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airlinesThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

I’m leaving on a trip this Sunday and for the first time in my life I packed early and I packed light. Save the toothbrush, I crossed the toiletry Ts and dotted all the iPad Is into my carry-on suitcase so I could spend the rest of the week anticipating my travels and not dreading packing. But wouldn’t you know it, three major airlines — American, Delta and United — have reduced the size of an acceptable carry-on yet again (it flew under the radar until recently). I am flying one of these lines, and of course when I measured my bag, roughly 24 X 15 X 9, it was too large. The new size regulation — apparently enacted by United in March but effective immediately — is 22 inches long by 14 inches wide and 9 inches high, skimming a collective 5 inches off of what was a perfectly fine carry-on bag just weeks ago, and rendering my treasured, nearly new (expensive) indigo suitcase totally useless against checked-bag fees.

Pinned to a new FAA regulation (according to this article on Airfarewatchdog.com), it’s curious that fellow airlines JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America and Frontier have maintained their 24 X 16 X 10-inch carry-on allocations.

Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Upon further review, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, reflects that although the changes are subtle, they are being strictly enforced by the TSA and not as clearly explained by the airlines. The standard of a 45-inch maximum outside linear dimension is made null if the dimensions exceed any of the newly specified maximums. So in other words, 21 X 14 X 10 may meet the 45-inches-total guideline, but not the new 9-inches-high guideline. Therefore, the risk of having to re-pack, being sent to the back of the check-in line and potentially missing your flight is a real one — all traced back to a difference of one inch.

Whether it’s a regulation based in research, a ploy to cash in on more checked bags or simply a way to keep travelers on their toes, it’s exhausting keeping up with all the policy updates. I was finally ahead in the travel race, only to be handed a penalty card.

Have you encountered any trouble at the check-in counter lately? Vent about misguided measurements in the comments below.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

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10 Responses to “The Shrinking Carry-On Strikes Again”

  1. Hellen Hoffman says:

    It is one thing to have these regulations, it is totally another when it comes to enforcement. I just few from Hamburg, Germany through Newark to West Palm Beach, FL and I can absolutely guarantee you that a minimum of at least 40% of those carry on bags DID NOT meet anyone’s most generous carry on size. If you make a rule, enforce it. Of course, the sensible thing to do is go back to 1 free bag checked and penalize heavily for over size carry on.

    • Lisa Hardy says:

      I agree Hellen! I have seen people getting on with suitcases that are definitely over the allowance and more like my normal suitcase. They then proceed to completely fill one overhead locker with it so no-one else can get anything in, but no-one seems to enforce it at all.

  2. Margot MacPherson Brewer says:

    I have been using the same hard shell expandable Heys carry on luggage piece about for ten years without any difficulty at the gate. It always fit easily in the overhead bin. On a recent (June 7, 2014) Air Canada flight from Calgary to Ottawa, the agent informed it was suddenly “too wide” to qualify as carry-on. I quickly took out the laptop and prescription drugs I needed with me and checked it for $20 ($21 with tax). Cash grab? Oh yes. I am quite sure of it.

  3. John says:

    This really pisses me off. My bag I bought several years ago has fit within the guidelines and I never have had a problem stowing it, in the prescribed manner, in any overhead bin. But it is slighty thicker than 9″ so I am in a quandry regarding my upcoming trip to Alaska. I really don’t want to pay the baggage fees, but I am, naturally reluctant to go out and buy yet another 2 luggage bags, (one for me and one for my wife). Also, I am flying both ways on United, one of the “offenders”. I was thinking to go to the airport about a month before my flight and see if it will fit in the sizer by the ticket counter. They should not be allowed to “reduce” the standard, allowed bag size. That should be set by the FAA and apply to all airlines. Apparently this one is discretionary, something just a handful of airlines are doing.

  4. Francosca says:

    And to make matters worse, the so called TSA (?) rules don’t seem to apply to first class, business class, platinum flyers, elite, and the whole plethora of upper echelons of frequent flyers !!!!

  5. Deborah Fisher says:

    Immediately upon reading this article, I rushed to pull out my hardshell carry-on, which I have been able to use twice (once on an air journey) since receiving it as a gift less than two years ago. At 24 inches long by 14 inches wide by 10 inches deep, it has been rendered obsolete as a carry-on bag. I don’t know the immediate logic behind this change, but as more and more impediments and expenses appear to be introduced at exponential rates, reflect on this thought:

    Travelers are not as easily controlled as are the stay-at-homes.

  6. Dave says:

    This is a total cash grab by greedy, sneaky airlines, whose clearly intentional customer victimization and willful thuggery continues to go um-checked (pun intended) by the FAA and the media.

    On a recent AA Boston to Miami flight, I was told at the TSA entrance to make sure my bag “still fit” in the example form provided.

    No problem. A formality. It always had before, so I was not worried, and demonstrated that it did, in fact, fit.

    But NO.
    I was then told that the bag had not fit into the form “easily” enough (it was touching the edges), and so had still had to be checked.


    I asked for them to please define “easily”, as it still clearly fit into the form provided.

    They could / would not explain, so I was forced to return to the counter very reluctantly to check it, or risk missing my flight.

    On the plane, I discovered that there was plenty of room overhead, as many others had been subjected to the same robbery. We left late due to all the back and forth with the luggage checks for so many passengers, all of whom assumed, rightly, that no checked luggage would be required, only to find out differently en route to the gate.

    On the return flight, no one even asked re: the size of my bag, which–per usual–still fit into the overhead quite smoothly. Voila!

    So my questions are:
    If this latest change is “necessary”, then how come it was only “necessary” in Boston, but not in MIA…?
    If the bag “will not fit easily” into the form, how come it clearly has before, and also did on the plane itself en route back from MIA?
    If you “must do this” then why the disparity…?
    Do they not know their own policy? Or simply not care? And which is worse?

    Clearly, they are lying.

    It is a scam. And the only “reason” is to further inconvenience already alienated passengers in a shakedown shamelessly masked as a “safety” precaution.

    Rise up fellow passengers!
    Refuse to be bullied and lied to by these cheating, stupid air-way robbers!

  7. Morris Boley says:

    I just flew round trip from Baton Rouge to LAX, with a small carry-on that passed, and one checked bag. So, I thought I was OK. Each of the 4 flight was delayed. The first leg, Baton Rouge to Dallas, for 8 hours. I could have driven it quicker. I have had enough of the airlines, the airports, the airport food, etc. No more for me, thanks. I will drive or take the bus or train. Airports are worse than bus or train stations ever were. Maybe man wasn’t meant to fly.

  8. Jim@HiTek says:

    My recent two month travel around Europe had me traveling with several different airlines. My admittedly overstuffed carry-on did not fit in one overhead, they quickly moved it to basement storage (without charge) though the price for a checked bag is $25. This was a short hopper flight in an old fashioned Turbo-prop plane, where you walk across the tarmac and climb a staircase to enter the plane.

    All other flights were in jets with generous overhead compartments, though I’d have to squish my bag in. Not one airline said anything about the size of my carry-on. Nor did any TSA types. Some people are now taking two carry-on bags with them in the plane and one time I had to put my bag into a first class overhead since there was no room above my seat.

    On the return flight with Aer Lingus, when arriving at O’hare, the hassle there was the surly TSA agents bitching about how I’d packed my bag. Then they either lost, or tossed my ‘daily pill’ holder.

    So I’d say that carry-on bag size is not really a big deal (yet) where I flew in Europe and not a big deal with United (at O’hare on the 2nd leg to LAX from Ireland) or on the trip over with Swiss Air. Your milage may vary.

  9. Toby Lerner says:

    Why don’t they just NOT charge for checked luggage and charge for carry-on’s as they are letting you have a “favor” by having it with you and then maybe there also wouldn’t be backups in the aisle–coming and going and to me it’s a win-win situation.

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