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The End of Gate-Checking? United Hopes So With New Overhead Bins

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Soon, you won't have to jam your carry-on into limited space.

Photo by Have a nice day/Shutterstock

Soon, you won't have to jam your carry-on into limited space.

The airline plans on increasing carry-on space so that there’s enough room for every passenger to bring one on.

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For some fliers, being asked to gate-check their bag is the equivalent of a tense scene from a horror movie, while for others it is a sneaky way to have their bags checked for free (insert gleeful snicker). Whether you love gate-checking or hate it, there will likely be a lot less of it in the future on United flights.

Last week, the carrier announced that it plans to add larger overhead bins on the majority of its planes with the goal of accommodating one carry-on bag per passenger on domestic flights, according to reports from a media event United hosted in Chicago on Friday.

As reported in USA Today, United’s senior vice president and chief customer officer Toby Enqvist said, “This is like my Mona Lisa,” as he showed reporters a photo of one of the enlarged bins with six roller bags all fitting inside.

Enqvist said the aim is to do away with the need to check bags at the gate, which can slow down boarding—a welcome change for travelers who hate having to take an unplanned detour to the baggage claim area to wait for their luggage. 

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The larger bins will also be a welcome relief for anyone who has had to search up and down the aircraft to find available space for their carry-on (walking against traffic during boarding or disembarkation is hard enough without a roller bag), and they will put an end to those awkward overhead bin space negotiations with fellow passengers.

It will be interesting to see whether the increased bin space decreases the number of passengers who currently check their bags, since they know they will be guaranteed space onboard. That will likely depend on how United applies its fee structure to bringing a carry-on.

The planned overhead bins “could save time and money with faster boarding and deplaning and less bag-checking at the gate for carry-ons, and it could improve passenger satisfaction,” said Paul Hudson, president of consumer advocacy group FlyersRights.com. But he also cautioned, “Some airlines now charge for carry-on bags and this [move] could facilitate that.”

Right now, most United passengers are allowed to bring a standard carry-on bag, free of charge, along with a personal item that can fit under the seat. The exception is in Basic Economy, where only one personal item is allowed (a $25 fee is assessed at the gate if a Basic Economy ticket holder wants to bring a carry-on bag onboard). As for checked luggage, United was one of several airlines that increased its baggage fees last year—the first-checked-bag fee increased to $30, up from $25, and its second-checked-bag fee to $40, up from $35 (baggage fee exemptions remain for United fliers with membership status and for United MileagePlus cardholders).

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United will reconfigure the overhead bins in up to 400 aircraft, which, when completed, will be able to fit up to an additional 65 carry-on bags onboard. The plan would all but put an end to the need for gate-checking carry-ons. The airline claimed that the only possible infringement on space that passengers may feel once the new bins are installed would be tall passengers upon standing up, according to USA Today.

Travel Weekly reported that 80 percent of United’s mainline aircraft will have the larger overhead bins by 2023. Most of the carrier’s single-aisle domestic aircraft currently have bin space for about half of the passengers.

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