How Strict Is United About Carry On Size?

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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 carryon size.

Let’s jump right in!

Taking A Slightly Too Big Carry On On United Airlines

Officially the United Airlines carry on size limit is 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

You can also bring a 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 generous language 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. Especially if someone is flying with a Basic Economy ticket that only permits a personal item.

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!

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

Sizing Up The Sizer

In sharp contrast to the economy ticket sage…

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 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 carryon only bags.

Then they discover that the overhead bin space isn’t large enough for all those carryon 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 then 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.

But 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.

What do you think? Are United strict with their carry on policies? Do you often see oversized bags getting past the boarding gate?

Let us know in the comments!