Air Canada Starts Tagging Carry-On Bags… Should Other Airlines Follow?

Filed Under: Air Canada

I admit it. I’m one of those people who occasionally travels with carry-ons which are ever so slightly larger than the limit. And while it doesn’t bring me joy to do that, I genuinely don’t think I’m inconveniencing others by doing so. My rollaboard always goes wheels first into the overhead bin, and my (massive) personal item goes underneath the seat in front of me without taking up my seatmate’s legroom. Always.

My “personal item”

Airline carry-on policies can vary drastically. Some airlines claim carry-ons can’t exceed 15 pounds even in first class, which is kind of ridiculous. I’m pretty sure my bag itself weighs more than that. Meanwhile US carriers have more liberal limits, but are also wildly inconsistent when it comes to enforcing them.

We’ve seen US airlines get stricter when it comes to policing carry-ons for a variety of reasons, including:

  • US travelers tend to fly with bags the size of kitchen sinks, and that can slow down the boarding process, delay flights, etc.
  • Given that most US airlines charge for bags nowadays, they’re potentially missing out on revenue by letting people on with larger-than-allowable carry-ons

With that in mind, it looks like our friends to the north at Air Canada are getting serious about policing carry-ons. As of May 25, 2015, Air Canada will be tagging bags with “Approved Carry-On Stickers” in Toronto:

Ensuring your travel is easy, comfortable and safe is our top priority. We also know how important it is for you to fly off to your destination without delay, with your most important travel items with you onboard. So we’re making some changes to help make sure that happens.

Starting on May 25, 2015 at Toronto-Pearson (YYZ) and expanding progressively to other airports throughout the month of June, we’ll have staff at both check-in and security checkpoints to quickly confirm and tag your carry-on bags that meet Air Canada’s existing carry-on dimensions as “approved”. This will make it easier and safer to stow your personal items on board, may help reduce wait times at security, and will help avoid flight delays caused by larger bags being checked at the gate.

If a piece of your carry-on baggage needs to be checked we will be happy to help with that at check in.  If you get to security and need to check a bag that exceeds allowable size limits, not to worry. We’ll give you a special card that will get you quickly back to a check-in agent, and then on to your departure gate.


There are quite a few foreign carriers which already tag bags, though I’ve never found them to be consistent about it.

Personally I think this “tagging” method is a waste of whatever material the tags are made of. Why?

  • In addition to check-in, they’ll have people tagging bags at security — it seems to me like that could increase wait times at security, and not decrease them
  • Presumably at the gate the agents will be checking for the approved carry-on stickers — wouldn’t it be just as fast/more efficient for them to just check the size of the carry-on, rather than add a step and check for the sticker?
  • This could cause some people to miss their flights — it sounds like if you’re caught with a big carry-on at security you’ll be sent back to check-in, and if you’re past the check-in cutoff, I assume they won’t take your bag.

Ultimately I’m not opposed to airlines policing carry-on sizes, it just seems like it’s done in a manner which is inconsistent and inefficient.

What do you think of systems whereby airlines “tag” carry-ons? Would you like to see this expanded to more airlines?

  1. I’ve had foreign airlines hand those things out like candy at check in/baggage check counter, but no one seems to enforce them in any real way. If I already have a boarding pass and don’t need to stop at the counter, I take my stuff through security and through the gate (no tags) without anyone checking.

  2. Aeromexico does “enforce” the carry on tag on mainline flights, what I do is when traveling in J they have the tags on the counter and take more than one, and store them for when I have a slightly bigger carryon. There is no enforcement on regional jets because they gate check almost every bag.

  3. Let’s be clear; this is NOT about safety it’s about maximizing revenue.

    If it was about safety, it would have been done long ago.

  4. . . . or here’s a Kodak moment . . why not police ourselves and actually follow the size restrictions.

    I flew AC (YVR to LAX) this past weekend. There were extra agents at the gate announcing the flight was full and asking those who clearly were over not only the size limit but also the max. number of bags per person and although my bag may have been slightly over the limit (agent kept looking at my bag) I was not asked to check my bag when she noticed the red stripe on my pass indicating business class.

    Why is it that virtually everyone chooses to ignore the rule, or hope they don’t caught. Sometimes I think gate agents look the other way because they don’t want the flurry of obscenities that get unleashed on them when they dare to question a passenger’s limit.

    If we all don’t smarten up, I predict that in the future, airlines will either ban carry ons altogether, or start charging a fee as they do now for checked bags.

  5. I don’t know if this is specific to certain airports or not, but recently at SNA (I think it was SNA), I saw the contracted airport personnel at the end of the security checkpoint line – where they check your boarding pass to place you in either the standard or Pre-Check security lanes – asking individuals to confirm the size of their carry-on. Again, this was airline agnostic and was seemingly done be airport personnel without any airline or TSA affiliation.

    I think this is a great alternative since it covers *all* airlines at the airport, porovides consistent measurements across all airlines (assuming they all have the same standards), prevents a DYKWIA passenger from blaming a specific airline or trying to pull “ranks”, and is done at a point in a passenger’s departure process such that it is relatively unobtrusive into their schedule.

  6. Aside from my terrible spelling above, I forgot to mention that they had one of the physical measurement apparatuses at the entrance to security. The airport employees were having anyone with a suspiciously large carry-on place their bag in the measurement device to ensure it complied.

  7. I’m not for any policy that might cause more delays at security and/or check-in counters. I pack extremely light and never check bags. Yet I almost always have to gate-check when I fly in Y because people feel the need to overpack and/or blatantly disregard the rules. So either gate staff need to do their jobs and enforce size requirements at the gate, or the rules need to be even more stringent and limit carry-ons to “personal items” (e.g., laptop bags, purses, coats).

  8. Not that AC isn’t doing it out of self-interest, but I do see the advantage to the sticker system. It actually speeds up boarding because the gate agent just needs to make a binary sticker decision instead of having to scrutinize each suspicious bag. Of course it slows down the curbside interaction, but they can just externalize that to you. It means the plane boards quicker but that you have to arrive at the airport earlier.

  9. “My rollaboard always goes wheels first into the overhead bin, and my (massive) personal item goes underneath the seat in front of me without taking up my seatmate’s legroom.”

    I would recommend reversing this practice and going wheels last. That way if you’re on an aircraft that is just a little too small for your carry-on you can still get it in there without preventing the door from closing. It may not be obvious at first but if you look at the interior dimensions of the overhead luggage bins you’ll see that wheels last is a better fit for many roll-a-boards.


    “Why is it that virtually everyone chooses to ignore the rule, or hope they don’t caught.”

    I’ve flown 35 distinct aircraft across 27 airlines. Am I supposed to keep twenty or thirty different pieces of luggage available so each trip is perfectly matched with each airline and aircraft? Am I supposed to only bring what the most restrictive airline allows or what the smallest aircraft can fit? What about when there is an equipment swap or missed connection rebooked on a different airline or smaller aircraft?

  10. United is getting very strict about carry-ons, forcing everyone walking thru security to put bags in the sizers at some airports. I know for a fact people missed their flights – because I heard them yelling about it! Yet, some of the outsized bags were allowed on the plane, and some were forced back to ticketing. No set standards across the board.

  11. I carry on a rolling bag that meets European airline dimensions (20″, not 22″). Meets requirements on all the aircraft and airlines I fly on.

  12. I’m mixed on this . My carry on used to be fine . Then they changed the width from 15 in’s to 14 ‘s. It’s a great carry on. Should i look at purchasing another carry on every other year. Will they call for smaller carry ons ? Should they grandfather mine in. I’ve been lucky If you don’t travel on holidays i’ve never had any problem and usually offered at the gate to check it free. I’ve been flying Delta and it gets checked free using my skymiles card. I’ve flown American and United mid week and have been lucky. What I’m getting at. If you go to Macys who has an excellent selection, you can find 14 inch width carry ons.Many stores were still carrying 15 in . width carry ons . Maybe they’re shold be an industry standard! And Grandfather those at 15 in. not only because that’s my carryon. Because they changed the limits overnight!

  13. I know it’s a pain when airlines change the size of carry-ons. It does come down to following guidelines. Some people think 15″ means 16″, or they simple ignore the guidelines altogether. For those people who ignore the guidelines, they are rude, selfless people, especially if the flight is full. No one is above the rules, but people do it everyday because the airlines only enforce the rules they want. Just because your in First or Business you still need to follow the carry-on guidelines. I know that I can’t change people, but people need to know that rules apply to them just like everyone else. If a person is so busy,s/he doesn’t have time to check a bag, that person needs to buy to seats. (Yes, this issue does bother me.)

  14. On my AC flight last week, the gate agent “relieved me” of my carry on rollie when it was a few centimetres to large for the metal gate container. I was flying economy and had about 40 passengers behind me in the boarding queue. I didn’t fight it (thanks to the line) as it clearly didn’t fit. The bad part is that AC promptly lost the gate checked bag. I later saw 4 Rouge Flight attendant bags on board, in addition to totes and lunch pails along with their dead heading staff. I can’t say I feel any sympathy for AC, especially when their staff seem to be exempt as compared to their paying customers. #nogoodwill

  15. BA / LX / SN been weighing n tagging handbags for economy passengers for years. Years ago, UA’s screening machines at the BA terminal @ JFK had a template installed at the opening to the screening machine, If the bag could’t fit into the machine it was deemed to big. Security would not let you through. And when HKIA opened, there were HKG airport staff patrolling the openings where you line up to get onto passport control. If you had a 1st class boarding pass, they’d leave you alone, but if you travelled biz or economy, they would hassle you. I remember arguing with none of them, for an approved wheely thing and when she realized i had a first class boarding pass, she backed down.

  16. I agree about the flight attendants…you would be hard-pressed to find one without at least 4 carry on bags. Plus I recently became aware that it’s okay for crew members to bring full bottles of water thriugh security, while passengers are limited to 100ml…these double standards are really anoying.

  17. Im glad US airlines don’t limit the weight. I was on vacation, and had to take two laptops with me. The laptop bag was HEAVY. To the point I had to stuff it in a rollerboard bag.

  18. El Al used to weigh carry-ons at check-in, which was kind of ridiculous: you’d just keep a couple of heavy items outside your carry-on, and stuff them in once you’ve left the check-in desk.

  19. I flew Qantas domestic over the weekend, and as a very frequent flyer with them – it was the first time my bags had been ‘tagged’. They let you take on one true carry-on piece (for storage in the bins), but anything else you had in your hand (handbag, briefcase, suit bag, whatever…) was tagged for ‘storage under the seat in front of you’.
    I’m all for it. There’s idiots and selfish people everywhere, and Lord knows I love me some rules to enforce 😉

  20. They should simply charge for a second carry on, an amount greater than checking it in (carry on offers more value and delays precious turnaround time).

    This would restore sanity at boarding and speed up security screening.

  21. Y pax will always be annoyed when J and F pax don’t get punished like they do. But realistically, this issue is about managing the space inthe overhead. In Main Cabin, a full flight generates demand for overhead that exceeds supply. The carriers have to deal with it and they’re trying all sorts of stuff. But in the front, separated by a curtain Y pax can’t cross, the demand/supply dynamic is different, especially on long-haul. Finding space for my one carry-on has never been a problem in long-haul J, even on a sold-out flight. So the whining that J pax should have their carryons bumped is silly and petulant. My carryon will not fit in any current airline sizer, but it will fit in the overhead bin. I’m not creating a problem and in the cabin I travel in, supply of space is adequate to the demand on all flights.

    Airlines know all this, which is why they bend the rules a bit for J and F pax.

  22. AS has a great voluntary system, the gate agent asks for pax to voluntarily gate check their larger carry-on for free and in exchange will let you board immediately after the MVPs but before the 1st group of general boarding. Plus with AS’s 20 minute bag guarantee you never wait that long for your bag at baggage claim.

  23. I travel for work as a freelance videographer – my carry on backpack has all the expensive equipment that I personally own and wouldn’t risk putting into a checked bag – cameras, lenses, cards, etc. Though it looks big, it will still fit under the seat in front of me on a regional jet. However, if they ever checked the actual weight of the bag, it would definitely be over. Until they airlines want to take responsibility for my thousands of dollars worth of gear, there’s no way in heck I’m checking it, not even at the gate.
    What I would like to see is enforcement to keep people from putting their bags in the overhead right when they enter the plane, but then heading back to row 33!

  24. “Y pax will always be annoyed when J and F pax don’t get punished like they do.”

    Not true. I object to fellow Economy fliers slowing the boarding and clogging the overhead bins with oversize bags. I don’t care what Biz and 1st do. If they have the room for larger and more bags, then fine. They paid for the space, so let them use it.

  25. LO (LOT Polish) is doing it when flying on their E175/190 – LH (lufthansa/cityline) is doing it too on their CR/E-jets – LX (swiss) on their AvroRJ100 – OS (austrian) on their F70/100 — makes sense when overheadbin space is thight but at least in business class your tag screams BUSINESS CLASS 😉

  26. Keeping up with the never ending changes in baggage rules are almost impossible and cost you money as your bags either become too large or too heavy as airlines continue to exploit its customers. There are “standards” such as the IATA policy, but they are not universally followed – in particular by low cost carriers such as Ryan Air. I have over the years had to change luggage because either sizes changed or weight limits reduced. My carry-on maximum empty weight is now 3kg to allow me to pack the necessary baggage.

    It’s high time ICAO, IATA, EASA, FAA etc got their act together and came up with an international standard like they have done for compensation rules etc.

  27. Has Air Canada stopped tagging carry-ones? We flew earlier this year and we did get any of the tags on our luggage.

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