There are travelers who'd sooner walk to their destination than check luggage. (Carryon-only folks, you know who you are.) And that group fears nothing more than the moment after boarding when the flight crew circulates with those dreaded neon tags demanding of anyone who'll make eye contact (and those who don't dare): "You'll have to check your carryon because we have a full flight."
When that happens, do you have the right to say no? Alas (spoiler alert): No.
United spokesperson John Smith explained to Business Insider that, "customers are not guaranteed [an overhead] space. However, if the carryon bag is within the size limits, we will gate check the item free of charge."
How generous, you may be thinking.
As frustrating as it can be, the math makes it a frequent necessity: According to the Wall Street Journal, a flight like a Boeing 737-900 fits only 125 rolling carry-on bags, but it has seats for 180 people. Some people are also sticking their personal items in the overhead bins instead of under their feet — despite instruction to the contrary — making even less space for fellow passengers.
So, what can you do to avoid having your carry-on luggage checked at the boarding gate? First, try to find yourself among the early boarding groups, for instance by paying a premium for the privilege.
Even then, according to the Washington Post, you may face difficulty: Someone carrying on medical equipment could bump your carryon luggage if the space is required.
A frequent traveler told Business Insider, only "suckers" give in and let flight crew force check their luggage, urging people to "be strong" and resist. If you're a rebel, you can try to opt-out of handing over your luggage to be gate checked and try to find a place for it — but you will likely upset the staff and cause a delay in the boarding process.
Most likely, there is nothing you can do in such a situation — and therefore you should always be ready for the possibility with as much grace as possible.
You are entitled to a "personal item" no matter what — so it's good to put your laptop, camera, and essentials into this bag so you can hand over your carryon if necessary without needing to sort through all your luggage again.
Beyond that? Good luck you don't catch a glimpse of those neon tags on your next flight.
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