Should I check my bag or carry it on the plane?

Should I check my bag or carry it on the plane?

The ability to check a bag used to be included in your airline ticket. Not anymore. Here’s my advice.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • bodega3

    Interesting that in the video, none of the bags shown are considered carryon sizes any longer.

  • Bill___A

    Have a small carry on bag with everything you need for a couple of days plus valuables, and check the rest. If it is a short trip, check it all.

  • y_p_w

    I recently dropped some people off at the gate and got a gate pass to escort them. While I waited, there was one passenger who was holding up the line because she had something like four small items. They wouldn’t let her board until she managed to put everything into her pack rather than have four separate items. They’re kind of sensitive about this sort of thing now.

  • MarkKelling

    I never was a fan of checked luggage even back when it didn’t cost extra. Having to spend time in line to check the bag in and then to retrieve it when it finally makes it to the baggage carousel at my destination is frustration I don’t need. Usually when I go on a vacation, provided it isn’t to a cold and snowy place, I can fit every thing I need into a single carry on.

    And if your bag has wheels, is it really a “carry on”?

    I prefer bags without wheels because all they do for me is add weight and reduce the actual interior size of the bag. With most non-US airlines weighing your carry on now when you check in, every pound counts to stay below the 11 kg limit. Also, most airlines are now measuring carry ons in the hopes it will be too big and you will be forced to pay to check it so having wheels and handles that stick out doesn’t help.

  • MarkKelling

    Except you should never check prescription drugs or other things you cannot survive without.

  • Joe

    I’ve carried a Tom Bihn Aeronaut bag for years. I never check it. I love the flexibility of changing flights, the ease of packing light, and the ability to walk from plane straight out the terminal. Regardless of checked baggage fees or not, I haven’t checked a bag in 6 years and, knock on wood, never will again.

  • Vec14

    As the famous saying goes, “There are two types of luggage – carry on and lost.” I have not checked a bag in a long, long time – I’ve had a bag get lost, a bag get destroyed, and things go missing. None of that happens when I carry on. That said, I travel with a bag smaller than the legal carry on size, and on short trips it fits under the seat. I also double check the planes I’m flying on and if I know I’m flying on a CRJ, I pack two small bags because of the size of the bins.

    I’d really like to see airlines step of their enforcement of carry on bags, I know I have seen more of this as of late, but I still see huge bags on board. I also believe if it has wheels, it’s not a carry on. I think what most of the European and Asian airlines do with weight restrictions is great and yes I can travel for a week with 7kgs including electronics.

  • gracekelley

    The “carry on” bags (rollaboards) that are advertised online and in stores as “airline approved carry on size” and even has the l/w “‘s listed is comical considering if you take a measuring tape and open the bag up and barely expand it (not even considering the expansion to be measured for folks that pack it so full the zipper could rip any second) isn’t actually approved or the inches advertised at all. It’s more like 18″ is 20″ when you measure it yourself and 20″ is 22″ etc which is false advertisement. It should be illegal to advertise and sell a rollaboard as carry on size when it’s not. They must be referring to measurements when the bag is still in the factory before being opened and “expanded”. Anyone else notice that or no?

  • bodega3

    Yes, I have. I recently bought a new carryon bag, but with the wheels, it doesn’t really meet the new downsized measurement. I did use it for a flight, so it get onboard.

  • IGoEverywhere

    United, American, and Delta have now stated that carry-on luggage must be 22 x 14 x 9 including the wheels and handles. United in Seattle did not even come close to enforcing these dimentions. I have heard rumors that Chicago, Dallas, and JFK are set up at TSA to have airline personell checking the sizes and having the passengers return to the check-in counters to pay for the 2nd bag. They are correct, rules are rules and that is the #1 boarding pain that occurs. It is causing passengers to miss flights, but shame on those for trying to carry an overstuffed full size suit bag onto the plane for free, it won’t fit, gate check while the rest of us already paid. The worse offenders that I have witnessed on my bi-weekly flights are the crew; they overstuff everything! Keep pounding away at the overhead bin, it will eventually break or fit.

  • gracekelley

    That is good you are able to still use it. Someone pointed it out to me so I checked for myself and sure enough they’re on average about 2 inches bigger both ways than advertised!
    I need a new carry on bag so I’ll definitely be taking my own measurements before I purchase the bag! :-) cheers happy traveling

  • VoR61

    My recollection was different, so I checked. United has a picture showing the dimensions as excluding the wheels and handles. American’s website does not have any language about wheels and handles. Only Delta specifies “including wheels and handles”.

  • VoR61

    FYI, United excludes the wheels and handles in it’s dimensions.

  • bodega3

    From UA’s website:

    Carry-on bag

    The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.

  • bodega3

    Carry-on bag

    The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Did you read United’s rules, not look at the pictures? United started these new rules.

  • MarkKelling

    UA has sizer boxes at many of their gates and have begun using them. The wheels and handles are definitely included in the size – if it don’t fit completely in the sizer you gotta check it.

  • VoR61

    Then they need to fix their diagram …

  • VoR61

    Thank you, yes, I just read the text. They need to fix their diagram …

  • VoR61

    I just read the text. They need to fix their diagram …

  • bodega3

    Yes, having the handle up doesn’t make sense.

  • y_p_w

    Depends on the airline. Those numbers are what the legacy carriers have established as their new limits. Southwest, Alaska, and Frontier still have larger sizes, although they’re not all the same. Southwest is 24x16x10. The 14″ limit isn’t a big deal since there are no wheels, but a lot of people forget about the wheels being 1.5″ on a 21″ piece of luggage.

    I’ve got a polycarbonate-shell 20″ that barely fits under the limits, since it’s about 21.5″ with the wheels.

  • y_p_w

    But then you need to grab a cart or schlep the thing all the way.

    I also love being able to take a piece of luggage to the hotel room by myself, although I understand that bellhops hate these things.

  • y_p_w

    Spirit gets a lot of complaints because of all the fees, but I find that somehow it works. They charge more for carry-on than for a checked-in piece. That creates and incentive to actually check-in luggage. The boarding process can often grind to a halt because people take their time loading bags into the overhead bins or even argue about it.

  • MarkKelling

    I have no problems carrying it. I am actually a lot more maneuverable carrying a bag than dragging one. Maybe one day I will change my mind.

  • VoR61

    If you look closely, the arrows (which is what caught my immediate attention) CLEARLY show the dimensions as excluding the wheels and handles. A simple, but important oversight

  • bodega3

    Yes, we always advise clients to check the current limits before traveling, as it isn’t the same across the board. My older carryon works on WN but not on UA, so I had to buy a new one, but the wheels do make it over the length limit. Yet is fit just fine in UA’s overhead, which is now smaller than it use to be. When people travel to Hawaii, what fits in the overhead on the transpacific flights, may be too big for interisland flights. As for AS, it depends on the aircraft. From STS, you can not take the smaller carryon size onboard, they take it from you as you board and place is below. Very, small overhead.

  • bodega3

    We flew Easy Jet last fall and I was impressed on how efficient they were with their checkin luggage for two people and the carry on size. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again, especially for two people traveling together. With two people, you get a combined weight allowance on free checked luggage. Boarding was a breeze, as we deplaning.

  • Nathan Witt

    Does anyone care why the rules are there in the first place? Could the rules regarding carry-on dimensions have changed becuase they want you to be forced to check a bag and pay a fee? Obviously, the fee is what caused everyone to try to make do with a carry-on in the first place, and it’s slowed boarding and frustrated everyone. Only airline logic would dictate that the solution to this problem is to slow boarding more and frustrate everyone further by enforcing their rules and “enhancing” their revenue at the gate, instead of having all of these checks take place before you clear security.

  • y_p_w

    The reality is that enforcement is rare, and that the rules primarily exist so that the most egregious violations can be handled. The reality is that most of the commonly understood carry on sized luggage might violate these rules by maybe a half inch in one or all dimensions.

    I know it seems like a cynical ploy to extract fees, but in my experience most airline employees are reasonable. It remember a counter agent for Spirit telling me that a bag over the 40 lb limit wasn’t an issue. I’ve seen a counter agent for Alaska give passengers an opportunity to transfer contents between bags so they would only be charged for one overweight bag fee. They declined and paid $100 instead of $50, but who am I to judge.

  • y_p_w

    Most of the time they’ll eyeball the luggage and a little bit over will slide through the rules.

  • MarkKelling

    Since each airline has their own policies for what is an acceptable carry on, it would be nearly impossible to add the check to what TSA is expected to do at security unless there was a specific TSA lane for each airline at the airport. Short of making everyone go to the ticket counter and having their bag measured there, I can’t think of any other way to enforce carry on rules except at the gate.

    Frontier does a great job of this. They check your bag size prior to boarding starting and stamp your boarding pass if your bag passes or gate checks your bag if it doesn’t. The actual boarding process, except for the late arrivals, then goes relatively rapidly. And they keep a sharp eye out for passengers trying to sneak on an extra bag that didn’t get noted on the boarding pass as being measured.

    Air Canada is sneaky about this. They hide a gate agent and a bag sizer half way down the jetway and check you there.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Lol. You’re not an attorney. Our briefcases have wheels. Those files are heavy.

    But seriously, that’s a fairly arbitrary distinction. Not everyone is hale and hearty. I’m temporarily limited to lifting 8-10 pounds, which really sucks as I’m normally as strong as an ox, but I digress. Between my computer and things I can’t check, I’m easily at that limit. Having wheels on my carry-on is a Godsend. And my carry on easily complies with the size limits.