Computers Now Tell American Airlines Agents When Passenger Bags Must Be Gate Checked

The only positive part of the American Airlines project to cram more seats into its domestic aircraft is that they’ve also added bigger overhead bins – big enough that each passenger should be able to bring one regulation-sized carry on bag onto the plane and stow it in the overhead.

Yet American Airlines still tells agents to make customers gate check bags on planes with these bigger bins.

  • American doesn’t want passengers boarding the plane and finding there’s no space available, because it takes more time to check that bag, since it involves search time and bringing the bag back up to the front, and that’s going on at the last minute – it risks delaying a flight by a couple of minutes.

  • And despite having more overhead bin space, customers still bring on odd-sized bags, bags that are too large, and they don’t know how to place the bags in bins correctly to maximize space (rollaboards should be turned onto their sides).

American is trying to proactively offer guidance to agents on how many bags per flight will need to be gate checked, based on the number of passengers booked and the aircraft type as well as the origin and destination (some routes have more carry on bags than others).

American might consider educating customers on how to use an overhead bin, rather than making customers gate check as many bags, to take advantage of the bigger bins.

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, 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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  1. Your last line hit the nail on the head. Also, it would help if AA FA’s were more proactive at fixing incorrect bag placements. Delta FA’s seem to be very active during boarding, turning and rotating bags to fit them the correct way.

  2. The usual. Charge for checked bags and then be surprised that people will try to carry more unchecked bags. Fly Southwest, which hasn’t gone down this rabbit hole paved with greed.

  3. I think Americans are to stupid to be trained. Note the number who block moving walkways in airports instead of standing to the right.

  4. I almost never check a bag, even when it would be free for me. I want to be on my way to my destination or a lounge when the plane reaches the gate, and I don’t want to deal with lost or damaged luggage. Some of the planes out of my home airport are small regional jets and I understand it when it might be necessary to gate check. But planes with bigger bins are pointless if you make passengers gate check anyway. My experience with AA flights is that they do tell people to put rollaboards in wheels first but they don’t say to tip them on their side. They can do a better job of managing it.

  5. I was flying out of LAX the other day on a 773. The gate agent announced that he needed exactly 26 volunteers to check their bags. It felt like a game show or telethon! It seemed to work as boarding got underway and there was no delay.

  6. Easy fix: stop charging for checked luggage (or charge non-elites for carry ons and not checked luggage) and these self-created problems will go away.

    But that will never happen at this point.

  7. When boarding American Airlines flights in group number three or four, passengers are frequently frustrated that they are told to gate-check a regulation-sized carry-on bag. After boarding, passengers discover many open and available luggage bins that would have easily accommodated their luggage. Passengers misadvised by rogue gate agents then learn from flight attendants the gate agent’s goal was to get the flight out on time regardless of passenger inconvenience. Accordingly, misadvised passengers told by the gate agent that no space was available should be aware of this persistent American Airlines scheme to speed up the boarding process by hoodwinking passengers to unnecessarily gate-check their luggage.

    It would be easy to improve departure gate transparency at American Airlines to help keep gate agents honest. For example, why not have the information from the new display with the recommended number of bags to gate check, part of the same public-facing display that includes the flight number, destination, and passenger boarding group number? Then, when passengers in group number three or four are mandated to gate check a bag, empowered passengers would have the knowledge and confidence to point to the public display and remind the gate agent there is ample room for additional passenger luggage.

  8. We flew an intra-Europe flight a couple of years ago on Iberia and the FAs worked furiously to rearrange and move around bags in the overhead bins to make them all fit. Meanwhile, on AA, the gate agent made everyone after boarding group 4 check their carry-ons. When we got aboard, there was empty bin space galore. We were connecting to a separate ticket, which meant we had to go landslide to collect our bags and then re-clear security. Fortunately, we had time. Thanks, AA : (

  9. “ American might consider educating customers on how to use an overhead bin…”

    AA probably knows that would just be a waste of time and energy, given how US airline customers are generally incompetent and/or ignore such instructions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people shoving in their bags with the wheels out, even as FAs are shouting “wheels in.”

  10. Is the gate agent statement that the overhead bins are full; a condition that will cause a denied boarding at the boardingpass scan if a carryon is observed. Can I say I want to try anyway?

  11. When was the last time the ‘pax were successfully educated’ on how to do something at the airport or on an airplane? You can’t even get them to understand that they shouldn’t fly with an infectious disease. Morbidly obese people continue to buy one seat in coach when they know they’ll make the people beside them miserable. They just don’t care about anything other than their own needs. Pax enter the airport door already grumpy from the virus restrictions, then think about getting pushed around everywhere during the whole flying experience. They don’t know what TSA PreChek is, they have no lounge access, no priority boarding … they’re just herded around from point to point. Their attitude just worsens every minute. My fave seat is 1B, so every flight I see the ridiculously huge things that people bring on board. The pax don’t care and neither do most gate agents. The FAs take the brunt of it all, they have to explain the facts, then are locked up with the pax during the whole flight.

  12. How frustrating. A myriad of reasons to dread flying. Yes, tech again invades our lives. Sigh.

  13. As an old airline retiree I remember the standard was to turn a narrow body in 30 minutes, a wide body in 45 minutes and a international wide body in 1 hour. Times have changed with added seats and all the carry on luggage boarding alone now takes more than 30 minutes.

  14. @Ken A you said it well. I’ve seen many a pissed off passenger on board in such instances. Which just sows distrust in the airline and encourages passengers to not listen to airline instructions as well in the future.

    Reverting to not charging for at least 1 checked bag would be the way to go, but obviously that’s never going to happen.

  15. I agree with several writers. People are either too dumb to learn or they feel too entitled. Even on Southwest with 2 free bags asshats try to bring steamer trunks on.

  16. @Billiken The GA should have checked your bag to your final destination. They can’t tell where you need to end up unless you tell them. Often when that happens, they’ll just tell you to bring the bag onboard, unless bins are already full.

  17. The simple truth is it would be a waste of time. We live in a world that still has to tell / show people after all these years how to buckle a seatbelt even though, unless they walked to the airport, they probably just used one. Sad

  18. I’m not sure how much more education you can do. I see people in first class, obvious frequent fliers, still throw bags in laying down. I think people just in general dont give a rats ass, even with the picture in front of them. Its too bad too, a delayed boarding only delays their flight. But then again, a lot of people who fly are clueless idiots.

  19. People don’t pay attention because they hear the boiler plate announcements over and over boarding every flight. Set some general topics to cover in preboading announcements by the gare agent including an explanation of how to stow a bag based on aircraft bin size/capacity. Companies disarm employees and customers from the expectation to think when everything is scripted, automated, and boring….(ie. the same)..

  20. This post reminds me of the time several years ago I was boarding in ATL for a total of 4 flights! I was on my way to Vietnam to meet a group of women for 2 separate tours (the other was Cambodia). Since I was the leader of the tour, I had a SMALL roll-on with everything I needed. Daily itineraries to pass out for 20 people for almost 20 days, my very, very detailed notebook with all of the info I needed, regarding timing, reservations, hotels, etc. As I am hurrying on to the plane, someone from Delta informs me that the overhead bins were full and that I would have to gate-check the bag. There was no choice for me, a lowly, lifetime Medallion Million Miler. So I went down the ramp, leaned down and pulled off the gate-check ticket. As I walked through Business Class, I begged a friendly looking man to stow my bag with his. (There was plenty of room!) Yes, I cheated, and it was my fault for arriving a little late, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do!

  21. This is nothing new.
    There has been a bag checking matrix for a decade.
    Managers hover and make agents check bags in the perception that it will take time on board.
    The agents have announced the new bag storage.
    FA announce how to store bags
    Dumb people don’t listen.
    Those planes can fit 148 bags in the OHB. I counted.

  22. It’s not the airlines job to teach passengers how to do simple things. Americans are entitled and selfish. The gate agent literally announces how to stow your bag, the flight attendant announces how to stiw your bag like a book on a shelf.
    There is an illustration in the bin itself on how to do it.
    Why should a flight attendant do it for you. Everyone is responsible for their own bags. Plus flight attendants don’t get paid during this Part of the flight.
    Don’t say delta does it because delta doesn’t have a union so if they don’t they get fired. No job protection


  24. @Kervin, no need to YELL at me! The flight wasn’t late leaving. I don’t know where you think you saw that. I was the one that didn’t board at the beginning of boarding because I arrived to the gate after a lot of people had already boarded. And I certainly wasn’t complaining. But thanks for calling me a selfish American Traveler anyway. Have a nice life! I know I will be when I leave next week for a month in Madagascar. It helps me get away from people like you.

  25. By charging for checked bags they created this problem. And they are too greedy (to go back on paid luggage) and arrogant (blame customers for doing what the airlines trained them to do, bring free luggage aboard) to do anything about it. It’s just bs they are trying to solve this without actually solving it. Remember covid boarding from back of plane? Proven to increase boarding time, gone. Like most companies they don’t actually care about solving a problem that may cost them revenue. they care about making it look like they care. And only the passengers and gate agents will pay the price for their hi five bs ideas.

  26. As former employee of American Airlines., I find this article antiquated. Computers at the gates have been telling agents when to start checking bags for at least 10 years now. People get upset because they check their bag and walk on board to find many open bins.

  27. Flight attendant input: First class passengers, thank you for understanding the front bins *may* not close with the bag on its side. The plane curves in front on some planes and it seems our FC be passengers do it right; they won’t close with bags turned on their side. (Varies by plane type). For those of you with “solutions” the solution is to bring regulation roll -a-board and only roll-a-board. Of course people bring grandpas army duffle, some grocery roller from a flea market and other misshapen bags that don’t fit and take up odd space. Then you should apply for the job of flight attendant and fate agent and see how hard it is to run a CAD engineering program in your head while getting your feet run over with grandpa’s duffle bag and people yelling that they are not seated next to the person they just met in the waiting area, while people, who have been waiting in the lounge area outside for 1 hour, suddenly decide to swim up traffic to use the lavatory on the plane, when they could have used the one in the airport just as easily. So, in order to get the flight out on time, so we don’t have to listen to “what about my connection?”, because the flight pushed back 5 minutes late as we try and get your bag back off, from the back of the airplane, when we told you in the first place, to check it, and you pulled the check tag off and snuck it past the door, only to find there really was no place to put it (pause to breathe her), the agents now “estimates” the number of bags on vs passengers onboard and then starts to check bags. This is in now way an exact science, and yes, there may still be room, but if it took you 5 hours to fly from NYC to LAX, then certainly a short wait at the luggage carousel isn’t going to kill you and you can use the bathroom while you are waiting. This is the reality from the inside. If you’d like to fix it, we are short staffed as it is and applicants with great ideas are welcome to come and fix it.

  28. Passengers are too self centered to share bin space or even an armrest. Just look at the pictures AFTER an evacuation – these selfish people TAKE their luggage off a burning airplane. Sadly, the overall problem is the decline of society and narcissistic people. And it is not just the once a year flyer. I’ve seen CK and EP’s be some of the biggest PITAs.

  29. Let’s be honest; if you can’t actually carry your bag through the airport, it’s not really a carry on. Mine has wheels, but I can physically carry it for hours if need be, and it does fit under my seat. If you’re rolling a small-mid-sized suitcase around just to avoid baggage fees and for your own convenience, then you’re lucky they check your bag at the gate *for free*. I’d love to see the bag size limit rule enforced. There would be plenty of overhead storage room.

  30. People saying it’s the airline’s responsibility to educate passengers. 1) Airplane seatbelts are usually very similar to those in most vehicles. How did you reach the airport? 2) the safety demo shows proper seatbelt operation. 3) PAs in the gatehouse address proper carry-on bag placement. 4) PAs on the a/c address proper bag placement. 5) There are usually diagrams on the interior of overhead bin doors showing proper bag placement. 6) If that isn’t ‘educational’ enough PLEASE stay home! As a recently retired flight with 51yrs with a wonderful airline I will proudly tell you we were advised NOT to touch passengers bags. We ‘assist’ with bags via pointing out available spaces, including under the seat in front of them – if it might fit. Flight attendants often suffer numerous OJIs due to ridiculously heavy and improperly packed luggage. My last OJI related to a passengers carry-on bag included 2 black eyes, a bloody nose, 2 chipped teeth, busted lip and a delayed flight because we cannot work with bloody uniforms or black eyes. I was transported to the ER and a replacement flight attendant had to be located. Yes, some flight attendants help position/stow carry-on items but the company policy is ‘assist’ – nothing about actually touching carry-ons.

  31. @Ted Poco I think you meant to say “Americans are too stupid..” not “to stupid”. Sorry, this dumb American had to fix your grammar.

  32. I used to help the gate crew assisting with the carry-on bags and I’ve seen so many people try play the system of having to carry their bags on board. Some of these bags look like full size suitcases especially the ones that have expanded zipper, and other bags that were so heavy that the passenger couldn’t lift it up put it in the overhead bin. One time there was a gentleman who had computer electronics that weighed 100 lb! It took two baggage clerks just take it down the stairs, to pick it up and put it in the belly of the airplane. I’ve seen other passengers literally crying at the gate because they would have to check in carry-on bag. Also one very important thing, if you are going to check in your carry-on bag be sure to take out your medicine and take out your computer! Deregulation has changed a lot of things from the jet setters to the bus passengers, who demand that they be treated like jet setters!

  33. I thought the rules were ‘any carry on luggage meat be stored in OHB or under the seat in front of you’. Why not just put the bag under the seat in front of you if there is no OHB available? And yes, I understand the bulkhead not having that option, but there are only a few of those seats.

  34. The F/As do mention how to place rollerblades in the overhead bins and the smaller bag goes under the seat in front of you. How many passengers put both suitcases overhead?

  35. If people flow simple instructions we this would not be an issue. American tells you how to load the bags and people still do it wrong! Take responsibility for yourself and follow instructions. Don’t rely on others to clean up your mess when you are wrong! Sheesh!!!!

  36. For years I have marveled at the stupidity of the boarding g process – namely doing it backwards. Boarding should be that the first class, babies, and disabled go first. Then, board from BACK TO FRONT! Common sense! There would be absolutely no long line in the jetway and cabin aisle, and it would be exponentially faster. Forget the ludicrous boarding “groups” – how does that speed the boarding process?
    People will whine that they paid for the “privilege” of a certain boarding group – so get over it and do what’s best for all passengers and for on-time flights.

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