The other day I was one of the last passengers to board a (domestic US) flight, and my carry-on bag was checked at the gate without asking. I suppose this was due to lack of space in overhead bins (however there was room right above my seat). What if my carry-on consisted entirely of fragile items? For example some kind of neatly packed set of wine glasses or something similar? Could I refuse to check the bag?

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    I don't think you will be allowed to just leave the bag behind on the tarmac, but you could probably refuse to board at all. – hmakholm left over Monica Jun 14 '19 at 20:15
  • Check your carrier’s conditions of carriage. Some have rules that guarantee that smaller items (under a given size) can always be kept in the cabin (possibly with different sizes based on the aircraft type), others will reserve the right time gate check any luggage they want. – jcaron Jun 14 '19 at 20:58
  • You should be given the option to take out some items. Like medication and ID papers. If you have other items you do not trust to survive in hold take those out as well. – Willeke Jun 14 '19 at 22:17
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    @Willeke That's true, but the carry-on luggage may consist entirely of fragile items, in which case it's problematic to take out all of them. – user77409 Jun 15 '19 at 0:03
  • In that case inform flight staff and hope for the best. (And try to make sure you are not late boarding.) – Willeke Jun 15 '19 at 6:54

The only space you have a right to is the space underneath your seat. And even then, some aircraft entertainment systems take up much of that legroom.

So if your bag won’t fit underneath your seat and you refuse to board without your bag with you, they may bump you to the next flight and let you board that one earlier.

If there is no next flight or the flights are all on smaller planes, they could just refuse to board you unless you check the luggage and sign a damage waiver. In that case, your recourse is limited. You could use a delivery service instead to mail your fragile items.

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