I have a question about United Airlines Basic Economy ticket carry on bag policy. It says that

You're allowed a small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or other small item that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm) or less.

I have a laptop backpack that is larger than those dimensions (20 x 12.2 x 5.7) but fits under the seat. I won't have anything else with me. Will that qualify as a personal item or do I need to check-in the backpack? How strictly is the policy applied?

  • This doesn't directly answer your question, but I've heard from a friend (and it seems to be confirmed by united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/inflight/basic-economy.aspx) that you are forced to check-in in-person at the airport if you are flying basic economy without checking a bag. I heard it is because they want to manually inspect your personal item and ensure that it fits their size requirements. I've also heard that they're often really strict about the size limits. Of course, my sources are primarily speculation and word of mouth... so someone should check this
    – nukeguy
    Aug 18, 2017 at 17:07
  • 1
    @nukeguy: Yes, that's right. See comments on my previous question: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/98099/…
    – Giorgi
    Aug 18, 2017 at 17:18
  • Also per United's booking warning: "Bags brought to the gate incur an additional $25 gate handling charge (total starting at $50)". That's an expensive gamble.
    – Hilmar
    Aug 19, 2017 at 15:38
  • Is Spirit Airlines an option? I know that Spirit gets a bad rap, but their allowed personal item size is actually a bit larger overall, and I've found that they're fairly lax on checking sizes. I've carried on fairly large backpacks many times before and I've never been checked closely. I've also made it onboard with a large coat and a small pillow in my arms along with a backpack for no additional fee. You can also check-in online even without a checked bag. Of course, there are other downsides to Spirit... but, if you're trying to save money, you might as well go all the way?
    – nukeguy
    Aug 21, 2017 at 19:18

1 Answer 1


United Airlines Basic Economy is really, really basic. In exchange for price, you agree to give up all sorts of options, including the carry-on baggage allowance. Nothing can be put in the overhead and not only must it fit under the seat, but the dimensions are smaller than many laptops, more the size of notebooks.

How strictly is the policy enforced? Ask United Airlines and it will quote the fare policy:

If you're traveling on a Basic Economy ticket and bring a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate, your bag will need to checked and you'll be required to pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 gate handling charge (payment by credit card only).

Reports by experienced travelers and a look at consumer feedback (the links follow) suggest it is being done routinely, that United added a new Economy baggage sizer, and that, since seats assignment happens at the depature gate, agents do check. United Airlines has a reputation for being unbending about its rules.



Eye For Travel

  • How many laptops are larger than 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches?
    – Doc
    Aug 19, 2017 at 14:56
  • @Doc Whatever size, bags exceed the dimensions, as does OPs, mine... yours? Is it me, or something else going on? :D
    – Giorgio
    Aug 19, 2017 at 15:08
  • I don't think the statement "in exchange for price" is correct. I find that often Basic Economy tickets are MORE expensive than regular coach. If it's actually cheaper it's often just marginally so and the difference rarely covers a carry-on fee. It's baffling why people would book this.
    – Hilmar
    Aug 19, 2017 at 15:30
  • @Hilmar It might not make sense if you plan to bring a carry-on. However, a plausible situation is if you either have nothing except a backpack, or have a luggage that you must check-in and no other carry-ons except a small personal item. Moreover, while there may be many cases where the price difference is marginal, there are definitely many cases where it isn't. For example, I just did a quick search and SFO<-->EWR is $80 more roundtrip on economy compared to basic economy. That difference is larger than a $25 carry-on charge each way.
    – nukeguy
    Aug 21, 2017 at 19:11
  • @nukeguy the charge is $30 for checking the carry-on. The $25 is charged on top of the $30 if you neglect to check your carry on at the counter and they have to do it at the gate before letting you board, for a total cost of $55 each way. If you do check the bag on your own initiative, it's $60 for the round trip, which is indeed less than $80, but not by much.
    – phoog
    Sep 26, 2019 at 17:20

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