Tips To Avoid Gate Checking Your Bag and a Scary Video of What Happens When You Do

This video of Air Canada baggage handlers tossing gate checked bags was uploaded on Thursday. It was taken before a flight from Toronto to Vancouver. Air Canada is investigating.

“The gate check, unfortunately, turned into a gate toss,” Stewart said.

The video runs a little over a minute and shows a baggage handler dropping items from the top of a movable staircase into a bin, which a second handler then moves into a nearby vehicle.

I never want to have to gate check bags. I also hate to board first. I don’t want to spend 20 minutes on the plane more than necessary, especially in a coach seat. I’d rather work a few more minutes in the lounge or spend the time picking up a bottle of water or snack near the gate.

The key is to not be last, or rather not to be among the last to board so that you don’t wind up being asked to gate check your bag.

Strategies to avoid having to gate check your bag:

  • Make sure the bag isn’t too large (that it meets the airline’s regulation specs, even fully packed and bulging).

  • Plan ahead. Earn elite status with the airline you fly or one of their partners, or sign up for the co-brand credit card of the airline you tend to fly the most.

  • Consider buying priority boarding, some airlines like US Airways sell it, it may seem frivolous or a waste but it can also be had for just $10.

  • Just board early. Not every gate agent will enforce the boarding order.

  • If asked to gate check, remain polite, mention perhaps that you’re connecting on a separate ticket to an airline your carrier doesn’t have an interline baggage agreement with and you could at least try to find some space?

  • Once on the plane, take any space you can find don’t wait until you get all the way to your seat if you’re in the back of the cabin. You might get glares, but there may be room in the first class bins and that carries the added benefit of your not having to schlep the bag all the way to the back and also that it’s already near the front of the plane when you’re ready to disembark.

  • Worst cast be very nice and again polite and ask a flight attendant at the front of the aircraft if you might be able to store your bag in a closet.

(HT: Hans)

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. I can’t really go along with some of this. Wouldn’t #4,5,6 just fit under the heading, “Lie and be selfish”?

  2. No. Y pax should not stow bags in F, ever, unless the FA expressly directs them to do so. The conduct of the AC handlers in this video is disgraceful, but it doesn’t excuse disgraceful future conduct by Y pax.

  3. I think your advice # 1 is the best and takes care of all the worries. The rest are may be or may be not so why take any chances.

  4. I hate it when I just make it into my business or class seat when connecting from another flight, only to find that the overhead bins are full from cattle class flyers taking it. I think your next to last advice is very selfish. I am surprised by it, as you usually fly business or first and would like your bin space, too.

  5. I have to go along with the others on this. I can’t believe you’re recommending 4 & 6. I’m usually right with you on most of your posts but this time I too am disappointed

  6. It’s coach, not cattle class – that’s just rude. Not everyone flies for work / has points for an upgrade (if avail) or wants to blow $$$ on a seat.

  7. Is this a repeat? I’m getting deja vu on this topic and your comment about ignoring the boarding order from maybe a few months back?

  8. Wow, cattle class. I cringe to see the day when I finally get (afford) to seat among the over-entitled full-of-first-world-problems first and business class people.

  9. With such a pointless post encouraging rule breaking and just being selfish in general with 4-6, I figured there would be a CC link so you could get some money for your reprehensible advice.

  10. I do love your blog and learn a lot here. Your suggestion for a Y passenger to take first class space for his carry on is just wrong wrong wrong! I can’t believe you would even suggest it!

  11. I’m gonna have to go with these here people about numbers 4 thru 6. Lying, deceiving and skipping ahead of boarding order before others to have good people be forced to gate check just doesn’t seem proper and down right mean spirited. You’ve got a real elitist attitude my friend if you think these things are alright to do to the rest of us. And yet again, we’re all letting you know.

    That’s ok though, as I’m certain you’ll try and bury this posting with a slew of others hoping things will blow over yet again.

    I just wish people like you wouldn’t get away with these situations all while taking advantage of others. It’s just not right.

  12. @Joe: It is “cattle class” not because passengers flying on coach are cattle or do not have money to pay for business but because most airlines treat coach passengers as cattle. The term “cattle class” started based on the way passengers on coach area treated.

  13. I have been called out by the FA’s and had to go retrieve my bag from the F cabin, which I stowed it in and walked back to my seat in Y. My Dad was sitting in F where I stowed the bag but she said no dice. I too disagree with stowing the bag in F. Even stowing anywhere in your ticketed cabin you’ll get glares from other pax.. Only way I’d do this is if I was near the end and bin space was obviously near capacity.

  14. Trying to stow bags in FC/BC is like trying to sneak into the FC/BC toilet when no one is looking. Both unacceptable. And trying to “board early” in the hopes of not getting caught is equally shameful.

  15. @Kris – bingo!

    @Gary (GL): what??? You’re really promoting breaking rules as well as sneaking onto the plane out of order? And people wonder why certain travel blogs draw the ire of airline personnel. And certain bloggers wonder why there are FA’s who don’t bow and scrape? Come on, stop with all the childish, selfish rubbish and concentrate on decent useful information.

  16. Simple solution is to only carry on a bag that can fit under the seat in front of you rather than the steamer-trunks-on-wheels that most North American passengers seem to travel with.

    If you have to travel with something larger as a carry-on (eg. a fragile piece of equipment, valuables or similar), a quiet word to the airline staff before or during boarding will almost always ensure that your piece is stowed safely in the cabin. Airlines would much rather that you didn’t have to gate check a bag containing something unusually valuable.

    I once was asked to gate check a bag containing 2000 pieces of blank airline ticket stock and $40000 in cash after a last minute change to a flight that was already boarded. A quiet word to the crew about the contents of the bag ensured that it spent the flight safely stowed in the cockpit.

  17. @Mike contra wanting to ‘bury’ this thread, I will have a post later this morning referring back to it and extending out the question of whose overhead bin space it is…

  18. And to clarify, the context of this post is all about the end of the boarding process, almost everyone onboard and overhead bin space is pretty much gone. That’s where I’m saying ‘take any available space’. I’m not suggesting you should do that throughout the boarding process. Basically first class is already full, as is the rest of the plane, just take whatever space you can find and don’t wait to go to the back of the plane and start hunting for space, burning time, delaying departure and possibly being asked to gate check.

    It wasn’t my intention to tell people to use space that others are expecting.

    But I also don’t think it’s as black and white as some posters here do, which I’ll explore in that subsequent post. I also don’t think it’s as obvious as @rick does as far as using the lavatory in your ticketed cabin, that’s certainly not something that most carriers enforce domestically.

  19. Nothing wrong about most of this except the stowing bags in F and buying the $10 boarding privilege. You should look for the first available space in your class of travel.
    Rick Steve’s also subscribes to the board last method. He claims that when flying coach (don’t know that he ever does anymore) that he waits at the gate so he can be the very last person on. That way he just picks the seat he wants on the way through.
    I have a better idea for all of this. Just check your bag. I know people will hate on me for this. I hardly ever lose a bag (bag delayed 2x in 15 years), I don’t hurt my back hauling all my junk on board. I have the right credit cards and some minimal status that avoids the check bag fees most of the time or my company will pay the fee. Most airports have very fast luggage service these days (well except STL). It’s so much nicer to travel light. Sure you take a chance on losing your bag and lose some flexibility on changing flights but it has taken so much stress out of life. I just laugh as all the people hauling huge suitcases with them all over the airport. Silly I say (well at least to me personally).

  20. Just gate check the %^}%{ bag! I once insisted on taking my 18″ bag aboard because I was sure it would fit. Super-small overhead bin, so even 18″-er didn’t fit. Nice FA stored it in closet. I apologized profusely because it all caused a mess with boarding. I have no problem with taking my place in line. Some times I have status, and sometimes I don’t. Just be polite and treat other people as people instead of hurdles to get around.

  21. Last month flying LGA>TPA, we had a connection thru ATL. The gate agent begged for people to check their carryons as the flight was completely packed. Well, like a stupid newbie, my daughter and I checked our carryon at the gate. Our bags never left ATL, until we arrived at TPA and put in a missing baggage claim. Man, I felt so stupid for checking at the gate.

  22. I agree with the comments above recommending to play by the rules and don’t be selfish. Since it is Easter – remember to “love your neighbor as yourself.” What would happen if everyone did these “tricks”? It just isn’t fair to your fellow passengers.

  23. Watching that Air Canada video was painful. I can easily imagine my laptop being thrown from up there, as I would never want to send it as checked luggage. Best to always board as early as possible.

  24. I see an opportunity for a product- a trampoline like area to land bags. It could cut down on injuries too, since these guys don’t seem able to figure out how to save steps by moving the cart closer rather than walking over. Or maybe they’re just tired. I always wonder how many of the trolls have done a days work of actual labor, or even just standing on their feet rather than at a desk.

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