Bizarre: United Airlines Eliminating Bag Sizers At Gates

Filed Under: United

United Airlines is making a surprising change. On the surface I’d say this could be a positive move, but it also really isn’t, in my opinion.

United Airlines eliminating bag sizers from gates

By January 23, 2020, United Airlines will be removing the bag sizers from all gate areas:

  • The airline will continue to enforce carry-on sizes at check-in and at the security checkpoint
  • At the gate, gate agents will be told to exercise their best judgment in deciding whether a carry-on is the right size or not

Here’s the entire memo to employees, per @BrianSumers:

We’re removing bag sizers from our gate areas

As part of our continued efforts to empower employees and deliver a friendly experience for all, we are removing all gate area bag sizers by January 23. With this change, we will not be removing bag sizers from the lobby and security checkpoints, where we will seek to better identify and check many oversized bags, and we will continue to remind customers about our 1+1 carry-on bag rule in a variety of ways.

In the event an oversized bag makes its way from the lobby to the gate, we know that our customer service representatives can apply our core4 principles and make the best decisions for our customers in the moment. If a bag is oversized, please gate check it to its final destination per the normal process. If it looks like it fits, let it go. Use your best judgment. Do keep in mind that Basic Economy customers are still only allowed one personal item that fits underneath their seat.

Why this change from United doesn’t make sense

In an alternate universe, where United Airlines gate agents were all customer service focused, this would be a fantastic development. The whole concept of gate agents arguing with their customers over the size of bags is just incredibly unpleasant, and leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

But on planet earth, where many United gate agents very much feel they’re in a position of power, and where they love to threaten over the PA that they’ll personally get fined $10,000 every time someone boards with a bag that’s slightly too big, this seems like a really counterproductive move.

Assuming gate agents are going to continue to police carry-on size (which I imagine is the case), isn’t it better for the gate agent to be able to point someone to a sizer, rather than use their discretion? People already love arguing with gate agents about the size of their bag, about how they were allowed to bring it on their last flight, etc.

This will only be worse, when there’s inconsistency from gate agent to gate agent.

I can appreciate the value in “empower[ing] employees and deliver[ing] a friendly experience for all,” but shouldn’t empowering employees come in other ways? How about allowing them to use their discretion to rebook people who miss flights, or waive change fees in certain situations?

Something as black-and-white as carry-on sizes doesn’t seem like an area where empowering employees adds any value.

Bottom line

United is eliminating carry-on sizers at gates, and to me that’s strange. In an ideal world these wouldn’t exist, but the reality is that gate agents will continue enforcing these limits, but they’ll just be “eyeballing” bags, rather than actually having a point of reference.

I don’t get this move at all…

What do you make of United eliminating bag sizers?

  1. This is beginning to resemble their Star alliance partner LH, where gate agents are strict and can refuse a bag randomly, EVEN if it fits the sizer. I had this unique experience ex FRA and yes, I was threatened with arrest when I asked the gate manager for his name or card. I boarded last to find my aisle seat occupied, no help from LH again.
    I fly LH often and in economy, passengers are given no leeway but to obey. The rules change when LH refuses to provide confirmed special meals, claiming there is a LH strike for the past 3 months. There LH gets away with anything.

  2. For goodness sakes, the existing sizers are ridiculously small and cannot hold the roller boards everyone travels with. Gate agents were already exercising discretion with regularity for hundreds of passengers.

    Abandoning the silly charade of the bag sizers defining what was permitted on board is refreshingly honest.

  3. The bag sizer was a tool to empower the gate agent with enforcement. Removing is not really empowering, because it removed that tool. Oh United.

  4. @ jfhscott — United’s bag sizers were actually larger than the stated limit. And also keep in mind that United trains their gate agents that the airline could be fined if they allow bags onboard that are larger than the published limit.

  5. @ Ben — Hopefully this means high status and premium cabin passengers will be afforded more leniency and the coach dwellers less.

  6. I have a bag that exactly fits the dimensions allowed for carry-on luggage, but when it’s full it looks larger than it actually is. I get asked to put my bag in the sizer maybe 10% of the time. I don’t like that the sizer is going away, since I won’t have a defense for gate agents on a power trip.

  7. @Donato – my first thought exactly. I have used the same carry on for the past 7+ years and have never checked it once. Flew LH for the first time in many years just two weeks ago and gate agent forced me to check it. I showed her that it fit perfectly into the sizer (literally perfect, it was a struggle to get it out and I swear they keep making those things smaller), but she still wouldn’t have it. Citing “safety issues” is the biggest crock of sh*t. She said I could either check it or not board… (This was on an A350 JFK-MUC btw. Not some regional flight). It blew my mind how she was so arrogant.

  8. Honestly, what’s the point anyway? Being 1k for years now I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen them even use, never mind, enforce with these. Just my experience.

    They seldom enforce the one carry on, one personal item policy. Seldom anything about people putting 2.5 bags overhead etc.

    Suffice to say their overhead baggage control has left a lot to be desired in my eyes.

  9. i agree with @jfhscott up there. People being ignorant of the baggage dimensions and be close to DOUBLE the volume (per bag) are the ones to blame.

    personally most of the time i get either 2 or 3 bags free but routinely check zero for the sole reason of not trusting those losers working as baggage and tarmac agents, who can steal all they want with absolute impunity and zero repercussions.

    @lucky hates UA so if they have sizers he’ll claim theyre all “carry-on n***” (paraphrasing here) who aren’t allowed to be flexible and when UA gets rid of them then it’s “inconsistent treatment”. You can’t have it both ways.

  10. Sounds like their goal it to disallow bags past check-in forcing people to pay to check the bag rather than get a free gate check. $$$

  11. Removing the bag sizers and calling it empowering is a step on the road to proving that empowering front line staff is a bad idea because all you do is put staff in an impossible position with no back up. Staff will hate that and complain about it.

    I’ve never understood why airlines don’t have bag sizers at the head of security and why they don’t require every bag to fit before you go any further. It happens in some places and it works. Boarding is easier and less stressful because the bags at the gate will fit.

  12. At least for domestic US flights, I can’t recall the last time I ever saw one used (I generally fly AA and Delta). In many cases they rarely enforce the 2 bag limit, once in a while I’ll hear a GA tell someone they have to put one bag inside the other.

    Baggage is a mess. It usually takes too long to get it when you check it, w/o status or cc people have to pay to check it, unless it is checked at the gate (strange loophole), and you don’t pay to carry it on board. A very inconsistent set of “rules”.

    I jokingly said the other day that everyone should be weighed (bags and themselves included) and charged a transportation fee. At least it would be equitable.

  13. Just bring back free hold baggage and instead charge a fee for carry-ons bigger than a personal item (purse, etc). This would make the experience better for all – faster boarding and disembarkation, less congested aisles, and fewer passenger “disagreements”. The business travels who are truly in a rush to get to their destination, meeting, etc likely have 1) status to get a free bag or 2) a co-branded credit card. I’m not a big fan of Southwest but love the fact that cheapskates don’t need to stuff the overheads with all their belongings.

  14. After my last United Polaris flights, I just wish they would devise a way to store all of their cabin items without taking up the first three rows of overhead bins with slippers, extra blankets, pillows, and the other myriad crap they provide without providing intelligent storage for it. Yes, we want amenities, but find a way that works to store/stow it without causing additional problems.

  15. I got into a confrontation with a UA gate upon boarding an ORD-SFO flights, 777 operated flight. 1K flyer, I had my standard carry on, biz backpack and a small shopping bag- they refused to allow my shopping bag citing that it was an “FAA violation” to have more than 2 carry ons. I retorted by saying that it wasn’t an extra bag, that I was 1K, and sitting in First Class, but the agent stopped the boarding process and refused to let me board. My carry on was full so there wasn’t enough room to consolidate. I had to finally check the carry on. What was most disappointing was that the agent was trying to leverage an “FAA law” to prove her point when in fact it was just a UA policy she was trying to enforce.

    Meanwhile you had several non status, basic economy flyers lined up with their bags, pillows etc.

    As you say Lucky- UA agents need to use common sense on this stuff- and UA needs to empower them to do so. With $35K in spend, they couldn’t let my shopping bag slide?

  16. I’m 100% with you Lucky. I travel with the same two carry-on bags year in year out. But the smaller “personal” item is always given the gypsy eye. It fits perfectly in the smaller bin of the UA sizer, but still gets challenged by random Gate Agents. I’m doing the Platinum Challenge on Delta right now, so hopefully I’ll avoid the coming troubles at UA gates.

  17. I’m just glad I don’t work C/S , what a horrible job. Frequent flyers know what fits, all trying to stuff your oversize bag in the overhead does is delay the next flight when I got to fix it.

  18. I don’t like this at all. I wish gate agents would use the sizers more. I purposefully have bought bags that fit within the dimensions of the sizer. I routinely see people carrying on 24″ bags. What upsets people is inconsistency, they are allowed to fly with their oversized carryon one flight, but not another. It is also annoying that bag manufacturers and retailers market 22″ “carryon bags” that are actually larger than 22″ X 14″ X 9″. People buy these bags expecting to be allowed to carry them on, but then are sometimes denied.

  19. 1/2 the time they make you gate check your bag claiming there is no space left when 9 outta 10x there’s at least a dozen spots left in the overhead compartment. What they need to do is police the people that put their small carry on items, purses, brief cases, or coats In the overhead bins.

  20. I was hoping they would put a much smaller sizer instead to reduce the volume of junk that is dragged into the cabin. It would save a lot of boarding and unboarding time if people were not to travel with their whole household in the cabin.

  21. They will introduce surveillance cameras with artificial intelligence that can detect baggage size. There are already phone apps to do exactly that so it won’t be a challenge to due that.

  22. Not once have I heard anyone at United or any airline state they would get fined for having a bag larger than allowed on board and I fly a lot. If United is guilty of anything it’s stating that the bins are full all bags need to be gate checked only to board and see a lot of space available.

  23. @BW the UA carry on policy is 1+1. It’s not advertised different for J/F or 1K or GS or anything else. I’m 1K and it frustrates me to see people go beyond the published limits because “I’m in PAID F” or “I’m a 1K”

    Enforce the rules evenly, fairly, and without exception!

  24. Good Move, nobody ever checks the bag size at the gate. People have no common sense when boarding and this puts the Gate Agent/Flight Attendant in a no win situation with respect to over sized carry-ons. The Flight Attendant PA to place smaller items/coats after bags have been loaded are just noise. United should put Porters on the plane to assist people with luggage, so non-flyers know to put a bag in the bin correctly

  25. I’ve flown a couple hundred thousand domestic miles with United over the past few years, and I’ve never once seen them make someone put a bag in a sizer. Contrast that to Lufthansa who once made me put my bag in a sizer AFTER I got off a flight in J (so I would know next time that they wouldn’t allow it).

  26. Since they rarely enforce any carry-on rules, I see their twisted logic here.
    Of course this just means that anyone below boarding group 2 is royally screwed if they are hoping for overhead bin space.
    I’ve always advocated that the overheads should have assigned space for each seat. I’m tired of obeying the rules while others hog the bins with their massive suitcases. It’s the only reason I queue up in Group 1–to assure I have the storage space that I deserve.

  27. American Airlines is the airline that should remove the sizers. They seem to be the worse bag nAAzis. United’s sizers are 1″ larger in all dimensions, which is the way it should be.

    The way most mainline jets are now, all rollaboards that are carry on size fits. Some of them technically violate the dimensions because of wheels and a few by a few inches. However, the huge suitcases are clearly over the limit.

    If airlines want a legalese argument, I’d say they keep the current dimensions but say that on many larger (and I mean 737 or larger) planes, anything within 3″ of the published dimensions fit and are allowed except in the case of it not fitting (which is never)

  28. Imagine the anxiety of not knowing. Also what if your first flight allows it and then your second leg doesn’t? A better policy would be gate agents have the ability to allow slightly large bags. But It should never go the other way.

  29. Funny, I’ve had the exact opposite experience. Every time I fly through Dulles I get a gate agent on a power trip. One time on an international flight, they made even Polaris customers put their bags in the sizer. You can imagine how pleased those people were. And although boarding started earlier than it was supposed to, by the time pretty much everyone in Group 1 and 2 had to put their bags into the sizer before they were allowed to board, the gate agents started rushing and Group 4s were just waved through.

    Another instance was again at Dulles when my carry-on fit rather comfortably in the sizer but then the agent started hassling my about the size of my laptop bag, despite being the same combination of bags I’ve carried for years and while I earned status with United.

    As Lucky pointed out, taking the sizers away merely allows a ticked off gate agent to take out their aggression on passengers by simply declaring a bag too big. And there will be no recourse for a passenger to protest.

  30. I’m fine with this and it will help declutter the holdrooms. First I’d like to see UA install those larger boeing space bins across their fleet which hold 4 bags on their side. Second, if a customer puts a carryon in the bin and it doesn’t fit straight in, it should be pulled and tagged immediately. I’ve seen ppl argue with agents and their bag will clearly fit and others get on and throw their bag in sideways because its clearly too large. If the bin door doesn’t close with the bag straight in, its too big, tag it and send it down below.

  31. It is patently false the TSA limits carryons to 45 linear inches. It is a guideline and recommendation. Per Southwest Airlines website, “Southwest Airlines limits carryon bag dimensions to 10 x 16 x 24 inches.” Same on Frontier. That’s 50 inches folks. The airline sets this policy and, despite using sizers, exercise “judgment”. Many of us including myself have had a carry on denied despite it fitting in the sizer.

    Gate agents love to exert power. Sizer or no sizer. Polaris class and 1K or no status main cabin traveler. None of this matters once you get to the gate.

  32. Copy that:

    jfhscott says:
    January 17, 2020 at 9:05 am
    For goodness sakes, the existing sizers are ridiculously small and cannot hold the roller boards everyone travels with. Gate agents were already exercising discretion with regularity for hundreds of passengers. Abandoning the silly charade of the bag sizers defining what was permitted on board is refreshingly honest.

    Bag sizers are Orwellian. Just another way to treat people like cattle. Anyone who likes them is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

    I’m part of some United evaluation group, and I suggested this last year. Aside from the special domestic coach award availability for credit card holders, this is the only right thing that United has done during this century.

  33. I think the whole issue of inconsistency and discretion are hot topics, particularly as passengers are, by definition, already a very inconsistent bunch. I’m personally less bothered about the size of a bag, although flying BA regularly, I do wonder how some people manage to get what’s bordering on a suitcase on-board and then complain at there being no space for it. The thing that really ticks me off if people who come armed with a roll along, a laptop bag, a duffle bag and a duty free bag. For me, it’s more about the volume of bags people try to smuggle on that’s wrong as for the poor souls who board late, the overheads are jammed (thanks to all the 3/4 bag brigade) and they spend a whole flight with zero legroom or their bag ends up getting shoved into a space, often, behind where they are sat, which makes deplaning a joy! Passengers won’t do as they are told and will always chance it, but for me, the inconsistency of airlines is, above all, the worst thing here as the chancers are fuelled to try it on again.

  34. This strikes me as a way for them to “empower” the gate agents to force more people to check bags at the gate more than anything else. At least now, if you’re in an early to mid boarding group, you could prove the bag fit. The new method will mean that anyone past the midway point (and maybe even earlier) of boarding is going to be forced to check at the gate.

  35. The bag sizers never made sense since most overhead bins can fit much larger bags. All the sizers ever did was give power to GAs that were on a power trip/having a bad day to deny people they didn’t like the look of.

  36. Another example of where the US is far behind the rest of the world. Many countries have the Bag Sizer built into the X RAY equipment at security. If the bag doesn’t fit at security, it can’t get through, end of discussion. This get the bag checked in the lobby where it should be checked. And eliminates most of the confusion, shouting, chaos, and general unpleasantness at the boarding gate.

    Go ahead and argue with the Security Staff, they simply will not let you through and call police, etc. This one move would end the ridiculous pandemonium at US boarding gates. This does not prevent someone trying to bring 4 bags through. Or, the usual self entitled business person with 2 suitcases and a “computer” bag that is simply a stuff suitcase with skinny laptop and 10 tons of supporting paper documents.

    WHO designs the process and physical environment at these airports. Do they not travel ? Have they never gone anywhere and see how others deal with these issues ? UGH

  37. Heres the usual self entitlement

    “I had my standard carry on, biz backpack and a small shopping bag- they refused to allow my shopping bag citing that it was an “FAA violation” to have more than 2 carry ons. I retorted by saying that it wasn’t an extra bag, that I was 1K, and sitting in First Class, but the agent stopped the boarding process and refused to let me board.”

    What does this guy not understand ONE SUITCASE AND ONE PERSONAL ITEM 1+1= 2

    Ooooh, 1K and sitting in first class. Big deal, so all regulations do not apply to you, you self entitled F**K.

    Maybe the airlines should start to deny boarding to trouble makers like this. Take your car, Amtrak or the bus if you need to carry tons of stuff on board.

  38. Ben,
    Delta eliminated bag sizers at the gate and ticket counter quite some time ago. Why is it noteworthy that United is now doing the same?

  39. I am disgusted already. 1k and I travel with the same standard carry-on most of my flights and have had to put it in the bag sizer more times than I can count. Gate agents on a power trip are already intolerable and the inconsistency is beyond frustrating. I frequently see passengers with pillows, 3 bags per person, etc. And then please tell me how somebody gets a carryon + 1 when they have a fake service dog that takes up all of their floor space so they end up with 2 bags in the overhead bins???

  40. “But on planet earth, where many United gate agents very much feel they’re in a position of power, and where they love to threaten over the PA that they’ll personally get fined $10,000 every time someone boards with a bag that’s slightly too big, this seems like a really counterproductive move.”

    I saw this myself at LAX in November. While boarding for my flight to CLE, the gate agent pulled a man out of the line and made him put his bag into the sizer. It literally just barely didn’t fit. If the guy had pressed and squeezed, he probably could have just forced it in there, it was so close. No matter, the very forceful and borderline arrogant (really!) agent made him gate check the bag over his protests. Apparently, he’s a frequent flyer, I believe he was a couple of seats behind me in first class (row 3 or 4 on a 739), flies all the time with that bag and its never been a problem. I actually did believe him due to the status issues he was stating about flying so regularly with United with that bag. He was also quite professional, well-dressed and courteous and didn’t make a scene, so I really had sympathy for him. Being a frequent flyer who pays a lot for a good seat, the agent shouldn’t have antagonized him, especially over something so minor. I mean, the bag was that close to fitting, that close! I saw far worse being allowed onto the flight so why that poor man was singled out was mystifying.

    I’d keep the bag sizers around were I United. Removing them makes little to no sense and opens up said gate agents to claims of pettiness and personal bias.

  41. Legacy carriers should enforce weight restriction on carry on bags like other airlines / coutries.
    25 pounds is the industry standard. Yet, I’ve seen many customers in the US bringing extremyl heavy bags.

  42. always bring an oversize bag. If it is not allowed, then I get free baggage check. Plus last in, first out. If it is allowed, great.

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