Airlines Can’t Ban Carry On Bags on Flights to Europe

Under the leadership of then-President Scott Kirby American Airlines developed a ‘basic economy’ fare more draconian than what Delta had in the market. Customers wouldn’t be able to bring a full-sized carry on bag onto the plane unless they bought a more expensive fare.

When Scott Kirby went to United he had them scrap their basic economy plans and get more punitive, bringing the idea of a carry on bag ban with him. United even rolled out the idea first.

Initially the airline admitted to losing about $100 million on basic economy. That’s because their fares were less desirable than those of competitor airlines. But they were sure American was going to impose the same restrictions, they just had to wait it out.

American did indeed roll out basic economy fares that did not allow passengers to bring a carry on bag on the plane, just a personal item like a laptop bag or a purse. American admitted they were losing business to Delta because when both American and Delta had the same lowest fares, Delta was cheaper for customers who wanted to bring a carry on bag on the plane. So American jettisoned the restriction.

United proudly is the only major airline that has kept the ban on carry on bags for basic economy customers. In fact they’re more punitive than that, even. A basic economy customer who isn’t checking a bag isn’t allowed to check-in online or via app. They have to show up at the airport early in order to stand in line to check in, so an agent can personally verify they don’t have a carry on.

Airlines have rolled out basic economy fares between the US and Europe (for instance Delta and its joint venture partners announced it at the end of 2017 and American and its partners last March), but the carry on bag restriction didn’t take hold for transatlantic travel. Now it seems like it might not be able to even if airlines tried.

Ryanair has been fined 3 million euros over its carry on bag policy. They’ve fined Hungary’s Wizz Air 1 million euros for the same thing.

  • Ryanair started allowing only a small personal item for free in January of last year. If you wanted to bring a full sized carry on bag onto the plane you’d have to pay for Priority Boarding.

  • If you showed up at the gate with a carry on bag but hadn’t paid the fee, they checked it for free… until November 2018.

  • In November they started charging customers who showed up at the gate with a carry on bag they hadn’t paid for.

The Italian Competition Authority found that the policy was implemented in a non-transparent way. They also found that a carry on bag is inherently part of air travel, so must be included in the cost of a ticket.

“Hand baggage is an essential element of the air transport service and its transport must be permitted without incurring any additional costs,” AGCM said in a statement.

“In fact, also on the basis of the European legislation on air transport, the foreseeable and unavoidable supplements must be included in the price of the basic service presented since the first contact and, therefore, can not be separated from this with the request for further sums.

“Hence the deception for consumers, as the price to be paid at the end of the booking process will almost always be higher than the tariff presented at the beginning of the process.”


Copyright: trevorbenbrook / 123RF Stock Photo

If the characterization of European law is accurate then charging for a carry on bag would be impermissible on flights to Europe. Even if the interpretation is novel, if it’ allowed to stand, then flights to Italy would not be able to impose such restrictions.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. “They also found that a carry on bag is inherently part of air travel, so must be included in the cost of a ticket.”

    Does that mean we’ll see the end of fuel surcharges on award ticket? I’m pretty sure fuel is more an inherent part of air travel than a carry on bag.

  2. Fuel is also “an essential element of the air transport service “.
    Having a seat is also “an essential element of the air transport service”.

    Looks like it’s time to bury the airliners in lawsuits.

  3. Gary, I bought a United basic economy ticket last year between Zürich and SFO. I was allowed to check in on the app, I was allowed to choose my seats on the app in both directions, I was allowed to carry on a normal size carry on, and I even asked politely at SFO about all those empty premium economy seats and was given one of them.

    When I flew Ryanair out of Malta just after Christmas they were in fact enforcing the priority boarding — they pulled over 30 people out of the priority boarding lane who hadn’t paid for it. Priority boarding had already sold out for my flight and wasn’t available (note: their App does warn you when buying tickets that it will sell out). They also were enforcing the new carry-on regulations and the rude gate agent told me my bag was too big. I told him I’d put it in the sizer twice already and it fit. So I showed him it did fit, and I was allowed to take it on.

    Moral of the story: don’t always believe everything the airlines tell you about their policies, which they selectively enforce

  4. “A basic economy customer who isn’t checking a bag isn’t allowed to check-in online or via app. They have to show up at the airport early in order to stand in line to check in, so an agent can personally verify they don’t have a carry on.

    They’ve actually taken this to the next level. They recently implemented a requirement that only specific agents are authorized to check in your bag.

    On my LAST United flight ever, I was at EWR about 1 1/2 hours before my flight. There were probably a dozen United agents milling about but they all told me they weren’t authorized to check baggage. Note I only had a briefcase with me. I spent OVER 45 MINUTES trying to get someone to check my bag. The authorized agents kept helping other people who arrived after me. Then I barely made it through security on time despite having TSA pre.

    I wrote to United about this but of course they never replied.

  5. So United is now paying more in labor costs to enforce a policy which already on its own loses the company $100MM. The fact that this bozo still has a job at a publicly traded company is quite an indictment of crony capitalism.

  6. I have never had a problem bringing a carry-on bag on board while flying domestically on United with a Basic Economy fare. Perhaps it is because a have a United VISA credit card.

  7. “Hand baggage is an essential element of the air transport service and its transport must be permitted without incurring any additional costs,” AGCM said in a statement.”

    Perfect example of why you should never look to government officials for an understanding of economics. Also, there’s no reason government should have any say in this matter.

  8. It’s refreshing to see that somebody who’s paid by Citizens is actually looking up for the interests of their Citizens.

    Without a clear line, the “economics” of slavery and child labor would still be around (hint: economics were EXTREMELY favorable to those who ran plantations and/or employed kids).

  9. I flew United basic economy EWR to BCN last week. I didn´t try to check in online but was able to check in and receive a boarding pass at the machine. I had a very heavy carry-on plus personal item, and the carry-on item was gate checked at my request by the agent at the gate. Maybe I just had a lucky day?

  10. AF is bad about carry ons and want to take them and check always!!esp if u are not French!!last trip with then they took carryons and then took us to another city and dropped us off san bags..they went back to Paris because the union in the city they dropped us could not touch Paris bags NUTSSSSSSSSS

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