To check or not to check?
January 17, 2008 12:29 AM   Subscribe

Will Southwest Airlines count my messenger bag as a "personal type item" or as another carry-on item?

I'm flying Southwest from Chicago to Phoenix for three days early next month. Southwest allows one bag up to 10x16x24 inches as well as one "personal-type item" which includes "purses, briefcases, cameras, food containers, or laptops (case included)". I am going to be packing my clothes in a small rolling suitcase, which easily fits the carry-on size limits. I also usually carry a messenger bag with my laptop, MP3 player, camera, and a couple of books. It is one of the medium messenger sized bags, about the size of a briefcase, and smaller than many backpack-type laptop cases.

Will I be able claim the suitcase as a carry-on item and the messenger bag as my personal item? Or will I be forced to check the suitcase? I know that it might come down to a particular screener or gate agent making an on-the-spot decision, but has anybody had any recent experience with a situation like this, especially with Southwest?
posted by indyz to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Best answer: I always fly with a messenger bag and a small suitcase, and I've never ever encountered a problem. Occasionally on very small flights, they will have you psuedo-check your larger bag at the gate. But they then carry it right down to the cargo hold, and then take it right back up when you get off, so there is no chance of it getting lost in airport hullabaloo. To be fair, this all comes from AirTran, Delta, JetBlue, and United flights, but I assume it's exactly the same thing.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:38 AM on January 17, 2008

Best answer: i don't think you will have a problem at all. i almost always fly with a carry-on suitcase as well as a large tote bag and have never had a problem getting on with both items.
posted by violetk at 12:40 AM on January 17, 2008

Thirding everyone else. I also carry a messenger bag in addition to a carry-on suitcase and I've never encountered a problem. I've even been able to pull off the carry-on suitcase, messenger bag, and a pillow. I've flown Delta, American Airlines, and United most recently.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 12:49 AM on January 17, 2008

Will the messenger bag fit under the seat in front of you? If so, you're golden. If it's too big for that, and the plane's really full, it's conceivable they'd be looking for all the room they could find and ask you to gate-check the rollybag. Odds are all will be groovy, however.
posted by mumkin at 12:53 AM on January 17, 2008

I have flown on 11 Southwest flights since September of last year (including Southwest out of Chicago and Phoenix) with a backpack and fairly large messenger bag crammed full as my carry-on and personal item and never had a problem. It's definitely pushing the amount of things you can bring as carry-on luggage, but I've never even gotten so much as a dirty look. So long as the personal item fits under the seat in front of you, I wouldn't anticipate having any difficulties. Happy and safe travels to you!
posted by after_hours at 12:58 AM on January 17, 2008

What you describe is how I usually travel. The last plane I flew on was Southwest, and it wasn't that long ago. You will be fine. You don't say whether you're male or female and I didn't look it up, but even as a male, if it's briefcase sized, you're fine. Even if they did get frosty, don't say it's a messenger bag--say it's a laptop case. That's explicitly allowed under their guidelines that you've quoted and you're carrying a laptop in it, so you're gravy.
posted by librarylis at 2:18 AM on January 17, 2008

The actual human agent on the scene has a great deal of leeway here. Riffing from what Librarylis just said, I have had pleasant little debates at the boarding desk when I'm carrying a normal carryon as well as some other item (briefcase, backpack, messenger bag, whatever).

My usual response is that whatever the object is, I call it "my purse" and sort of dare them to correct me without calling out every woman in line.
posted by rokusan at 3:27 AM on January 17, 2008

I may be the last person left who doesn't try to carry on as much as possible, checking all but my laptop bag regardless of the others' size, but just about every other traveler I see carries exactly what you're proposing. You'll be fine.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:17 AM on January 17, 2008

Ditto everyone else. I almost always bring a messenger bag stuffed with laptop, books, and an extra sweater in addition to my 'official' carry-on bag.
posted by bassjump at 4:49 AM on January 17, 2008

I may be the last person left who doesn't try to carry on as much as possible...

If you fly 60 times a year, and the airlines' luggage-success rate is 95 percent, you lose three bags per year. After you lose a couple, you learn to carry everything that matters.

I hate it, though, and try to travel light anyway, because I hate dragging my crap around, but it beats spending two days buying emergency clothing in a strange city.
posted by rokusan at 5:18 AM on January 17, 2008

Best answer: Southwest truly does not care unless you're egregiously in violation of their rules. If you're in boarding group C or are very late for the plane, the overhead space may be full and you'll have to gate-check the suitcase. I can't remember but I think Southwest will have that item brought back up with the strollers and returned to you upon exiting the plane.

Across all airlines, the first person who cares how much stuff you have is going to be the gate agent and the worst thing that's going to happen is that one of your bags is going to be gate-checked. Often that means having to retrieve the checked item from baggage claim. Make sure to mention to the gate agent or flight attendant checking the bag if you have a transfer. The thing to avoid would be having hugely breakable items in both your bags.

To answer the actual question, messenger bag and suitcase are never going to cause you a problem unless you have a purse or backpack or whatever in addition. The standard business traveler gear is a rolling suitcase and a briefcase. I've watched tens of thousands of people board hundreds of flights on Southwest (and Continental and ATA and American, etc.) with those pieces of carry-on luggage and nobody has ever even been questioned.
posted by MarkAnd at 5:18 AM on January 17, 2008

I have not flown SouthWest, but every flight I have ever been on allows 2 carry-ons. Purse, messenger bag, laptop bag, etc. counts as one. On a full flight, they may ask you to check the bigger one as you board the plane.

Has anyone said that yet? Why, yes, I think they have. But I need to feel like I contributing to the betterment of society today, so between this answer and donating $20,000 to Habitat for Humanity on lunch, I think I'll be ok.
posted by The Deej at 5:27 AM on January 17, 2008

there is a massive chance that the only person caring will be the one checking you in. have a buddy hold on to it for a moment or use the self-checkin to get a boarding pass.

btw: you can actually make it through with not one or two but three bags if one of them holds a camera. I am serious. I tried it and it worked.
posted by krautland at 7:45 AM on January 17, 2008

I would suggest checking in online beforehand, and getting there early - that will help you get in an early boarding group and increasing your chances of getting overhead space for your suitcase.
posted by radioamy at 9:02 AM on January 17, 2008

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