Too large for carry-on?
September 20, 2012 8:07 PM   Subscribe

How likely is it that Delta Airlines will accept my slightly-oversize backpack as carry-on?

I have a Gregory Z-pack internal frame backpack I'd like to take as my luggage on a couple of Delta flights. Planes involved are an Embraer 175, an Airbus A319, and an unspecified Canadair.

The backpack has a stiff internal frame which means it has dimensions of 24"x12" at best, which is a bit outside the 22"x14" specified by Delta.

How likely are they are to demand that I check it? I will bring a duffel I can use to protect it if they do, but I'd prefer if I can carry it on, or gate-check it. But if they're pretty likely to insist, I might as well bring a bit more equipment and get more out of my $25 checked baggage fee.

If it matters, its a trip from Peoria IL (PIA) to Missoula MT (MSO) and back.
posted by Hither to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
I don't know, but as a frequent traveler, I'd like to gently suggest that you also consider the impact on your fellow passengers. A huge bag takes up space that other people could be using in the overhead bins as well...
posted by primethyme at 8:11 PM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

It's not gonna fit on the commuter planes (the overhead bins are tiny) and you will gate-check it. In the Airbus it'll fit, but it may need to go in "sideways" from the way luggage usually goes in (e.g. wheels-first for a rollaboard). This will probably be OK since someone will have some narrow bag that can go in front of it, so that space isn't wasted, but it may be tight if you are a late boarder.

I don't think the gate agents are going to be sticklers for the two inches though.
posted by kindall at 8:18 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I, too, have a borderline carry-on-able pack. (I think mine is within the standards, but easily exceeds the limit when stuffed full.)

My approach is to not keep it too full, act nonchalant about it (especially WRT straining under a heavy pack), and be prepared to check it if there's a concern.

I have checked my pack without any protective outer bag, to no ill effect. I put the rain cover on backwards, which obscures all the dangly bits and bobs. I've checked it at least 4-5 times over the last couple years, and the rain cover has never fallen off in transit. Even when the pack is stuffed very full.

If you're really worried, maybe surrender to checking it before you leave for the airport and duct tape the rain cover in place. I've also seen people use those weird plastic wrap machines at the airport.
posted by Sara C. at 8:22 PM on September 20, 2012

I've never seen them make someone test their bag in the size tester thingy. At 2 inches over I doubt anyone will notice.
posted by scose at 8:24 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I fit my 60L framed backpack in a lot of planes this summer. I checked out your dimensions, and it's smaller than mine. I'm inclined to say that you'll be fine. Packs are squishy.
posted by semaphore at 8:24 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I fly Delta somewhat frequently and I have not seen them enforce the size of carryons lately, but sometimes they do. I've carried on an Eagle Creek backpack of similar proportions and not been hassled. But that's just my experience. You could easily run into a gate agent who plays strictly by the rules. Make sure the bag isn't bulging or has lots of stuff hanging off it, and it will probably pass muster. I'd try it, anyhow.

On the Embraer 175 and any Canadair, you are likely to be asked to gate-check your bag anyway. There isn't enough bin space on those planes for all of the bags, so they "pink tag" every bag and the ones that don't fit go in the cargo hold. You get the bag back as you get off the plane.

The A319 has bigger bins, but if you're not a frequent traveler then you'll be boarding late in the process. As such, they may check your bag for free, especially on a really full flight. They also frequently ask for volunteers to check bags before boarding starts if the flight is really full.
posted by cabingirl at 8:25 PM on September 20, 2012

I have seen flight attendants take someone's bag out of the overhead bin they were trying to jam it into and whisk it away for gate check. This was on an Embraer commuter jet, where the bins seem much tinier than on the equivalent size planes from other manufacturers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 PM on September 20, 2012

Your best bet to avoid paying to check it is to board at the last minute, all but guaranteeing that your bag will need to be gate checked (which is free). If you really need to have the bag with you for some reason, then you should board as early as possible and make sure there's a narrow bag in front of yours so that it doesn't look like it's a waste of space (even if that narrow bag is YOUR personal bag/briefcase/purse etc).
posted by telegraph at 8:34 PM on September 20, 2012

The old rule was 45 linear inches, which let you bring a bag that was slightly larger in one dimension so long as it was shorter in the other dimension. At the start of this year, Delta started using these metal boxes to check the size of your bag which enforced each dimensional limit. Generally, they don't ask you to check unless your bag is clearly way larger, although once in a while you will encounter a highly aggressive GA who is very officious about it. I'd say since you are only an inch or two over the size restrictions, you are highly likely to get through without incident, although you will have to gate check on the Canadaair RJ.

My rollaboard doesn't quite fit in the sizer when its full (it is perhaps an inch too fat when stuffed), but I've never been forced to check it over hundreds (probably thousands, sigh) of flights. I do have status and generally travel in first as a result, so I probably get more deferential treatment, but I still think the odds are low of getting hassled. Backpacks look "different" and so I judge that your odds are higher than mine, since mine is a standard looking roll aboard, but I still think the odds of getting harassed are pretty low. They generally have better shit to do.

To minimize your risk, try to board when the line is still quite busy. They are less likely to want to hassle you if it would back up the line. Boarding at the last minute is actually dangerous, because although it is true that they will have to gate check it, they can charge you if it is oversize, so they have more incentive to measure and they are probably not as busy. Plus scouring the plane to find suitable overhead space is a pain in the neck if they don't gate check it.

Be nice to the people if they do gate check, because they can pretty much decide to let you slide or not according to their mood. I doubt you will have any problem at the stations you mention, smaller places tend to have more chill agents. Your most likely spot to get hassled is whereever you change planes.
posted by Lame_username at 9:08 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

i don't think anyone will glance twice at your slightly larger bag.

on most flights i've taken in recent memory, almost everyone has a small rolling suitcase sized carry on (plus 'personal items' of sometimes rather large sizes)... and if the plane runs out of overhead bin space, the flight attendants will just check baggage for free. i have seen it happen over and over again. it makes me wonder why i bother paying to check my bag at all when there is clearly not enough room on the plane to accommodate 1 suitcase per person.

if i were you and knew my bag fit in the overhead compartment, i would take it on the plane - the worst case scenario if it doesn't fit is that you may annoy a flight attendant (i am irrationally afraid of them, myself).
posted by quiteliterally at 9:09 PM on September 20, 2012

I've flown Delta out of Peoria maybe half a dozen times, something like that.

You will not be able to bring the bag on the plane, but you will have absolutely no trouble gate-checking it. At the beginning of the jet-bridge there will be a Delta employee standing beside a large set of shelves for everybody's luggage. It'll be no big deal. I've never had any trouble bringing bags a few inches over through Peoria.
posted by dd42 at 10:01 PM on September 20, 2012

I've used Delta a few times and every time I went, it was a heavily booked flight so they did end up enforcing the rule.

I've seen people yell, scream and cry to try and get their bags on, but Delta never budged. If it's a busy flight, they have to make sure everything fits so they will make you check bags that are oversized.

I wouldn't risk it because it is such a hassle and it really depends on a number of circumstances that you can't possibly foresee.
posted by cyml at 11:15 PM on September 20, 2012

If it won't fit or if they are running out of space because the flight is full-ish, at the gate they will offer to check your bag for you for free.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:49 AM on September 21, 2012

What J.Wilson said: they'll do pink-tagged valet checks at the end of the jetway for the commuter flights, and if the A319 is full, they'll often provide a (free) fully tagged check-in at the gate for large carry-ons. I've never seen the bag-tester deployed at the gate -- my guess is that the gate agents can eyeball a carry-on to half an inch.

Carry-on creep is the inevitable consequence of checked-bag fees, and it just leads to longer boarding times and the need to check bags anyway.
posted by holgate at 6:24 AM on September 21, 2012

I would anticipate having to gate check it. Delta's boarding is really screwed up and it's basically a given that you'll end up in Zone 3 and they eventually realise that the people in the earlier zones with the massive bags have taken up all the space (but that's okay in their mind because basically you only get into Zone 1 or 2 by giving Delta more money) and will either start enforcing the size limit (though I swear their sizer boxes aren't the actual size of either the overhead or the rules) or asking for people to volunteer to gate check their bags.

Be warned that 'gate check' means two different things. On the Embraer and the Canadair, they'll be handing out 'gate check' tags to everyone with a carry-on that wouldn't fit under the seat. Then you retrieve your bag on the jetbridge (or tarmac) when you land. 'Gate checking' on the Airbus flight will result in your bag being checked normally (though they won't charge you). In principle, they check it through to your destination (so it'd be checked on the last leg) and you collect it from the baggage claim in Montana. Of course, I volunteered to check my bag this summer and arrived in Vermont with no bag. I saw the tag with BTV written on it, but it had gone to the baggage claim at LaGuardia rather than on my connecting flight.
posted by hoyland at 6:31 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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