How To Make It More Difficult For Airlines To Force You To Gate Check Your Carry On Bag

We all know that putting stuff in the overhead is the slowest part of getting everyone loaded into and settled onto the plane. On top of that, more and more people are bringing as much carry-on baggage as possible in an attempt to avoid baggage fees.  Airlines, in turn, are sometimes limiting who can bring what carry on bags intended for the overhead. I’ve already experienced this with Delta (when they wound up breaking something I had in my carry on bag that they insisted I check at the gate). I’d also bet you anything it was the same thing with the surly gate agents I experienced on American (this one and then this one) who tried to make me gate check my carry on bag.

However, a reader of ours recently told me how he and his wife rarely have to gate check their carry on baggage, regardless of airline or what loading group they’re in.

It’s admittedly not the reason you would want to not have to gate check your bag. But if you’re traveling with essential medication or medical equipment that you must (or really want) to have near you at all times (or not worry that it’ll be lost, or that something will be broken), telling that to the gate agent might be enough to allow you to keep your carry on bag with you.

So let’s say you have a CPAP, breast pump, large quantity of meds (generally more than just bottles. I mean vials and syringes), IV bags, nebulizer, a spare oxygen concentrator, ventilator, respirator, home dialysis equipment, etc. If you’re requested to gate check the bag, let the gate agent know that you have urgent and important medical equipment in that bag and can’t risk checking it for medical safety reasons, you might get out of having to check it.

As our reader wrote, “Generally, the issue I have to not gate-check something that would be terribly inconvenient (or catastrophic) to not have arrived with you.”

A few things to keep in mind:

  • This probably wouldn’t work for something small that would fit in your handbag (i.e. I have an asthma inhaler that’s about 3.5″ x 1″ x 1.5″ – I wouldn’t try this technique with something so small).
  • Depending on the airline, some medical equipment can be brought into the cabin as a bag above and beyond your regular carry on. This means that if your CPAP is in its own bag, you could technically be asked to remove it from your carry on luggage and keep it with you, while gate checking the luggage.
  • There nothing stopping the gate agent from being a pill. An example is here.
  • As always, it’s best to know what your carrier says about flying with assistive devices, medical equipment and medications. A quick search for NAME OF AIRLINE and ASSISTIVE DEVICES (or MEDICAL EQUIPMENT or MEDICATION) should be able to help

There’s no guarantee that this technique will work – as always, it all depends on the gate agent, how full that overhead actually is, etc. But it might work. And since you should always pack with the plan to keep all medications and medical equipment in carry-on bags anyway, it’s worth a shot to pack accordingly anyway.

*** Our thanks to Jonathan B. for sharing his experiences with us

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

7 thoughts on “How To Make It More Difficult For Airlines To Force You To Gate Check Your Carry On Bag”

  1. I was hoping the answer was going to be telling the gate agent that your carry-on was filled with lithium batteries.

    1. The answer that works for me is to use a backpack instead of a roller. They pretty much always choose people with traditional luggage to gate check even when the backpack is just as large.

  2. Didn’t airlines used to let you pay for extra insurance to protect valuables when you checked your bags? Can’t you just say OK to checking your bags but ask for the forms to fill out for the extra insurance, which they will never have a the gate

    1. For people who bring medical equipment, it’s not a matter of getting reimbursed if they lose your bags or break what’s in them. It’s a matter of, for example, making sure you have your full supply of home dialysis equipment with you while you’re in India. Lots of medical equipment is only available via prescription and/or they’re plain out just not going to have the appropriate equipment in some places where people travel, period. In the link I included regarding gate agents who are pills, the daughter chose to not fly because the risk of not having her stuff with her wasn’t worth it; she could die without it.

  3. Hi…I’d love to gate check but I have a CPAP, a backup lithium CPAP battery, a laptop, two iPads, and a lithium mobile charger in my bag. (True story.)

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