No, My Carry On Bag Is NOT Too Big To Fit In The Overhead

by SharonKurheg

This happened a while back, before COVID (BC for short). I wonder how many of you can relate?

“Ma’am, Your carry on bag is too big to fit into the overhead. You’ll have to gate check it.” These were the words of the American Airline employee with the sourpuss as I gave her my boarding pass. “And you’re only allowed to have 2 bags. You’re carrying too many bags.”

“No I’m not,” I replied, standing my ground. “I only have 2 bags. This is a travel pillow I put behind my back so I can sit more comfortably on planes and this is the lunch I just bought from Hudson News, since our flight between Orlando and Phoenix is four hours long and you’re probably not going to give us more than a cookie. Neither of those ever count as a ‘bag.'”

She gave up on that strategy quickly enough (I’m pretty sure I caught some side-eye too) and retorted back, “Well, your carry on bag is still too big for the overhead. You’ll have to put it in the big sizer and if it doesn’t fit, you’ll have to gate check it.” I really think if she was 20 years younger, she would have put her hands on her hips, stomped her foot and said, “So THERE!” too.

Now, I know my carry on bag. It’s a Travelpro and I specifically bought that brand because it’s the one airline workers use specifically because
it fits in the overhead 99% of the time, even when it’s completely stuffed. I also know I had my pillow in there and it’s made of memory foam. So as much as it squishes down when I zip the bag, it also puffs up once the bag is fully closed. And even then, because it easily squishes down again, it still fits in normal airline overhead space.

I wasn’t going to give this one up without a fight (those of you who know me personally would automatically know this would be the case 😜). Besides knowing damn well it would fit, I also always have a full change of clothing in my carry on because I’ve had the experience of an airline losing my luggage for 24+ hours. Unfortunately, at four and a half feet tall, going out and buying a new outfit so I’d have clean clothes the next day just isn’t an option; I can’t wear brand new pants and shirts until they’re altered. So with the concern that my stuff could get sent to Phuket while I went to Phoenix, nope, I wasn’t giving up my carry on unless I absolutely had to. And in this case, I knew I shouldn’t have to.

She takes my bag from me and puts it on top of the bag sizer. “There, you see?” said she of the obviously not having a good day and wanting to take it out on others. “It doesn’t fit. You’ll have to gate check it.” (you could almost hear the “neener, neener, neener” that wanted to come out at the end of that sentence)

“I assure you that it will fit,” I replied to Miss Looks Like She Smelled Something Bad. “And you didn’t even try to fit it into the Size Check, you just laid it on top. There’s a foam pillow in there and if you bothered at all to push the suitcase in, the pillow would have given way. But don’t worry, I’ll just take the pillow out right here.” Which I did. And then, of course, the carry on bag pretty much slid into the Size Check with room to spare, and I was allowed on my way.

So there I was, my computer bag on my shoulder, pulling my 2-wheeled carry on, with a cylindrical shaped travel pillow, Hudson News bag with a roast beef sandwich, chips and a soda in it AND now my full-size pillow in my hands (and tucked under an elbow as needed), too. I wouldn’t say it was a struggle but…OK yeah, it was a struggle. Especially since I wanted to keep my pillow from falling onto the floor because my head’s on that when I sleep and who knows what’s in or on that airport carpet, right? Anyway, a few feet away, another American employee said, “Are you OK holding all of that?” I told her I’d be fine but it sure was a lot easier before her co-worker over there (I pointed with my eyes and a directional nod of my head) insisted my carry-on wouldn’t fit in the overhead so I had to take my pillow out. She said, “What? You have a Travelpro. Of course, it would have fit!” I’m not sure, but I think she rolled her eyes a little. 

As it turned out, there was a delay on the jet bridge so while we waited, I took the opportunity to stuff my pillow back into my carry-on.

The bag still fit in the overhead just fine.

Take THAT, Miss Sourpuss!

Oh, and by the way? The SAME THING happened a few months later. And it happened at the same flippin’ airport, on the same flippin’ airline! Here’s the story of what happened with THAT American gate attendant.

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Carroll Lee July 8, 2018 - 6:14 pm

Good one Sharon. Always know the rules and never put up with rude people. Being nice seems to be in short supply in the good old USA Today. Love your travel blog.

Britney June 2, 2020 - 7:34 pm

Yep same experience for me flying American into Boston my carry on is the same samsonite carry on everyone else on the plane had and they did the same to me i checked my bag after being forced to and sure enough landed in Boston and no bag they where extremely rude that’ll be the last time I fly American also not the first time they have lost my luggage hence why I didnt check them initially

Lisa Forck February 23, 2019 - 11:52 am

What was the exact size of your travel pro with wheels etc? I have pieces that are super close and wondered what AA sizers are really allowing.

SharonKurheg February 23, 2019 - 11:56 am

The actual dimensions were fine – it was because of my pillow that it was “too wide” in her eyes. But hold on and I’ll go measure it

SharonKurheg February 23, 2019 - 12:00 pm

Including wheels, hardware for wheels, handle, etc, 21.5 x 14.5 x 8 (the 8 – which expanded out to probably 10, but a “soft” 10, that could easily be squished back in because again, pillow – was the culprit. The rest of the bag fit fine)

Bob May 19, 2019 - 9:34 am

The carry on bag dilemma has been going on for me for many years. I have the SMALLESt bag – because it has wheels United flight attendants on the smaller crafts (CRJ’s, Embrar 145’s) tell me it wont fit. Then the next round is that it can be on because it has wheels, then if we get to a 3rd round it is the aircraft’s rules – IT FITS! Delta doesn’t have the same issue. I carry in my pocket the size dimensions, bag is always smaller, fits in every commercial aircraft I have been on. But, the fight continues. I almost had a canvas bag made to put the bag in so a flight attendant couldn’t see the wheels, isn’t that ridiculous?

Bob, Rickshaw Journey

Dustin May 19, 2019 - 10:17 am

Idk why but it seems like AA tries to start taking your luggage way before any other airline I fly. Just flew AA after a few years and I’ve never had my bag gate checked. Until the AA flight.

derek May 19, 2019 - 1:12 pm

Once I was on AA and they insisted gate checking in of carry on bags because the flight was too full. Baloney. In the confusion, I got inside the plane and found plenty of space to fit my bag.

Another time (several times), AA was a bag nazi and insisted on the sizers. Mine fit. Once mine had a little trouble and they insisted that it must slide easily with no effort. What are they trying to accomplish, convincing me to fly WN or DL or AS? If a bag is not abusively large, it will fit. Even if an inch larger, it won’t result in another bag being excluded from the overhead bin.

Points For Four May 19, 2019 - 6:06 pm

Has something similar happen at heathrow on a BA flight. Lets just call her the bag lady insisted that my luggage was to big to fit in the overhead, even though I it was designed to specifically to do just that. Then said bag lady quipped “You Americans and you large luggage” The irony was killing me because we’re flying on plane made in America and luggage was Victorinox which is Swiss (but probably made in China with everything else) and it was the same model of plane that we had flow in on with our carry on luggage in the overhead bin, so we knew it would fit. Needless to say it cost us about $100 to leave the country having to check our carry on luggage.

Joseph Meyer January 21, 2020 - 1:53 pm

My GF had a United Agent insist that she still had three carryon bags AFTER she had stowed her purse inside one of the other ones, and threatened not to allow her to board.

One way to avoid these rude, self-important martinets, so reminiscent of East German border guards, is to fly Southwest, whose employees seem to understand that their job is to assist travelers, not torture them.

Bob McGurty January 21, 2020 - 9:47 pm

It is a total power trip, I deal with it regularly, flying 100 – 200k a year worldwide. Sadly, the US is the only one that deals with this game though other countries will weigh carry on bags. But we have flight attendants and gat eagents who learn a mantra that roller boards don’t go on little planes – they ignore their own airline policies and the little metal box they have too. I even had one of the affiliate carriers to United (Trans state?) say that their baggage policies were different than United’s- my response was “Then quit calling yourself United – I boarded a United flight and am going by United’s policy – you’re welcome to have the Pilot come and tell me I am wrong” – she didn’t/ I have a soft roller board made by Eddie Bauer that isn’t much bigger than a back pack- we play cat and mouse, it has a side handle so I hold it like a soft briefcase when I board. Any more I tend to let them bag tag it and rip the tag walking down to board. If the attendant on the plane says something I tell her I’ll take it there if it doesn’t fit.

Bob McGurty, Rickshaw Journey

Serg February 1, 2020 - 9:06 pm

AA hubs Philadelphia and Dallas are notorious for this, just had this happen to me yesterday morning in Philadelphia. I couldn’t even defend myself because the gate guard/agent immediately took my seat number and proceeded to grab my bag and didn’t let me handle my bag after that. Trying to find an alternative airline now, truly tired of the angry AA gate agents.

Fg May 31, 2020 - 10:03 am

Why is the pillow not counted as another bag? In my eyes, you had four bags.

SharonKurheg May 31, 2020 - 2:03 pm

In hindsight, I also wondered why she didn’t “ding” me for bringing the pillow onboard separately after I took it out of my carry on. The bagged lunch and the pillow I was going to put behind the small of my back? Nah, that was just her on a power trip.

Bobbi June 2, 2020 - 9:49 pm

You should put the pillow in a space bag that doesn’t allow air to puff it up.

SharonKurheg June 2, 2020 - 11:02 pm

Ooooo…that’s smart! 🙂

Sandy June 2, 2020 - 6:59 pm

Did you know that gate agents can be personally fined for allowing bags that are larger than the carry-on size box or if you have too many? It doesn’t matter if it fits in the overhead. The rule is if it fits in the size box not in the overhead. Don’t assume that the agent was on a power trip. She could have been recently fined and didn’t want another one!

Tommy June 3, 2022 - 7:04 am

While I agree that often they are annoying about bags that DO fit. There are a LOT of people who take advantage and have more than 2 bags that aren’t just pillow or lunch. People with a backpack, a carry on, a large shopping bag and then a big purse, etc etc.

joseph a sanders jr. June 2, 2020 - 8:01 pm

This is a consistent problem with American Airlines. They are hands down the worst airline. Some of the people that work there are so unhappy that they are downright mean to customers.

Kafka June 4, 2020 - 12:22 pm

Being 21″ taller than you, I’ll gladly lift that bag into the overhead if you put mine under the seat in front of you. Gives you somewhere to rest your feet so they don’t dangle. Teamwork functions better than grumpiness!

SharonKurheg June 4, 2020 - 6:15 pm

Ha! You’re on! LOL!

Mike January 2, 2022 - 12:50 pm

What good is their bag check devise with the many different plane types AA fly? They seem to check(hassle) customers when they ask for people to gate check bags and don’t get enough. Orlando, and O’hare where AA seems to staff 3 or 4 gate agents seem to be the places I see the most baggage hassles while boarding..Don’t fly other airlines unfortunately

Kevin Courtney January 2, 2022 - 3:23 pm

I do not feel sorry for your plight.
All to often, I see folks carrying on ‘tons of luggage’ at the expense of other travelers. The gate agents do not want to be luggage police and the flight attendants do not want to be the mask police. In the future, act fairly.

SharonKurheg January 2, 2022 - 3:26 pm

Well, of course. Except there was nothing “unfair” about what I was carrying onto the plane.


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