United Airlines Gets The Incentive Wrong For Checking Your Bag At The Gate

a person sitting on an escalator

Fighting for overhead bin space is just one of the many challenges travelers face today.  Planes are more full, seats are smaller and tempers are shorter.  The airlines continue to try to find ways to solve these issues while also causing some of those same problems.

The advent of checked baggage fees is a huge contributor to the number of bags carried on to flights today.  As a business traveler, I always carried my bag on.  But, before there were checked bag fees plenty of folks were happy to check their luggage and pick it up from baggage claim when they arrived at their destination.

If you’ve traveled at any point in the last few years, you’ve probably heard the following announcement at a gate while waiting to board your flight, “This is a completely full flight.  We will run out of overhead bin space.  We need 5-10 volunteers to check their bag for free to their final destination.”

Uh, yeah.

I’m always a little bit amazed when I see a few people wander up to the counter and offer to check their bag.  I’d really rather have someone kick me in the shins than give up my carry-on.  Making sure I can find an overhead bin for my bag is really the most significant reason I board a flight early.  Occasionally, if a gate area is full I’ll want to board the flight so I can sit and do some work.  But, the only reason I really need to be on a plane early is to make sure my bag finds a spot.

When I was boarding my flight home earlier today, the United gate agent made the following announcement, “This is a completely full flight.  We will run out of overhead bin space.  If you volunteer to check your bag to your final destination, you’ll be allowed to board with Group 2 instead of your designated boarding group.”

That’s actually more of a tax to me.  The seats at the gate are generally more comfortable than any coach seat on a plane.  Standing in line in the aisle waiting for people to find a spot for their bag in the overhead?  Getting up to let someone into the window or middle seat when I have an aisle seat?  Um, no thanks.

I applaud United for trying to figure out innovative ways to convince folks to deal with their carry-on before it delays the departure of their flight.  But, please don’t board early if you don’t need to.  That’s like kicking yourself in your own shins.

The post United Airlines Gets The Incentive Wrong For Checking Your Bag At The Gate was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. I saw this awhile back and totally agree. But just think of it as a win for United. If you check your bag and board early then you are out of the way. What they should do is give out stuff. Like say a free drink coupon or an extra special snack item. It wouldn’t cost them much.

    1. Wait, what? For those of you who never check a bag, think about this. I pay to check my bag. Then I am penalized by having to wait longer at baggage claim while they sort out which bags are gate checked and which are paid for so. If you can’t put you bag in overhead, all bags should be returned to you at baggage claim! The people spending money on this are the true people getting kicked in the shins!!

      1. Sandy, I definitely agree you’re getting kicked in the shins paying for a checked bag. Have you thought about a credit card that comes with free bags or one of the cards that reimburses airline fees? I don’t do affiliate links, so no dog in this hunt. Just making a suggestion.

  2. They’ve been doing this for a while and, yes, it is stupid.

    That said, I will challenge partially the checked bag fee angle of the issue. The risk of not getting space for a bag is also exacerbated by more people on the planes. Load factors are up and that’s on top of more seats in most frames today versus 5-10 years ago. A 5% increase in load factor is 5-10 more people – and bags – on board now.

  3. Don’t agree. If I volunteer to check my bag at the gate, the only compensation is… Not having my bag, and then waiting to pick it up from baggage claim. Some compensation, like boarding early is completely fair, and is actually an advantage to you (the person who insists on carrying on a bag) for two reasons: 1. I won’t take up extra overhead space. 2. I take less time to go to my seat.

  4. Here’s an added bonus when you check your bag on United on my way home to IAD: you get to spend an extra 40-50 minutes in the basement of the terminal when you arrive. Sometimes the bag takes longer to get from the plane to the carousel than the flight from New York to Washington.

  5. I agree with you. Since most of our trips are short weekend vacations, we try to squeeze in as much fun as possible.  Wasting 30 minutes at baggage claim frustrates me, so it will take much more than this to convince me to check a bag.

    However, most people really want to check bags, but are forced to because they don’t want to pay the $25-$35 to check each bag. So, that’s why so many travelers voluntarily let United off the hook like this.

  6. I always wonder how the people that paid to check their bags at the counter feel about this when I hear these kinds of announcements. Personally, I think one checked bag should be part of the fare on every airline, but I was overruled on that idea long ago, I suppose. 🙂

  7. The problem is many leisure travelers don’t fly enough (4 segments) to warrant paying a $95 annual fee on a card that comes with free checked bags. I advocate a system in which airlines give one free bag with each ticket–the customer chooses whether that bag is checked or carry-on (with everyone still receiving a free personal item).

    I always volunteer to check my carry-on because I don’t want to deal with lugging the carry-on around. That said, doing that loses the ability to put non-311 and other items not allowed in carry-ons into the bag because I still have to take it through security.

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