Luggage Manufacturers Are Misleading Customers About Bag Sizes, And Passengers Are Getting Stopped At The Gate

A United Airlines passenger complains about “the worst flying experience” ever after they were told they would have to gate check a bag that didn’t fit in the sizer, even though they’ve successfully flown with it in the past. Their bag almost fit but was a little too large because of the wheels.

The passenger refused to check the bag and a supervisor allowed them to bring it on board anyway. Seems like a great flight to me, but one that flags a common misunderstanding about air travel. You might not be so lucky!

This was actually fantastic customer service. The issue isn’t whether ‘the bag fits in the bin’ but whether the bag is within allowable size. It wasn’t. And the passenger was allowed to bring it on board anyway!

Historically United Airlines bag sizers at the gate have been an inch larger than rules allow for carry on bags so when a bag doesn’t fit, it’s legitimately too large.

Gate agents don’t always catch bags that are just a little bit oversized. That’s especially true when there’s just a single agent working a flight, you don’t draw attention to yourself, and they’re extra busy. But when they do they will ask you to check your bag against the airline’s sizer at the gate and if it doesn’t fit, you’re required to check it.

  • Sometimes a bag is within regulation size, but then it gets overstuffed. So the bag itself is fine, and you’ve overpacked. You can remove something and perhaps squeeze it in (wearing whatever item you’ve taken out, or placing it inside your personal item like purse or laptop bag).

  • But luggage manufacturers often sell bags with misleading sizing. You look at the advertised size, and think that it’s allowable when it isn’t. That’s because the size of the bag itself may be advertised without including the wheels or handle (if attached to the back of the bag). Here the bag did not fit in the sizer because of a wheel.

One passenger shoved their bag so hard into the sizer to make it fit, that the bag was stuck for good. Nobody could get it out.

I guess if your carry on doesn’t fit, you can also break it in half.

In the spring I actually ignored a United gate agent who wanted me to gate check my bag claiming overhead bins were full (I bet correctly they weren’t) rather than because the bag was too large. Tsk tsk.

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. Not only are luggage manufacturers deceptive in their sizing but they often do not even offer bags which are at the limit.

  2. 124k MQM with Delta this year – not only was I never asked to fit my bag (Rimowa cabin – which IIRC is actually slightly too big) in a sizer, but I’ve never seen anyone else be asked to, either — on my flight or any other in the airport en route to my gates. Zero planes delayed due to bag/overhead issues. Don’t know why some airlines enforce rules that aren’t necessary and that passengers HATE.

  3. Domestic sizers are bigger than European sizers. A domestic overnight roller board can be flagged for being too big on carriers like Ryanair.

    Manufacturers will mention the difference but few pay attention.

  4. Almost all carry-on roller bags listed 21 inches are too long. That includes all four wheel ones and most two wheel ones. Part of the problem is that the top carrying handle also projects from the top of the bag. 20 inch carry-on roller bags can also be too long. 19 inch or 18 inch ones are more likely to be ok. The manufacturers also cheat on the other sides, making the bags non-compliant for some airlines. People like big bags and the manufacturers supply them. I have decided to go to a large convertible backpack where the shoulder straps go into a zippered compartment so they don’t snag. It should carry as much but it should be within the limits of most airline requirements. A bonus is that with it on my back, I should be able to use the stairs on arrival to bypass some of the crowd and it may be handier in places without a smooth surface.

  5. No wonder the boarding experience is so sh!try in the US. A good customer experience is when the rules are followed, and people who bring large bags (which take forever to be loaded on the overhead been NR cause for late departures) are forced to check them in.

    The supervisor who did not enforce the company rule should be fired. What a terrible precedent he or she set: now everybody who has a larger than allowed size will ask for a supervisor.

    Flying a truly become abysmal. We need some regulations back, especially one that would force airlines to include checked bags on ALL tickets. With all these extra fees, and having to go to the airport increasingly early, flying has actually become much more expensive lately.

  6. The problem is the rules are too strict. A 22″ bag fits on all mainline planes, end of story. It may not fit a sizer.

  7. My Briggs and Riley international roller fits everywhere, so even on RJ flights when they hand me a gate check tag, I just throw it away and bring my bag on board (where it fits easily on a CRJ900).

  8. For true peace of mind, aim to travel with the smaller “under seat” size of carry on. Occasionally there will be random fixed equipment that robs you of your personal under seat space, but worrying about being gate checked is unnecessary stress while traveling. Oh, and take a pack of wipes for after you have flown, as the carpet might be dirty and the bag can then get a quick sanitzation. If you really think have no time to wait baggage claim, reconsider your schedule and priorities.

  9. United is still replacing the overhead bins with larger bins. I traveled united back in October and the same bag that fits on Delta and American bins didn’t fit in United’s bin, it was too long. On my connecting international flight…no problem. On my connecting flight back home, newer plane, no problem. I have traveled Delta and American many times over the last couple of years, and I came to the conclusion that it is a United problem, not a bag problem. The upgrade to overhead bins they announced in 2019 of enlarging bins to one passenger, one carryon will solve a lot of problem.

  10. So glad to see this getting some attention, the airlines are clear in their rules yet the vast majority of carry-on baggage advertised as “airline approved” is too big. I can’t believe people don’t measure their bags after purchasing, the slightly too large 15″ ones don’t fit in all aircraft on their side, fitting only flat and taking the space of 2 bags.

  11. @Doug

    +1. My Briggs & Reilly baseline fits in all but the smallest RJs. I am usually in the early boarding group so space is never an issue. The few times I’ve had someone issue a gate check ticket I ignored it as well and just boarded with my bag as I’ve done weekly for a decade.

    I also carry a garbage bag with me. I figure if they really want to be picky I can dump my suitcase into the trash bag. Guaranteed to fit in the sizer and conform to any overhead bin.

    The issue I get stuck with is weight. Especially in places like Germany where rules are followed like scripture. Even Lufthansa 1st class check in wouldn’t budge. Similar in India, however there it is possible to just ignore rules with little reaction.

  12. Just spent 66 days traveling around the world (5 weeks in Europe, 4 weeks in Bali) with just my backpack. And I still packed things I never used!

  13. Airlines push their employees to enforece all those rules for one single reason – which is profit !
    There are no other reason it is no secret either … now with all the mergers happening you can even choose the airline anymore you fly with in many case – so the only way to make a stand is to submit an endless amount of customer complaints – they turn out to be expensive to handle. If airlines realize they get swammped with complaints they will evtl. go back to applying some good sense!

  14. Thank God people like Jake have no say in running the airlines. What’s the point of enforcing a draconian carry on size policy if the bags will fit in the overhead anyways? The supervisor should be given a raise, not fired.

  15. Its a real problem flying in Europe, especially if you are not in business class. I flew a number of TAP flights where they made everyone put their bags in the bin AND weigh them. Anyone whose bag deviated had to check it and pay the big fee.

  16. The sizers are deliberately too small and they know it. The whole thing is rigged like a carnival game at the county fair.

  17. Airlines should not act like law enforcement or courts. An inch or bit of it must be gnored and accommodated with open heart to earn customers goodwill and future marketing.

  18. I paid to bring a 2nd bag into Ryan Air’s cabin, sat next to the gate for nearly an hour with my bag. After they asked for my passport (USA), the gate agent had issue with my soft backpack & asked me to use their go/no go sizer. Although 2 of 3 dimensions fit, they said it’s too thick. I assured them it’s not too thick for the overhead bin. They said “oh, it will fit the overhead bin, but it doesn’t fit our sizer box”. So, in addition to the 2nd cabin bag fee, I had to pay a gate-check fee plus the checked bag fee..
    €70 gate ck +€70 bag fee for a 30 Euro flight. When we were disembarking, I saw a thick suitcase in the overhead bin in front of me, & photographed it; it was a European who was not questioned about her oversized bag.

    When I arrived at baggage claim at my destination, I went to the Ryan Air lost baggage office & explained what happened, showed them the photo of the woman’s oversized bag & showed them my bag & agreed my backpack was substantially the same size. She gave me a web address to file a complaint & I did with 4 photos with both of our bags attached to the complaint.

    Ryan Air replied everything was done correctly without acknowledging the attached photos.

    I don’t know why I was the chosen one, but there were 2 gate agents working together for both the European woman & me.

  19. I was once flying back from Japan to US on ANA, and was told my checked bag is bigger than allowed. I tried you reason with the gate agent that I flew into Japan on their plane and hadn’t had any problem, but they kept insisting that my bag was larger than allowed, because of … yup, the wheels. At the end, a senior came out and listened to my defense and ultimately let me check the bag.

  20. @Ryan
    The issue I get stuck with is weight. Especially in places like Germany where rules are followed like scripture. Even Lufthansa 1st class check in wouldn’t budge. Similar in India, however there it is possible to just ignore rules with little reaction.

    Help me out here. You are flying LH first class, and 32k (70lbs) is not enough for you? Oh, and if you are really flying LH first class, you are entitled to 3 bags, each weighing70lbs. What is your problem?

  21. Flying anywhere is no longer the joy it was and is now a nightmare of a journey and extremely expensive.

  22. >> Flying anywhere is no longer the joy it was and is now a nightmare of a journey and extremely expensive.

    In the past, flying was a joyful experience because it was considered an expensive luxury. People used to dress up and behave in a more refined manner when traveling by air. However, as airlines aimed to boost their revenue, they realized that increasing the number of passengers per flight could significantly enhance their overall earnings. Consequently, they began to add more seats per row and lower ticket prices, though not proportionally to the rise in passenger numbers.

    This shift led to the elimination of first-class cabins, as they were seen as inefficient use of space. Unfortunately, once this cost-cutting strategy was implemented, there was no turning back. Airlines had tasted the benefits of higher occupancy, and even when ticket prices were subsequently raised, it was not to restore the quality of the previous era but rather to increase profit margins while maintaining a consistent level of service.

  23. I love the oversize carry on dilemma, all the narcissists show up in droves making excuses why the rules don’t apply to them.

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