I have not flown in a while and I would rather not have any checked in luggage (and pay fees).

I am using this as reference for dimensions: http://www.airtran.com/common/images/_content/baggage.gif, http://www.aa.com/content/images/travelInformation/baggageInfo/ba2_bags_dim.png

I have these two available with me that I can use to pack my clothes in:

  • camping backpack: 24" * 14" * 7". It's 24" when fully extended, but I can make it shorter by folding the top down a bit
  • carry-on bag: 26 * 18 * 9 (53 linear inches: off by 8 inches from the 45 linear inches regulation)

Neither of these bags will be filled up edge to edge and will be ~20% empty anyways. The gross weight of either of these would be well within 30 lbs, if not way less.

One leg of my flight is on UA 738 and the other on AA 2394. I called the CSRs and asked the questions below and got conflicting answers: they really wanted me to check either of these in and told me I would have to pay fees both ways.

My questions are:

  1. Which of these can I use as a carry-on instead of checking it in (and pay fees)

    (While the backpack does not seem to be much of a risk, the bag can be classified as checked in luggage by the agent on technicality. It's a cloth bag so its not rigid and can fit into a bin, and is going to have sufficient empty space)

  2. Does UA need me to keep this with me in the cabin, or do they tag it as carry-on at the checkin counter and put it in the cargo bin anyways (same place where they put checked in luggage)?

  3. Does AA need me to keep this with me in the cabin, or do they tag it as carry-on at the checkin counter and put it in the cargo bin anyways (same place where they put checked in luggage)?

I am asking #2 and #3 as on USAirways' site, under 'Carry-on rules for US Airways Express' I noticed this: "1 small carry-on bag. Your carry-on bag will be tagged, placed in the cargo bin and returned plane-side or in the jetway when you arrive"

It does seem nice that I won't have to haul my luggage from plane to airport during the connecting flights, but was wondering if this is a feature specific to USAirways or does UA and AA offer this too?

  • I edited your question a little and removed the part about the water bottle. You should ask that as a separate question. Nov 8, 2013 at 20:29

2 Answers 2


There are actually three ways your luggage can get from A to B and it's possible that different airlines use different words for it:

  • carry-on. You carry or pull it with you everywhere, including onto the airplane. If it's larger than the limits they publish on the website, you'll be forced to check it and possibly pay the checked bag fee
  • checked. You hand it over when you first get to the airport, it gets a big sticker on it, and you don't see it again until the "baggage claim", usually at your destination airport (international transfers involving customs may involve you claiming and rechecking it.) Many airlines charge $25 for this per bag, more if it's heavy.
  • gate checked. The bag is small enough to be carry-on, and you carry or pull it with you right to the door of the plane, where you discover it won't fit in the bin for this plane, so you hand it over (unlabeled, no stickers) to an attendant or cart. This ends up in the cargo but you must reclaim it as you leave the plane, not over at baggage claim with the checked luggage.) You then carry or pull it to your next flight, where it might be carry on or gate checked again if you have another small plane.

US Airways Express, like many of the "minor" versions of major airline brands, uses very small planes. The "overhead bins" can accommodate coats and purses, but not rollaway bags. Therefore you may have to gate check your bag. MAY. It's not for sure - some carry on you will carry on, if it will fit under the seat for example. And you will still have to carry it through the airport if you don't check it. You put it on a little cart just before you get on the plane, and pick it up as you leave the plane, then carry it to your next flight. If you want to be free of it for the whole trip, check it.

Many people these days play "checkin chicken". They have a bag they don't need during the flight, but that is technically small enough for carry on. Then they drag it through the airport and wait at the gate for an announcement (which almost always comes) that hey, we have a really full flight, if there's a carryon you can do without for the duration of the flight, we'd be happy to check it for you free, just approach the podium. (This typically ends up being a checked bag that goes to baggage claim, not a gate-checked bag, but you would need to ask while it was happening to be sure.) And they get their bag checked without a free. This feels like too much hassle to me, but it does happen a lot.

  • What's a gate-check and why does it allow me the freedom to not haul my luggage? I would prefer rather not to as I would like to roam outside, around the airport while waiting for the flight to arrive and would rather not carry around my luggage if I can. (I travel by bus so I arrive few hours early) Nov 8, 2013 at 19:43

There are really 4 ways to get your bag onto the aircraft. Only one of these ways does not involve carrying your bag with you all the way to the boarding gate. That way is to check your bag at the airline check-in counter. Many airlines, including UA, AA, Delta, and U.S. Airways, charge for this service. For U.S. airlines that do charge, the most typical fees seem to be $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second. If either bag is over 50 lb., there will be an additional overweight baggage charge. The most notable exception to this is Southwest Airlines which does not charge anything for the first two checked bags, but does still have a fee if either bag is over 50 lb.

The other 3 ways to get your bag onto the aircraft all involve you carrying your bag up to the point that you are actually boarding the aircraft, including taking the bag through the security checkpoint. All of these methods require that the bag meet standard carry-on size specifications. They are as follows:

  1. You can take the bag onto the plane with you as a carry-on item. Most airlines do not charge for this (Spirit and Allegiant do charge for this, though.)
  2. On smaller 'regional jet' aircraft (such as those operated by carriers marketed as 'American Express', 'U.S. Airways Express', 'United Express', or 'Delta Connection',) larger bags that would fit in the overhead bins on a normal-sized airliner will not fit. As such, these bags will be collected on a cart at the gate as you board the aircraft and then returned to you as you leave that same plane. These bags are stored separately from regular checked luggage, but are not carried into the cabin with you. This service is not typically available on normal-sized aircraft, though, except for special types of items like wheelchairs, strollers, and such that people need to take all the way to the gate.
  3. On many flights, there are more people wanting to take larger carry-on bags on board that there is space for those bags in the overhead bins (especially since airlines started charging for checked baggage.) If the gate agents anticipate this being the case for a flight, they will offer to check your carry-on bags for you at the gate, typically free of charge. This is different from what happens in case 2, as these items will not be returned to you as you exit the aircraft. They will be checked and placed with the rest of the checked luggage. You will not see them again until you get to the baggage carousel at your final destination. If not enough people volunteer to have their carry-ons checked at the gate, then the last few people who can't find space for their carry-ons on board will be required to check them.

The answer to both of your questions 2 and 3 is that unless you check them in (and pay fees accordingly,) they will fall into one of the 3 categories of bags listed above and you will have to carry them all the way to the gate, including any time that you may spend outside of the airport before the flight leaves.

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