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If Checking a Bag Was Free, but You Had to Pay for Carry-On, What Would You Do?

Would you still travel with carry-on only (for those who do this) and pay the fee? Would you check, instead? What do you think of this idea?

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/costofliving/carry-on-baggage-carried-away-1.7035013

For me, it would depend on the trip. I was travelling with carry-on only before it was common for airlines to charge for even the first checked bag. Cost is not my main motivation for this. I like travelling that way, so I would probably pay, if the fee was not too prohibitive.

However, I really wish airlines would just go back to having at least 1 free checked bag for everyone. Those of us who travelled with carry-on only were in the minority then, and overhead bin space was not at such a premium.

Posted by
737 posts

Almost a pet peeve of mine. Lets do it. Free checked, pay for carryon. I would check, as I do now.
Recently United previewed their new boarding process, window, middle, aisle. Supposed to be a plan and to save two minutes on the boarding procedure.
WOW! Two minutes. And yet they feel that if every plane saved two minutes, the bean counters have deemed it worthwhile over the course of a day with time saved.
Now. Do you think they could save two minutes plus, simply by not having the carry on bags that passengers drag on board and spend extra time putting them away, looking for a bin, standing in the aisles doing so and thus wasting, wasting time?

Posted by
13869 posts

Interesting article and thanks for the link.

Cost is not my main motivation either. Pre-Covid I used to check a carry on size bag all the time. I fly Delta and pay with an American Express card which earns me a free checked bag. With the airport luggage meltdown of '22 I started carrying on my carry on just so I would have my clothes at my destination. I'm a plus size so I think it would be harder for me to find something to wear in some European locations plus I have awful and large-sized feet and would never be able to find a pair of shoes that would work. As it is, I am down to one brand that can accommodate my wide clompers, lol.

I will probably risk checking again at some point when I am just flying with one transit point at my international hub (Seattle).

Watching the overhead bin loading is pretty awful. I've also gone Delta One several times since Covid and you've got your own bin there with one or two exceptions.

Posted by
2733 posts

This is simple one for me. My home airport, PHL, has a history of abuse and theft of baggage by handlers there, so, sorry, I will always carry-on, and it WILL always be within the required limits.

Posted by
350 posts

Airline industry practice brought this kind of issue to themselves. In the past, at least one checked bag was usually accepted for free (always free if it was international travel). And, when they charged for checked bags, the cost at least for the first one was not that high. These days, to avoid additional fees as much as possible, folks are just bringing a carry-on as much as possible. Checking a bag can cost like $75 each way and that really eats into any airfare saving one found.

I used to prefer to check my bag (usually bag, not bags) and have carry a small personal item like my handbag. Reason? Because I like to move around in the airport unencumbered. It's easier to shop without having to lug something behind me. It also makes walking around or roaming around just that much easier.

If airlines started offering one checked bag for free and charge for carry-on, I'd simply check what would have previously been my carry on. No big deal.

Posted by
401 posts

I’d most likely continue to do what I do now, carry on going and checking coming home. Even though chances are quite low I don’t want to risk the lost bag but when I’m coming back home I’ll take the chance. Like Pam said, trying to find new clothes and shoes would be a huge imposition at the start of a trip.

Being unencumbered in the airport is good and not looking for overhead space is great! But when you spring for the premium economy extra legroom and larger seat you do get dedicated overhead space which makes it soooo nice. But with the increase in those fares I may not be flying that class very often in the future.

Posted by
4058 posts

My credit card gives me and any travelling companions 1 free checked bag each and I wonder if the airlines made the switch, if my credit card would follow suit and give me free carry-on. The first time we didn't check a bag was 2019 and I have no desire to go back. For me it's a trust issue and until the airlines show better behaviour and responsibility for when a bag is lost I have no desire to check a bag. I would be inconvenienced but could make-do, but my 5' tall voluptuous wife would have a heck of a time replacing her clothes without a tailor or sewing machine handy.

Posted by
7202 posts

I currently receive the first and sometimes second bag checked for free with my favorite airline, Delta. Yet, I never use that option for international travel and very rarely for domestic travel.

If you check a bag, you’re not eligible for last-minute volunteers to take a later flight because your bags in already on the planned flight. My husband & I each received $1000 AMEX cards one year for volunteering to take a later flight.

I don’t want to waste half a day in Europe finding clothes in my size that wash & dry easily in a hotel sink. And I like getting off the plane and heading to the exit instead of routing & waiting at baggage claim.

I keep my backpack as light as possible to reduce the chance of any injury, plus I ride a lot of trains. It’s nice to be more nimble walking to/from hotels & train stations.

But, I sure would love to have everyone have the option again to chose to check or carry on with no extra charges, except for overweight baggage.

Posted by
4772 posts

Call me cynical if you will, but never underestimate corporate greed. Here is what is more apt to happen. All airlines at some point will start charging the same fee for each bag period. That will produce more revenue for the airlines, and more indecision for the passengers with regard to checking or carrying on their luggage. Of course with the way many feel (perhaps or perhaps not justifiably) about the airlines mishandling luggage, it will probably still be a snafu trying to find room for carry on baggage.

Posted by
2071 posts

Would there be a problem if the airlines followed and in-forced their policies on carryon luggage?

Posted by
635 posts

Do you think they could save two minutes plus, simply by not having the carry on bags that passengers drag on board and spend extra time putting them away, looking for a bin, standing in the aisles doing so and thus wasting, wasting time?

Amen. I recently flew from Boston to Los Angeles on one of Delta's antique single-aisle B757s - I was in Comfort+, so was able to sit and watch as the majority of passengers slowly moved past me to the rear of the plane, each with their carry-on and personal item neatly rolling along before or after them. It took FOREVER to get everyone on board. And with those old bins that don't allow cases to be stored on their side, I have no idea where everything went.

My last couple of flights were on Southwest, where first two checked bags are free. I don't recall boarding taking nearly as long [albeit on smaller B737s] - and not assigned seats - even on full Southwest flights.

Posted by
4058 posts

All airlines at some point will start charging the same fee for each
bag period. That will produce more revenue for the airlines, and more
indecision for the passengers with regard to checking or carrying on
their luggage. Of course with the way many feel (perhaps or perhaps
not justifiably) about the airlines mishandling luggage, it will
probably still be a snafu trying to find room for carry on baggage.

Given the choice if the fees were equal, I'd definitely carry-on. I hope I'm the minority, but I doubt it.

Posted by
6781 posts

Fly in the ointment:

Some items can not go in carry-on bags in the cabin, so much be in checked baggage: your Swiss army knife, your wine corkscrew, your hiking poles, those bottles of wine you bought in Tuscany, that bottle of olive oil, any other liquids bigger than an eyedropper. And more.

Some items can not go in checked baggage: Lithium batteries (used by lots of electronics that travelers bring along), fragile items, expensive items. (Frankly, between batteries and fragile/expensive things, camera lenses, that's the majority of what I bring with me on some trips).

So there will always be a need for both checked bags, and carry-on bags. Good luck sorting these things out.

Aaargh! The internet has lost 2 of my responses to this. Last time. Here I go!
Yes! I absolutely would check a free bag! Many advantages compared to the risks! My defensive packing strategy would be to put any valuables and extra undies in a personal item “underseat” bag.
Okay, let’s see if this shorter response gets through.

Posted by
67 posts

I don't know if it's different now but about 6 or 7 years ago I flew several times within Australia (Qantas) and it was such a refreshing and efficient change each time from domestic travel in the US, as described above,
Boarding was instead done from behind stanchions in 3- 4 queues and everybody only had a small backpack, tote bag, etc- the overhead bins weren't used much? It was SO fast and so efficient- people just... got on the plane and sat right down, no drama.
So I do like that idea of paying for carry on. Not mentioned yet is taking the gamble of the flight being full and getting your carry on bag checked for free, another issue the airlines created. (I typically see a pile of those, while boarding.) I wonder if it's the fees the airlines have imposed that initially created the current situation, now exacerbated by the lost bags chaos worries. OTOH what if lots of folks still opt to pay, due to worrying about losing their luggage, and nothing changes- except, we now are paying for it?!
What a mess! I wish the airlines would just stick dividers in there- create the requisite # of divided sections assigned one "cubby"/seat, labelled with seat #! If your stuff won't fit then pay a heftier fee for the inconvenience you have caused and it gets checked.

Posted by
181 posts

I would pay to have the privilege of walking off the plane with my carry on, and not risk lost luggage at the beginning of a trip. I just booked an “economy light” ticket with Air France from Paris to Berlin. It states the dimensions for the carry on as well as the dimensions for the personal item, which were pretty small. I phoned them to ask if my personal item was a couple of inches bigger, would I have to check the carry on and use the personal item as a carry on. There response was that so long as the personal item fit in the sizer and could fit under the seat, there would be no problem. It also sounds like they are strict with the size of the carry on. It has to fit in the sizer as well.

That leads me to believe that everyone gets 2 items to bring on the plane, but only 1 is allowed in the overhead bin. Seems fair to me. Even if you are the last to board, there should always be room for your carry on. I’ve always hated seeing people with a carry on and a backpack of the same size. Of course they are going to take up 2 big spots on the overhead, because neither of those items would fit under the seat.

I’d be pretty ticked if a wedding cake or a giant Micky Mouse or even a big bag of duty free took up my space for my carry on. I just hope Air France enforces their regulations.

Posted by
105 posts

I recently was on a Delta plane, comfort+, already seated, and the passenger behind me angrily took MY BAG out of the overhead bin and THREW it on the seat behind him so that he could fit in his bag. My mouth about dropped to the floor and I thought I was going to be the next person on the news cycle; after seeing my expression (and him telling ME to find another place for MY bag.) He finally relented and found another place for his bag; huffing and puffing the whole time that he had paid for his seat and wanted that spot (above my seat no less)!

Yes, they need to change the carry-on policy and let people checked bags for free.

Posted by
3206 posts

I've always had free checked bags to Europe (BA) and I took advantage of it by checking my carryon. For the first time I flew Delta domestically last month and was very surprised I would have to pay for a checked bag. I carried on. It was not worth it so I think I will check next time regardless. I've never had a lost bag and only once or twice a delayed bag over my 50 years of traveling (can't believe I can say that, LOL). And these AMEX comments...I have an AMEX card but not through Delta...I'm wondering if that doesn't matter. I'll have to read more about this card.

Edit: The answer appears to be 'No'.

Posted by
1991 posts

I will do most anything to not check a bag, and cost is never a consideration. If an airline charged for carryons, I would do that. I want to know where my bag is. It has been on our local news here about baggage thefts from the carousel. The airport official that they interviewed said that he would never suggest to people to check their bags. That just solidified my feelings.

Posted by
1594 posts

Some items can not go in carry-on bags in the cabin, so much be in
checked baggage: your Swiss army knife, your wine corkscrew, your
hiking poles

Depends. Some Swiss Army knives can go in cabin luggage. Victorinox even sells them in the ZRH Tax Free.
Collapsible hiking poles can go in the cabin too.

Regarding the original topic: AerLingus does this. Standard fare allows you to take one Cabin Sized bag, but you have to check it. If you want it in the Cabin this is extra. But want to check a bigger bag: Extra too.

Posted by
19078 posts

I stopped checking a bag in 2000, when I first read Rick's carry-on philosophy. Having nearly lost my luggage on two trips to Europe in the 1980s, It had nothing to do then with saving a fee; I saw it as the logical way to luggage security. That was long before airlines 'discovered' checked bag fees. I've made at least 20 trips (half international) since then, and I have not checked a bag on any of them.

I wonder if the FAA would allow airlines to charge for carry-on with no fee for checked bags due to the safety issue. People with lithium batteries would be putting them in checked luggage to avoid paying a fee to carry-on.

Actually, this is all an issue due to airlines not enforcing their own rules. Except for maybe some older planes or commuter jets, there should be enough room in the overhead bins for everyone to have a 9" wide piece of luggage (14 inches high, 22 inches across the cabin). The biggest problem is people with oversized 'carry-on' luggage putting their bags in the bin with the longest dimension across the bin.

The airlines should just say that bags that don't fit in the bin with the 9" dimension inline with the width of the bin will be gate checked for a fee greater than the checked bag fee.

Posted by
4772 posts

The airlines should just say that bags that don't fit in the bin with the 9" dimension inline with the width of the bin will be gate checked for a fee greater than the checked bag fee.

I wish they would, but not holding my breath. While it appears that airlines don't care what the passengers think, they really don't want to be too adversarial and run them off. The bottom line is paramount, and the airlines walk a fine line to take care of it.

Posted by
1643 posts

I, too, wish the airlines would enforce their own regulations. I'd also have no problem with carry-on sizes being more restrictive, such as with some of the European airlines. My own carry-on is called a "small underseater," and, although it is wheeled, it is quite a bit smaller than the limit imposed by North American airlines. In addition to that, I have my purse, and, for longer flights, a travel-pillow which I carry around my neck. I often see people getting on the plane with larger "carry-on" roller bags in addition to large backpacks as their "personal items," and both of these are a fair bit larger than my bag.

I HAVE paid extra to carry on, in the sense that some airlines, like Easyjet, have very small carry-on allowances unless one pays extra to sit up front. I've paid the extra.

Posted by
4286 posts

I would definitely pay to carry-on and Lucky Girl, I would have used the call button to summon the flight attendant.

Posted by
19078 posts

I (MBA, Mktg major) have often said that, in our "free market system", the only way to make more than a minimum profit is to mislead the customer - packaging to make it appear that he is getting more than he is actually getting or a pricing policy to make him pay more than what he thinks he will pay. Companies spend a lot of money on marketing aimed at misleading customers.

The whole strategy of airline ticket pricing is to be able to advertise a price that is low because it includes a very small or no profit margin, and then make all of their profits off of the high profit, less visible "extras".

I see online that most mainline airlines charge $30 for the first checked bag. What if truth-in-advertising laws required airlines to include one checked bag in the advertised price of a ticket, but give a discount to anyone not checking a bag. Do you think the airlines would be discounting the ticket price by $30 for those passengers not checking a bag? :)

I wish the airlines would just stick dividers in there- create the
requisite # of divided sections assigned one "cubby"/seat, labelled
with seat #!

I've advocated that for years. With the larger bins today, there is enough room on most airlines for everyone to have a 9" wide slot (22" deep x 14" high) in the bins.

If your stuff won't fit then pay a heftier fee for the inconvenience
you have caused and it gets checked.

It gets checked on the next following flight.

Posted by
237 posts

Posted by Lee

I see online that most mainline airlines charge $30 for the first
checked bag. What if truth-in-advertising laws required airlines to
include one checked bag in the advertised price of a ticket, but give
a discount to anyone not checking a bag. Do you think the airlines
would be discounting the ticket price by $30 for those passengers not
checking a bag? :)

IIRC, initially the airlines said the baggage fee was just them breaking down the pricing a la carte instead of charging "extra".
Sounds like BS because the cost of the flight didn't seem to go down.

My major complaint about the baggage fee is,
IF you are going to charge me an EXTRA fee for a bag, then you must assume EXTRA responsibility for the condition of that bag and it's contents upon returning it to me.

I had an airline totally rip off the wheel assembly of a brand new bag. "Sorry. Normally expected flight wear and tear." Luckily I found a shoe/luggage repair shop that made it good as new.

Also, IF I have to pay an EXTRA fee for a bag, it better D@^N WELL be there when I land.

Again, a regional airline I was on filled the luggage hold with the equipment for a band that I'm sure paid extra for the overweight containers. We all watched it getting loaded out our windows. All the rest of us got our luggage the next day.

Posted by
17771 posts

I think there is a tad bit of hyperbole in the article. I have been doing 3 to 4 international trips a year for over a decade. Thats at least 20 flights a year. Almost entirely cheap economy, last to board, and not once have I had to gate check my carryon. Come close a few times.

But yes, if it were less than $50 I would pay .... and free checked bags will never be an option for my ticket class.

I'm not into traveling light. I just enjoy walking directly to the gate and at the other end, directly to the taxi.

Posted by
350 posts

Lucky Girl & cala - same thing happened to me on a Delta flight a few months ago. I check a bag and normally put my carryon under my seat but decided to stick it up above for the long flight. I didn’t want to argue with the guy so I called the flight attendant to referee. I noted that the Delta website states that one perk for Comfort + is “dedicated overhead bin space just for your items”. I took that to mean that the space over my seat is mine. The flight attendant denied that the info was on the website and stuck my bag in the overhead behind me. Not happy.

I don't think there is a hard and fast rule that the space in the overhead bin directly above you is yours. You might say there is a general customary expectation that be the case, but others can use that space although it should not be their first choice. In other words, everyone should try as much as possible to occupy the bin space above them, if they need to occupy it, but it is not a guarantee that that space will necessarily be yours.

I've been travelling since the 70s and many of you probably longer than that, and that has how plane travelling and bin space has been to me.

Posted by
19078 posts

Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group in
San Francisco, says this change needs to happen, and that passengers
should be allowed to check a bag for free.

"People would appreciate this. They would feel less nickel-and-dimed.
And people who want the convenience and control would pay to bring
their bags on the plane," said Harteveldt, who noted airlines would
likely generate the same or more in baggage revenue.

"airlines would likely generate the same or more in baggage revenue."

Complete bull! How did this slow thinker ever get to be an analyst?

According to one source, 55% of travelers check at least one bag. So the airlines are making money off most of those people¹. The almost 45% of travelers who carry on now are, in most cases, motivated to avoid the checked bag fee, even if it is less convenient, so if you put a fee on carry-on and made checked baggage free, not only would you lose the revenue from most of the 55% of travelers who check, but there would be a mass migration from carrying on back to checking. There would probably be fewer people carrying on than before airlines invented checking fees. You'd go back to pre-checked-bag-fee-times, when airlines were losing money.

You might see airlines adding fees for carrying on, but they will never drop the checked bag fees. Spirit now charges for both checked and carry-on bags. However, Spirit has a generous personal item allowance (2016 cu in, same as American). In 2021, my current carry-on, even with my 300 cu in personal item inside it, fit in the American PI sizer.

  1. I say most, because not all travelers pay to check bags. Some of those who check bags have free checking due to FF status or having credit cards from the airline.
Posted by
17771 posts

Charging people for only what they want is somehow wrong????

Personally since i really dont like checking bags, I dont want to be subsidizing someone who does.

And no one will ever get to check a bag for "FREE" Free is in fairytales. They will just raise the ticket price or some other price.

They will, and should, manipulate the pricing and the psychology associated with pricing to achieve 100% of the highest price that can be charged and still maintain as full a plane as all the other circumstances governing the business permit.

Posted by
19078 posts

@Mister E.

You and I, who carry on our bags, are getting subsidized by those who pay a fee to check their bags. If it were not for the profit from checked bag fees, airline would have to raise basic ticket prices.

But there is still the "cost" of having to fight for the overhead bin space.

But I can't understand why airlines are not enforcing their own rules as to size and number of carry-ons. Every extra or over-carry-on-sized bag carried on is $30-$40, at least, in lost revenue.

If they would enforce the rules, a lot of people would have to check more bags, making more money for the airlines.

Posted by
19078 posts

Look at the picture in the linked article. The woman is trying to put in a spinner that, unless it's Southwest Airline, is obviously much thicker than what's allowed. And, the spinner in the near compartment (green wheels) is not in wheels first, as specified.

Posted by
17771 posts

Lee, I agree. I think they should start paying a bounty on every non-compliant carryon bag caught by the gate crew. Then charge the passenger twice the regular fee for a checked bag. And they shouldn't accept any crap on personal items. Under the seat or pay to check it.

Posted by
19078 posts

I think an airline (Frontier?) tried the bounty thing, and it was a disaster, with gate agents using technicalities to collect the bounties on legitimately compliant bags. And, at 24"x16"x8"=63L, Frontier has one of the most generous carry-on allowances.

One explanation for airlines not enforcing the carry-on regulations can be seen on Frontier's website. Apparently on Frontier you can now pay extra ($6-$10) to board first. So Frontier makes money off of those people who know they are non-compliant and want to get on first to fill the bins before the compliant people get on.

Posted by
19078 posts

I think the report I saw showed gate agents taking advantage of the fact the soft sided bags, that would met the 16"x10" Frontier X-sect allowance, particularly if not tightly packed, when sitting unconstrained, would spread out to be wider than 16" (but less than 10" high). Such bags would easily fit inside the sizer, but would have to be pushed down into them because of the unconstrained spread. The unscrupulous agents were claiming that those bags did not meet the size allowance, and they were their own "referees".

Posted by
1406 posts

Lee, unconstrained spread sounds like a day after Thanksgiving issue.

Regarding those who have had near altercations Regarding the space OVER your seat, years ago I arrived at my empty row to discover a carry-on already where my feet were to be. I asked loudly, who does this red bag belong to? It was the lady sitting above it. I said, oh your bag needs to go in front of you
She said that's where my purse is. Her expression led me to believe that she knew she was trying to get away w something. Her traveling companion retrieved it

Posted by
19078 posts

To answer the OQ, several years ago I was flying to Maine to meet my partner who was already there. She asked me to bring some things to her that she had left at home. I packed her stuff in my subregulation (18"x12"x6½") Goodhope Travelwell bag. It's about the same volume as the Appenzell bag but opens like a book for easier loading. I was flying American and using the Travelwell bag as my personal item; I also had my carry-on bag, a 19"x13.8"x9" Weekender Jr. bag, packed as I would for Europe.

At the airport, I put the Travelwell bag in the AA PI sizer and it fit with space to spare. Then I tried my Weekender bag in the PI sizer; because I don't fill it completely, it fit too. The American PI allowance is less than the allowance for Delta, but bigger than the allowance for United.

If airlines started charging for carry-on, I would fly American or Delta and use my Weekender as a personal item.