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Carry-on dilemma

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

There are dozens of discussions about airlines and carry-on bags here on EpicSki, so I'll apologize in advance for starting yet another. In my defense however, most of the threads I saw were fairly dated and none addressed this specific issue.


As is the case for most of us, I'd prefer to bring my boots and other essential gear with me in the cabin as carry-on luggage so that if (when?) my checked bags don't arrive at my destination with me, all I need to do is rent some skis. For this trip, the odds are relatively high that my checked luggage won't get there when I do. In fact, with a change of planes in Denver with only 40 minutes between arrival and the departure of the second leg to Calgary, I think I'll be lucky to make the flight, let alone my bags.


This is the first time for me on United, at least for leisure travel, and I'm concerned about the many carry-on issues that United passengers have documented recently. United's carry-on policy is similar to that of most airlines - 45 total linear inches with max bag dimensions of 22" x 14" x 9". What sets United apart however is the apparent hyper-aggressive enforcement of all of the dimensional limits, specifically the 9" restriction. The on-line forums have many stories of passengers having their carry-ons measured in the metal bag cages we've all seen in airports by United gate agents  The measuring devices are actually 23" x 15" x 10" but what apparently makes things difficult is meeting the "glide" standard that United seems to be applying. This means your carry-on must be able to fit in the cage without touching any of the sides - if you have to assist it (i. e., squash it down, push on it, etc) to go in or out, United makes you check the bag.


I have two alternatives for carry-ons, but both are likely not to meet the "glide" standard United seems to be applying. My boot bag is smaller than most, but still measures 16-1/2" x 14-1/2" x 12" with any clothes stuffed in the bag. The 12" side has a small zippered pocket and can easily be squashed down to 9" if I leave the pocket empty. That means assisting the bag in/out of the measuring cage - thus failing to meet the "glide" standard. My other alternative is small rolling backpack, nominally  22x14x9, but actually measuring close to 23" on the long side. The protrusion on that side is a piece of thin, flat plastic that is the back border of the bag. It can easily be pushed down to clear the cage but again would fail the glide standard.


So, I'm soliciting suggestions. I really don't want to have to spend money on new "Cabin-OK" luggage (21-1/2x13-1/2x7-1/2) but also really want to make sure I have my boots, ski pants, UA, socks, goggles, helmet and the like with me when I get to Banff. I'm sure everyone has seen passengers struggle to shoehorn obviously oversize carry-ons into the overhead bin, a la the "Seinfield" episode with Elaine on the commuter flight, but that's not really what we're talking about here.


Finally, does anyone have recent experience with United and their apparently overzealous enforcement of carry-on policies?

post #2 of 5

First of all, I've shared your concern.  My recent experience (last week) is with American, not United, so it may well not be appropriate.  I had a bag that might have required minimal assistance to fit in the testing frame, and, given recent enforcement stories, I was worried...but I was never questioned or asked to take the size test.  What I DID do, however, is have a broad piece of webbing with me to act as a "belt" in case I needed to squish the bag tighter.  I wonder if you might do something like that to your bag -- have a compression system either ready or already employed.


I think the most frustrating thing right now is the variety of experiences and the arbitrary nature of enforcement.  As I said, no one EVER even looked or questioned my bag.  But I know other agents, and maybe other airlines, have been much more rigid in checking and enforcing bag sizes.  I think it is really bad PR for an already-disliked industry.  They need to establish a consistent standard so people don't have to guess and live with uncertainty.


Sorry not to have any further beta on your question.

post #3 of 5

You are pretty much left up to the good graces of the gate agent with regard to the glide test.  I fly a lot and think AA and UAL are "officious" when it comes to carry on bags.  Check to see what type of aircraft you are flying if you are on a smaller regional aircraft like a CRJ count on ultra rigid enforcement as the bins can be tiny where some computer bags don't fit.  Being a frequent flyer gives you some consideration on some airlines.  I have seen people split out their boots from their carry on so they will fit just about any where.


Gate agents are people, so be nice.  At a lull in the action before pre-board go up to the desk and ask about if they need a volunteer for the exit row.  Make some small talk, "you seem to be holding up well on another busy day at the airport", I have offered some chocolates and then ask about your carry on.  If you have measured up the bag and explained how much you need your boots for your dream vacation and your concerns about losing your custom made boots.  At minimum they may pink tag the bag which reduces the likelihood of losing the bag.

post #4 of 5
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the suggestions, particularly the one about the strap.The outbound aircraft are both 737's, so a good sign there. The first leg inbound is on a RJ, but that won't be a problem if I'm forced to check the boot bag.


I fly a lot and have never had my carry-on measured, but my travel is nearly all international and almost always in business class, where luggage size enforcement tends to be a bit more relaxed. Ironically, I just flew to southwest Asia on United, with a carry on that measures 22x15x9-1/2 and would have failed the glide test.


I've flown Southwest (which has a more lenient carry-on policy), American and Delta domestically for ski trips with my boot bag as a carry-on and never had a problem. This will be my first domestic flight on United and the on-line horror stories have raised my BP a bit. I usually also have some of my company's promo items with me for schmoozing purposes. Think I'll make sure I've got a few extra this time.


After considering things,I think I'm going to use the boot bag with a strap to cinch the rogue side down to 9". Thanks again.

post #5 of 5
I did, for the first time last month, have the United gate agent on my transfer at DEN eyeball my Athalon carryon designed specifically for ski boots with a hard-shelled lower for the boots that can zip free of a soft upper for clothes and what not. It usually will squish into the overhead, but failed the "sizer test" at the gate. Fortunately, I was in DEN with only the one more leg to Jackson Hole, so I didn't mind relinquishing the precious cargo. So, long story short, I agree that United seems to be paying attention. However, I'm typing this from a long layover in Phoenix and a couple of hours ago, in DEN, American paid me and the same bag no mind. YMMV, but it seems that better safe than sorry may be the approach to take.
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