There are few things more frustrating than packing a carry-on bag specifically to avoid having to check anything. It ensures that you will not be left without your belongs at your destination, especially if a tight layover is involved. So how do you avoid the dreaded gate check? Try these tricks to make sure your carry-on finds its way into the bin above your seat.
Select the Right Luggage
Traveling with the right luggage is the first key to avoiding a gate-checked bag. While having the appropriate size bag is an obvious way to keep an agent from taking your bag, there are ways of sneaking by with oversized carry-ons. Soft-sided luggage is a great option that will leverage your side of the conversation with a gate agent. Soft-sided luggage has the ability to compress and move in ways that hard-sided luggage does not. This means the luggage can fit into tighter spaces in an overhead compartment. As always, be polite and friendly when discussing this option with the gate agent to better your chances of keeping your bag with you.
Be aware, however, that if soft-sided luggage is checked, it is more susceptible to damage. If buying a new carry-on roller case, look for options that are a combination of soft- and hard-sided. Some have hard or re-enforced areas like the front and back, but soft sides and expansions. Many airlines issue Travelpro bags (like the Crew 11 spinner) to pilots and flight attendants for example, because they offer some flexibility when storage is tight, but are still built to last.
Consider a backpack as well like the Timbuk2 Never Check, which will fit in more spaces and under the seat while allowing you to move more quickly around those with rolling suitcases. The Never Check is even expandable if you're packing for a longer trip.
Try to be strategic and smart about how you handle your luggage when near gate agents as well. Keeping your bags on the opposite side of your body from the agent will block them from seeing the full size of the luggage, which skews the view of the size, often making it appear smaller than it is.
Try Strategic Booking
Try hedging the chances of a gate-checked bag by researching which zones board first. Random boarding is faster because it balances the number of people throughout the plane loading their overhead items which means even those sitting at the back can board earlier depending on their zone. Try to book a ticket in an early boarding zone according to the flight carrier. Be sure to check-in 24 hours ahead of your flight. This allows you to verify if a better seat — and therefore boarding time — is available. Do not forget to check again as you head to the airport.
Consider Packing Valuables
There are a myriad of items that an airline does not and cannot insure should a passenger have to gate-check a piece of luggage. These items include cash, medications, jewelry, camera equipment, important documents, art, computer equipment and other electronics. Such items are not easy to replace as they are expensive, fragile and sometimes unique, making them completely irreplaceable. This presents a liability issue for airlines, which means gate agents will shy away from making you gate check your bag. Damage to the items or the loss of them can be costly to their employer.
Just be prepared, however, because an agent might ask to see some of the valuable items to verify that the bag really does contain what you claim. Few gate agents, however, will really ask for proof — especially for sensitive things like prescription medications.