,” United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said. “That is solely what this is about.”

It has nothing to do with revenue, Johnson said, adding that one non-compliant bag takes up the same space as two compliant ones.

Other airlines have bag sizers at checkpoints, but enforcement was sporadic at best.

American Airlines asks staff at some of its largest airports “to do an eyeball test on size of carry-ons.” The airline has even used tape measures to enforce polices.

Delta Air Lines said that “during peak times at hubs and larger airports” it has agents near security to look for oversized carry-on bags and has improved technology to check bags faster at gates.

United is going further than other airlines. Its bag sizers have a space for bags going in overhead bins and another for those items going under the seats.

Christina Schillizzi, a frequent United flier from New Jersey, said she was shocked to see the flight crew stringently forcing people to check carry-on bags on a recent flight. They even questioned if her laptop would fit under the seat.

“Fliers were naturally annoyed,” and did not want to give up their luggage, she said. “Ultimately, the less-than-friendly flight attendants won out.”