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I’ve seen a lot of headlines lately like Airlines Are Coming for Your Carry-Ons from the Wall Street Journal and Airlines Crackdown On What Passengers Can Carry on Flights from the Today Show. Even international media outlets are in on it, like this Newshub article: Air New Zealand Cracking Down on Carry-On Baggage Rulebreakers.

Some of the recent attention stems from Dawn Gilbertson’s WSJ article (here’s the free version on MSN), in which she wrote, “Southwest quietly began cracking down on carry-on bags on Feb. 22, ahead of the spring and summer travel rush, advising gate agents of the changes in a memo. This crackdown isn’t about bag size. It is about how many bags you have.”

According to Gilbertson’s article, the memo to employees was about “the changes singles out cross-body purses of any size and pillows and blankets, but employees are free to ad lib, spokesman Chris Perry says.”

Gilbertson goes on to write, “Southwest isn’t alone in putting passengers’ personal items in its crosshairs as a way to save precious bin space and speed up boarding. Delta and United agents have also recently asked me to stuff my small Lululemon bag in my backpack. One American Airlines frequent flier told me he watched gate agents in Sacramento, Calif., and Dallas list a litany of items that count as a personal item on weekend flights to Nashville, Tenn., last month.”

So, why all of a sudden have the airlines started cracking down and what can passengers do? There are a number of reasons for it and ways for travelers to deal with it. With the exception of Southwest Airlines, which does not charge for two checked bags (up to 50 lbs), the major U.S. airlines have recently raised baggage fees by $5. Now, most airlines charge $35 for the first bag and $45 for the second bag. 

Naturally, passengers are trying to skirt those fees so they’re bringing their bags onboard. Folks flying Southwest Airlines or business travelers, like me, most likely don’t want to check a bag because it can add hours to your trip. You have to show up early, wait in a checked bag line and then wait around for your bag to come off the plane which often feels like an eternity, and you have to worry about airlines losing it or thieves stealing it (always pop an AirTag) in your bags.

Some passengers, most likely those who don’t check bags, are trying to bring more onboard by getting tricky thanks to viral tips like wearing a Scottevest with 20+ pockets, a fishing vest, a neck pillow or bringing a pillowcase stuffed with clothing.

Airlines are hip to some of these tricks, which is why they’re cracking down on customers regarding their rules, many of which have been set for years, that they can only bring two items: a personal item and a carry-on. Everything else must be packed in one of those bags, including neck pillows, blanket, cameras, laptops, magazines, etc.

I personally think it’s ridiculous to make passengers place some of these items in their carry-on bags when they’re going to be tossing them on their seat when they board to use inflight. So this crackdown might backfire and actually cause more delays since once on the plane, passengers will want to open their bags to take their stuff out.

So how can travelers deal with the crackdowns? Here are 5 tips:

1. Research your airlines baggage rules
Passengers should check their airline’s baggage rules, both checked and carry-on limits. Here are links to some of the U.S. major airlines: Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United. Keep in mind that low-fare carriers like Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit have been cracking down for years and can charge up to $99 just to use the overhead bin. It’s outrageous, which is why you read a lot of stories about their irate passengers. 

2. Gate check your bag
With the exception of the low-fare carriers, most of the major airlines will let you gate check your bag when you arrive to the gate. If you’re in the last boarding group, you’re most likely going to have to anyway so you might as well save time and stress. If the agents make the announcement and you have more than the two items, then gate check them.

3. Consolidate your belongings
If you have more than what’s allowed, then prepare for the gate agents to be sticklers. Put everything in your bag before going to the gate. I know a lot of savvy travelers, including my wife, who have a small bag within their larger bag that has all of their gadgets such as an e-book, iPad, phone, earbuds, charger, snacks and water bottle ready to go so it takes no time to pull it out and stow the rest.

4. Get compensated
If you do check a bag, make sure to pay with the right credit card and/or have travel insurance (I have Allianz) so if your luggage is lost, you can be compensated. Some airlines like Alaska and Delta offer 20-minute guarantees where they will give customers with late bags bonus miles or discount codes for future flights.

5. Be nice
My number one travel tip is to be genuinely nice to everyone but especially gate agents and flight attendants when you travel. They don’t make the rules, they just enforce them, so many passengers mistreat them. This is why I almost always bring them a bag of chocolates and a smile. Here’s how I do it.


8 Ways To Make Sure An Airline Doesn’t Lose Your Bag … And That You Don’t Get Robbed or Stalked
The Trick For Getting Airport Luggage Carts for Free
Airline Lost Your Luggage? Do This If You Want to Get Compensated
Why Frequent Fliers Use Apple AirTags or Samsung SmartTags When They Travel
An Airline Executive’s Number One Tip for Avoiding Lost Luggage When You Fly

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5 Comments On "Gate Agents Are Cracking Down on Carry-Ons - Here's What Travelers Can Do About It"
  1. JM|

    I was asked when boarding on two recent Delta flights in New Orleans and ATL to take my crossbody purse, 6×9″ ish, and put it into my pack that I was carrying on my back. I usually put the purse in my pack when going through TSA (one less item to keep track of). But on this day I was using my phone to do some texting at the gate and when I finished, and put it back in the purse, I left the purse around my neck. So I had the crossbody bag, a small pack which was less than half filled and a very small carryon. Based on what you said in the article, they obviously must be cracking down on having 2 personal items out and one carryon. I had never experienced the request on Delta in the past.

  2. Stefani Brancato|

    I fly SWA exclusively. I am always amazed at the insane sizes of some of these carry-on bags, especially since SWA will fly them, checked, for free! I ALWAYS check my bags. Yesterday, I witnessed a kind (tall, male) flight attendant have to help all of these women with their humongous carry-on bags. FAs are there for your safety/protection, not to be your valet!

    As I was deplaning, I heard the SWA agent announce, to the next boarding group, about the size of their carry-ons, especially the expandable hard-sided ones. He said that they needed to be zipped shut or else he was going to gate check them. Good for him!

    I am 67 y.o. and have been flying most of my life (thanks to Mom being a TWA employee), and only once in all these years have I had a checked bag not arrive with me (in Greece). Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I am happy to always check my bags. Happy travels!

  3. Shopaddict88|

    Do you have Allianz travel insurance for year round?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I do have a yearly plan

  4. Marlin|

    It’s hard for me to understand the hatred for checking bags, it’s so much less stressful to not be dragging a suitcase through security and the airport, especially when you don’t have a direct flight, or have to run for a gate. Me and my wife travel 6 to 10 times a year, have never had a bag lost and just a very times had them delayed.
    When we return home, my wife collects the bags while I go get the car, 9 times out of 10 she has the bags before I come around with the car. Often at our destination, we do the same while picking up the rental car.
    Plus, why are you in such a freaking hurry? Take some time to enjoy the journey. I know that we all have times we get in a hurry, but many times just relax a little and don’t stress over a short wait. If you don’t want to wait in baggage, stop and grab a drink or snack for 10 to 15 minutes.

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