Suggestion for the final boarding group

How many of you have sat on a plane while the final group boards and easily finds places for all of their carryons? Now, how many of you have sat on a plane, waiting to depart, as flight attendants frantically gate check bag after bag? Frequent fliers know the second scenario is way more likely, and much more frustrating. The introduction of bag fees several years ago, plus the general increase of plane tickets, has led to a situation where no one wants to pay $50 round trip to check their bag.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here. When you check in, take a look at your boarding pass. If you are in the final boarding group, check your bag. It will make things way less stressful for you (and everyone else on the plane!) if when you board you just sit down in your seat, as opposed to getting on the plane, fighting your way to the back for the last spot in the overhead bin, realizing it’s full, then fighting your way back to the front so the flight attendant can check it.

If you’re concerned about cost (which is the main reason non- frequent fliers don’t check their bags), there are a few ways to check your bag for reduced cost or free. Most (if not all) of the legacy carriers have a credit card that allows one free checked bag. Often if you pay online, prior to arriving at the airport, you can get a reduced rate. And of course, one option is to fly carriers (like Southwest) that don’t charge for checked bags. (Seriously—if you are a non-frequent flier on Southwest, CHECK YOUR BAG!! There is NO reason not to.)

I know what you’re going to say. “Road Warriorette doesn’t understand! She gets to board first and never has trouble finding room for her bags!” But I get it, I do! Checking your bag will just make things way easier for you if you are in the final boarding group. And if everyone does it, it will be way easier for the whole plane.

For those of you on a budget, who are never going to check your bag unless it’s free, please, PLEASE make sure that it fits in the overhead bin space! Also, as a commenter mentioned below, make sure you put your smaller carry-on under the seat in front of you. If everyone did that it would also save a TON of room.

Readers, what do you think? Should people in the last boarding group pre-emptively check their bags?


  1. I would just ask the attendant at the desk if the flight is going to be full. If it is, I’m sure they’d gate-check the bag for free before you attempt to get on the plane. It sucks to have to wait for your bag but it’s either that or do the carry-on shuffle to the back and to the front again like described above, only to gate-check it anyway.

  2. I have to say that I never check a bag (unless it’s the last leg of a trip and my bag is too heavy) for several reasons:

    1. I hate waiting at baggage claim. I’ve waited an hour before. I love just getting off the plane and leaving the airport.

    2. I don’t trust airlines to not lose my bag (I know the stats and that it is rare, but knowing my luck it will happen to me at a very inopportune time)

    3. The cost.

    I also hate being told to preemptively gate check my bag. The last time I gate-checked, there were several open bins around my seat. I also boarded a flight (in the first boarding group) stowed my luggage, then had to deplane due to a mechanical failure. We switched gates and re-boarded the same model plane. Again, I was in the first boarding group, and told that my bag was too big. When I pointed out that it fit on the previous plane, the gate agent said she doubted that. Needless to say, I was very frustrated after a five-hour delay that I had to waste another 45 minutes at baggage claim while the rest of my party waited.

    All this being said–sometimes it’s a necessary evil, and I try not to let it bother me. It just irks me when I’m forced to gate-check unnecessarily. Rant over 🙂

  3. It’s quite the Catch-22, don’t you think? A lot of people with status or alternative methods for boarding early get to stow luggage. However it’s these same people who also get the free checked bag(s) that don’t take advantage of that service.

    With regards specifically to the plea to check bags…let me turn this on its head for shits and giggles. What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander. Perhaps those with status and the ability to check bags for free should do so preemptively to allow the people who would normally have to pay for check bags to use the overhead bin space?

  4. No. The airline is in the best position to enforce or waive bag fees. If overheads are full/flights delayed due to customers’ predictable behaoral reaction to the fees…well, the it’s not the customers’ fault. I like when gate agents proactively waive checked bag fees when they anticipare delays. Good sense.

  5. @IPG and Laurel, you guys bring up good points. The main reason I don’t check my bag if I can avoid it is because of the time factor. But, for example, on American it’s the people in front who board last. And chances are, any available overhead space will be in the back. This means that they would have to either wait until everyone has deplaned to go get their bag, or fight their way back (which isn’t easy). Either way will take them a longer time.

    Although honestly, there is still room on the plane for most bags. It’s just that final group that has a hard time.

    Another thought–if you can tell by your seat that you are going to be in the last boarding group (i.e. on american, if you’re up near the front) try to move your seat around to an earlier group, like farther back?

  6. I’ve been on a few flights (all on Alaska, I believe) where the gate agents offered priority boarding to those who gate-checked their bags. One might ask what’s the point of early boarding if you’re not gunning for overhead bin space? As someone who likes to sleep on planes and conks out as soon as I hit the seat though, I think it’s a nice touch and a win-win for people who want to hang on to their carry-ons.

  7. I don’t think those people in a later boarding group should be unfairly penalized and expected to pay to check in a bag. I am usually in group 1 or group 2, and I hardly even notice the extra delays around gate checking bags once I’m in my seat. Those minor delays means extra time on my phone, which I will have to soon shut down for a few hours at a minimum. Until airlines change policies to only one checked bag, people should be able to bring on what is allowed and then if the situation arises that there is no more carry on space, deal with it accordingly. I’ve never experienced a ridiculously long delay simply because of a gate checked baggage issue – the delays I experience usually are from waiting in line for take off or “mechanical issues”.

    I do agree: PLEASE make sure your bag fits in the carry on space.

  8. on the last few flights i was on that were completely full, the gate agents offered to gate check bags for anyone in the last group for free. it doesn’t seem fair to expect that last group to always pay for checking their bags. the airlines created this problem, and it’s up to the airlines to solve it.

    i did experience something new with boarding on american last time though. they let anyone who didn’t have a bag to put in the overhead bin to board right after priority seats. those people could go ahead and get seated without taking up time/space to stow luggage. it was confusing for people not paying attention to the announcements, but i thought it was a good effort to get people moving faster.

  9. If everyone has a carryon that conforms to published dimensions and only puts one bag each in the overhead compartment, there will be space for everyone. No need to force people to check bags (at their expense) and risk loss/delay/damage.

    If airlines just enforced existing rules, problem fixed. But as long as they don’t make everyone stick their carryon in the little dimension box and as long as they allow ***hats to put both their “personal item” and their carryon in the overhead bins, the problems you describe will continue. Making me pay extra so as not to inconvenience the people shoving their oversized bags, purses, laptop bags, etc. into the overhead compartments seems backwards to me.

  10. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree on this one, primarily b/c I am very conscious of the size of my carry-on (regulation) and have had gate agents force us to have things “checked through to my final destination” b/c of other people not following the rules. The result? Bags getting lost, arriving days later, etc. So I only check things in very rare circumstances.

    Now, if I need to “gate check” something (b/c the plane is too small to accommodate normal carryon baggage, bins full, etc) I don’t mind. Checking through to baggage claim is where things get tricky.

  11. @ Chris – Sorry but I’m not sure that your math works out. If memory serves, the average roller board is 14″ if put in, wheels first, on its back (vs. its side on the Dreamliner) for UA. If 3 people in the row have a 14″ standard rollerboard, that equates to 42″, while the pitch is betwee 31″ (regular economy) and 35″ (E+). As a result, you’re running a 6-11″ deficit per each side of a row (3 seats) where each passenger has a carry on.

    I hate to say it, but the airlines and DOT brought this upon themselves. Airlines charge baggage fees (for price conscious flyers), and DOT/Media report often embarassing lost checked baggage metrics. Of course anyone with a choice is going to prefer to keep their bag with them when faced with the alternative.

  12. Isn’t it unfair to ask those in the last boarding group to pay extra to check bags and wait for them in the baggage claim?

    Actually it would be much better if the elites started checking their bag. They get it for free anyway and they would also get their baggage quickly via priority baggage.

  13. I agree with above posters… Airlines first need to enforce already existing rules, especially the size, the number of items and, my pet peeve, put the smaller item under the seat in front of you, or better if you only have one and it fits under the seat, put it there! I have to witness this hundreds of times per year, some ****holes just don’t get it… Enough said.

    If everyone would be considerate, how many bags would have to be checked?

  14. A few points, mainly though, there are many planes on which there is NOT room for everyone to put up even 1 carry-on of normal carry-on size. As others have said, it is absurd to say that those in the last boarding group should pay to check their bags, and then have to wait at baggage claim and risk not getting their bags back.

    So a better system? (1) enforce bag size restrictions. (2) enforce the 1-bag overhead policy. (3) KICK PEOPLE OFF THE PLANE when they bring wedding dresses, large musical instruments, framed artwork, and lord-knows what else that clearly would not fit in their allotted overhead space. (4) Not allow anyone to use overhead space except directly over their seats. Now, the problem with all my suggestions is that it requires the flight attendants to act as enforcers, and they have plenty to do aside from that.

  15. Agree with those who say to enforce the one bag per person overhead. So many times I see people putting in shopping bags and other little bags that effectively rob someone of a space for a rollerbag. Those items should be place under the seat in front of you as a courtesy to other passengers, and, by extension, the flight attendants.

  16. Wouldn’t the problem be solved if they simply required people to use only the bin directly over their seats and one bag per person? Have one crew member making sure people don’t put their bags in the front bins and then walk to the back. My husband and I use non-wheeled eBags Motherlodes which fit easily into the overhead bins with room to spare for others.

  17. How about asking all the people who board earlier to not bring more than the allowable number of bags, not to bring bags which are too big and to use the underseat space as well. It’d be a nice change.

  18. I can almost swear checking the bag at the gate is free.

    Also, another alternative is to change boarding groups.

  19. Have to agree that penalized those who board last (i.e. having to check a bag) isn’t the solution – especially these days when there are fewer and fewer direct flights meaning much higher probabilities of lost bags.So, how to solve the problem?
    1. Enforce bag regs – if it doesn’t fit in the box, it’s gate checked.
    2. ONE personal item – that does not mean a large purse, shopping bag and diaper bag – can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this and have the person put ALL THREE in the overhead!
    3. No small bags (i.e. laptop bags, personal items, etc.) in overhead bins – those go UNDER the seat in front of you.
    If these simple rules were followed, everyone could get their carry on – on!!!

  20. Horrible. Not the responsibility of late boarders to pay to check.

    The solution is not to stress it. Just board and relax. Life is short and not worth stressing baggage. If it fits, great, if not, gate check for free.

    +1 that the real problem is the gigantic bags that in noway conform to carry on guidelines. I’ve never seen an agent refuse them…

  21. I agree with the need to enforce bag regulations — both FF and newbies are guilty of abusing size restrictions. I swear that on every flight, there is a FFer that *should know better*, and yet brings onboard a bag that is larger than my kitchen.

    I am 1K on United, yet still manage to play by the rules — why can’t other folks? I feel bad for Boarding Group 5 and 6, because the storage areas are always full by the time they board. That’s just not right…

  22. I was recently shopping with hubby for a carryon bag, and everywhere we looked, we *could not* find a bag that was within United’s carryon requirements – they were all 2-3″ more than the requirements. I have an older (like almost 20 years older) carryon that fits well within that requirement, yet holds more than hubby’s new bag.

    All this to say – manufacturers *also* need to keep the “carryon” bags within the majority of airlines’ requirements. It’s not necessarily the folks who bought them – although, they can check just as well as we can on the required sizes.

  23. A lot of commenters seem to miss the fact that if you gate check your bag, it is ALWAYS free. So no one is losing out on money.

    That said, I think Road Warriorette was completely wrong when she said the only reason not to check your bag is because you’d have to pay for it. As many commenters have pointed out, I don’t want to wait at baggage claim, nor do I want to take a chance on my stuff getting lost. I would gladly pay NOT to check my bag and to be able to board last and still put it over my seat. Unfortunately, I end up having to board first in order to ensure space.

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