A Redditor by the username robbietravels posted a video of a United Airlines baggage handler absolutely phoning it in and watching nonchalantly as gate-checked bags fly off a chute and onto the tarmac below. Check it out:
What is gate checking?
Gate-checking bags is a common practice, especially on small regional jets, where passengers are asked to leave their carry-on luggage at the end of the jet bridge. The bags are then loaded into the cargo hold of the aircraft.
While it’s mostly an unavoidable practice to optimize cabin space, I’ve tried to avoid having my bags gate-checked ever since I saw this exact same thing happen before a Delta flight from Chicago to Minneapolis last year.
Though it can often be hard to avoid, I typically take the following precautions to mitigate the risk of having a bag gate checked.
- Board relatively early: the surest way to avoid having your bag gate checked is by boarding early when overhead bin space is still available. I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to be within the first two-thirds of people to board.
- Avoid regional jets: Certain Embraers and CRJs, as well as other small regional jets, tend to have less overhead bin space per passenger. When booking a ticket, you’ll be able to see which type of plane is flying your route and can often find flights on larger planes for the same price.
- Don’t use a roller bag: For whatever reason, roller bags seem overwhelmingly targeted for gate checking. Even when my soft duffel bag has been substantially larger than roller bags being gate checked, I won’t be stopped.
- Invest in hardshell luggage: This is good insurance if your bag is gate checked (or checked), and will do a better job protecting your belongings than a soft-sided bag.
- Remove fragile items: Once you know your bag will be gate checked, remove any fragile items (as well as medication or anything valuable in case the bag is lost).
To be clear, I don’t think this is representative of most United baggage handlers, and I’m not claiming that your bag will be treated any better if it’s checked at a check-in counter. I do think, however, that these chutes should either be modified to prevent bags from flying off or phased out entirely. More generally, there should be far more oversight when it comes to how airlines treat baggage.
It’s not unreasonable for passengers to expect their belongings will be treated with a modicum of care, especially when they never intended for their bag to be checked in the first place.