How Strict Is United About Carry On Size?

Last Updated on December 23, 2020

It’s always a good idea to know your airlines carry on size limits. Frequent fliers know that there are the officially published limits, and then the unofficial limits.

These unofficial limits tend to depend on how expensive the airline is. Are they a budget carrier? Or a full-service airline?

When you are deciding what bag to buy or if even if your old bag will be sufficient you need to know if your airline is heavy-handed or if they are hands-off about enforcing their carry-on luggage policies.

This post looks at how strict United Airlines are about carry on size.

Let’s jump right in!

Taking A Slightly Too Big Carry On On United Airlines

Officially the United Airlines carry-on size limit for standard economy is 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

You can also bring one personal item that is 17 x 10 x 9 inches like a purse, backpack, or laptop bag.

They are also quite clear that you can bring a jacket, an umbrella, a book, food or things that you bought at the airport.

This is a generous sounding policy that you don’t always see from airlines. For example, Frontier wouldn’t let you take a full-size umbrella onboard.

So we can say that the wording of the United policy is not very strict sounding.

But the policy on the website doesn’t always match up to the way that gate agents behave on the ground.

To confuse matters further United has introduced a basic economy ticket that does not permit carry-on bags.

With the basic economy fare your personal item that needs to fit under the seat in front is your carry on.

United is now attempting to run as a budget carrier and a full-service airline simultaneously.

United Airlines Basic Economy Ticket

United have a ticket that they call “Basic Economy”. It’s their lowest of the low price and does not have any extras… like taking a normal carry on bag with you.

They only allow you to take a personal item sized bag with you and this can cause no end of problems. Like happened to Michael:

I can understand that if you didn’t pay for a ticket that includes carry-on luggage that you will need to check your bag if it’s too big.

What is hard to understand is why they don’t charge the normal checked bag fee of $25. This is price gauging plain and simple, taking advantage of passengers that are caught in a hard situation and hammering them for dollars!

This happens with basic economy tickets because United it trying to copy the business model of low-cost airlines like Frontier and Spirit.

These airlines keep the cost of tickets low but seek to make up profits by charging extra fees. So it stands to reason that with Basic Economy fares United has to become very strict about the baggage you can bring into the cabin. They are perhaps overzealous in enforcing the basic economy carry on rules.

In the long run, United will probably regret these strict policies with regards to carry-on luggage on budget tickets. They are eroding their customer loyalty fast. We are likely to see more videos like these in the future:

How Strict Are United With Your Carry On Bag On Standard Economy Tickets?

This passenger asked United directly on Twitter if they would be strict with a suitcase that was a half-inch too big:

And United replied that they are strict to make sure carry on baggage fits in the overhead bins.

Jimmy was forced to check his bag because the wheels make it too big:

So their policy is to enforce the carry on size limit. Handles and wheels do count when measuring luggage.

When flying with United luggage is measured mainly with the bag sizer which checks which bags you can and can’t bring on board.

Sizing Up The Sizer

Here’s the thing…

The actual measurements of the sizer are 23 x 15 x 10 inches for the carry-on and 18 x 11 x 9 for the personal item. This was true last time I checked so don’t shoot me if it’s wrong.

This would indicate that despite the drama in the video above United are actually quite relaxed about their carry on policy.

It’s usually when you are traveling on a Basic Economy ticket that they become more strict about hand baggage.

Show them the money and they are not so strict. Buy the cheapest ticket and they will try to squeeze every dollar they can from you.

Wait… I Thought Checking Luggage At The Gate Was Free

There is a lot of confusion surrounding these issues.

United, like most airlines, now charge for checked luggage.

This makes a lot of people try to fly with carry on only bags.

Then they discover that the overhead bin space isn’t large enough for all those carry on bags.

So they ask people to volunteer to check their carry on bag at the gate.

If this happens you shouldn’t be charged to gate check you carry on with United.

But if you are being made to gate-check your hand luggage because you didn’t pay for a ticket that included hand luggage or that your hand luggage is more than 1 inch larger than their official size…

Then you will be charged a fee for checking your carry on!

The Verdict

Despite the drama caused by the Basic Economy ticket, United are not very strict about carryon luggage.

They are becoming more stricter as they try to compete with budget airlines on price.

If you are paying for a full-price ticket you are unlikely to have any trouble from United if your bag is slightly larger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

If you are flying on a basic economy ticket then you don’t get to bring a carry on and United is strict if your personal item exceeds the maximum dimensions.

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