Stuck In Mexico Without Any Bags Thanks To Gate-Checked Carryon

Edwin’s wife flew to Mexico last week, toting only her carry-on luggage. United Airlines personnel made her gate-check the suitcase, telling her that it was too big and that she would definitely get it back when she landed. She hasn’t seen her suitcase since, and suspects it might have been stolen. United, as of yesterday, refused to give Edwin or Mrs. Edwin any answers.

On Wednesday, my wife flew to Mexico, and was instructed to gate check her carry-on bag because the regional jet was too small to have her regulation-size bag in the cabin. Surprise! The bag wasn’t waiting for her in Mexico. After making sure with an employee that her bag was not at the airport or on the aircraft she filed a delayed baggage claim form (case #[redacted]) with the CSA, who told me to contact the toll-free number the next day.

The following day (Thursday May 3) she called the toll-free line and spoke with an agent who, after some checking, assured me that my bag had been located and would be placed aboard the daily flight that evening.

It’s not Sunday, five days later and there has been no word or movement from United. Every time we make an inquiry, they just tell us to call back later or check the website. Asking their twitter customer service account, emailing and calling hasn’t help.

She traveled only with carry-on luggage and only gate checked it because the attendant promised she would pick it up planeside immediately after the flight landed. It was NOT oversized and has every bit of her clothing and work supplies inside.

Please, if there is any information you can give me to help reach someone who gives a damn at United, I would greatly appreciate it and would be willing to do something in return.

Our normal contact at United is no longer with the company, so all we can offer for now is that United has proven responsive to executive e-mail carpet bombs in the past.


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  1. Captain Spock says:

    I hate to say it, as this might have happened in the USA as well, but there is a lot of crime in Mexico.

    • Conformist138 says:

      The bag vanished or was left behind in the US. She only found out it was missing when she got to Mexico.

      • HalOfBorg says:

        Could have gone missing on either end.

        • Captain Spock says:

          That’s what my thought was too, I know the US side loses a lot of bags too, but being gate checked usually means it is right there near the plane, correct? The checked baggage would have been removed by Mexican workers, and perhaps there was a laptop among her “work supplies” that would have been stolen.

          Shouldn’t everything be in a bar coded system so they know immediately if something is missing and can determine which end it was lost on?

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            I’ve never flown through Mexico before but up until recently traveled a lot for work, in some very impoverished areas. Oddly enough, we had more problems with luggage theft and pilferage in the US and western Europe than anywhere else.

            In the developing world, even a menial job at a major, international corporation is coveted, and people don’t do anything to jeopardize it.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      When I was a baggage handler most stolen item incidents happened at the point of departure. Bags sit around longer (on arrival there’s a rush to get them to the carrousel) and victims will be far away before they discover the theft. Early check in bags were a favorite and gave more opportunity for a leisurely inspection.

    • mangochunks says:

      Once I left my laptop on the airplane that had landed in Cancun and when I went to the lost and found, it was there. Why? Because an honest Mexican worker turned it in.

  2. Kisses4Katie says:

    I am so so tired of these airline stories. This poor lady!! When the hell is something going to change about the industry? I have not flown since 2004, but stories like these are certainly not making me hurry up to try again.

    • AldisCabango says:

      Nothing will change until airline start losing passengers because they have started making other travel plans that do not involve flying.

  3. dork says:

    I bought a carry-on bag that looks larger than it really is, but I specifically bought to fit under the seat of the smaller regional jets that service my airport. More than once I’ve been told that I needed to gate-check that bag. I let the agent tag the bag, but I take it on to the airplane anyway, and stuff it under the seat in front of me. Once I’m sure that it will fit with no issues, I take the tag off. I’ve never had to sheepishly give it back to the attendant and tell them it didn’t fit, but at least if I had to, it was already tagged.

    Not that it helps Edwin at all, but I figured I’d share anyway….

    • buddyedgewood says:

      I don’t know about others, but I think that’s a fantastic idea and would certainly like to know the brand and model of that bag you bought! Thanks in advance!

  4. skitzogreg says:

    This all started happening when United started breaking guitars.

    That’s right. That song will now be in your head…all…fucking…day.

  5. David in Brasil says:

    Airlines provide a disincentive ($$) to check luggage, then they complain that turnarounds take too long because of all the carry-ons. They can’t have it both ways. Checked bag fees should be illegal.

    • StarKillerX says:

      Actually all they need to do to resolve the issue is enforce the restrictions on carry ons since it’s not the regulation carry ons that cause most of the issue and instead it’s the bags which shouldn’t have been allowed on in the first place.

      • ianmac47 says:

        From a regulatory perspective its probably just easier for the federal government to issue specific requirements for what is included in the price of a ticket. While this would only cover flights originating in the United States, that is probably a large enough number to create a critical mass.

      • Tim says:

        I rarely see people try to bring on oversize carryons. Airlines have no reason not to block oversize carryons, so they do it often.

        So no, I don’t think oversize carryons are the problem.

        • tinmanx says:

          I see it every time I fly, people with bags larger than my checked bag carrying it on. Maybe it’s a jetblue thing.

        • OSAM says:

          Every. Single. Time. I travel fairly light (small camera bag, small backpack with laptop, chargers, etc). I always see people with “carry-on” suitcases that do NOT fit under the seat, are a VERY tight deal in the overheads (where they dont belong) and easily outweigh any checked bags I may have had. These things are full-fledged rolling cases.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I tend to just ship luggage via UPS or FedEx when we travel, so I like getting a discount for not having any baggage.

  6. sirwired says:

    Just as a note, with many regional jets (namely 1-2 seating ERJ’s), nearly EVERY decent-sized carry-on needs to be gate-checked. Any bag that won’t fit underneath the seat is also too big for the overheads.

    • thomwithanh says:

      don’t forget 2-2 CRJ’s and even E-170’s and E-190’s, I’ve had to gate check on all of them

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      When I fly those out of my tiny airport, they automatically check EVERYONE’S bag at the gate. We get them back when we change planes; so far I’ve not had any problems. I carry all my important stuff (all electronics, purse innards, medicine, etc.) in a backpack that fits under the seat or in the overhead on all the smaller aircraft. The only thing in my suitcase or duffel is clothes and shoes and my little quart bag.

      I wish they’d give us one free checked bag back at least, or lower the fee. It’s getting ridiculous, charging for it and then not having room to bring even a regulation-sized carry-on.

  7. Raekwon says:

    I hate it when that happens. I’ve flown almost every size of regional plane and bought my carry-on specifically to fit all plane shapes and sizes. Every single time I board I get told it isn’t going to fit. I go through the motions of putting that stupid tag on just to avoid argument and then stow it in the bin with no problems whatsoever. I don’t have to cram it or anything. Fortunately my only horror story with forced gate checking was my bag getting trashed and a few small things broken.

  8. oldgraygeek says:

    Of course the “forced gate check” bags get stolen: they’re the most likely ones to contain actual valuables…

    • katarzyna says:

      That is a very good point. I’ll have to keep that in mind next time I fly.

    • oldwiz65 says:

      The baggage people know that smart people keep any valuables in their carryons, so it’s a huge target for thieves. I think that next time I travel I will get a smaller bag to carry just the stuff that’s absolutely vital to me, like my medications and laptop.

  9. shamowfski says:
  10. tinmanx says:

    I usually only carry on my backpack of electronics. The bins always get filled by people with giant carry ons that should have been checked that they start gate checking, except for backpacks that is. I don’t even try to put my jacket in the overhead bin, there’s no room. Just my experience with the once or twice that I fly a year.

  11. travel_nut says:

    I was told once that I would have to gate check my carryon. I had specifically placed my valuables and breakables in the carryon so there was no chance of them getting lost/stolen out of my luggage. I had my Wii and a hand-blown glass vase in there, among other trip souvenirs. The gate agent told me I had to gate check it, and I told her no way. Finally I let her put the gate check tag on it and just boarded the plane with it anyway. It fit under my seat just fine–it was a smallish messenger bag–and I had no further issues.

  12. kobresia says:

    I really do not understand why the airlines don’t enforce size limits on carry-on bags that make it possible for each passenger to have enough room for a standard carry-on bag. Anything larger, they could hold and force-check if there wasn’t room after the smaller standard-size bags.

    Then again, there’s the room under the seat. That doesn’t hold much, but it would make sense to have at least one bag of critical supplies that could be detached and stowed under the seat even if a larger bag had to be checked.

    Hopefully she had a laptop and lots of expensive gear in there, since the airlines have to pay out for losses in force-checked bags, maybe if they get taken to the cleaners enough, they’ll fix their shit.

  13. cromartie says:

    if there is any information you can give me to help reach someone who gives a damn at United

    Someone who gives a damn at United? Surely you jest.

  14. VintageLydia says:

    I never bring a carry on that won’t fit under the seat. I have a small book bag that fits my laptop and other electonics plus a book or two for take off and landing (because e-ink readers are apparently still verbotim :/) and it still has plenty of room for the normal purse accessories. My husband does the same but he he’ll put it overhead if there is room. He’s 6’3″ so any foot room he can get, he’ll take, but he can suffer for a few hours if he needs to.

  15. nikalseyn says:

    First of all, you should know enough to check to see what kind of plane you will be flying. Anyone with any common sense knows you cannot bring a large carry on aboard a small regional jet. Also, people like to try to bring “carry ons” which anyone can see are not small carry ons, but just small suitcases. Then they want to store them above MY head!
    It is apparent this flight originated stateside bound for Mexico. Or, the first leg of it originated here. There was an article a month or so ago reporting on the large amount of stolen bags at Kennedy International. This has become a huge problem for the airlines. If it is on the increase in New York, it will be happening big time at other airports.

  16. ZenListener says:

    After Delta tried their very, very best to get me to miss my own father’s funeral I have sworn to never fly again.

    Reading stories likes this makes me feel that much more comfortable in my choice.

  17. Mike says:

    I don’t travel much anymore, but I always use a soft wardrobe bag. I can fit it in even when the overheads are packed. I hate checking bags, period.

  18. evilpete says:

    Gate checked luggage is “tagged” by the flight attendant by hand with the destination airport and thus there is more of a chance of an error can be made ( as opposed when luggage it checked at ticketing/checkin where the luggage tags are printed long with your boarding pass.

  19. moderndemagogue says:

    And this is why you don’t gate check your bags. I fly NYC to LAX, which is very popular with carry-ons, and no one ever tries to mess with my bag. The one time they were telling people they were out of space, I politely but firmly said “it stays with me” and went on anyway and found a spot for it. If you get talked into checking it, that’s on you.

  20. Snakeophelia says:

    What I don’t see in the story is whether or not there was a connection. If this was a direct flight, then yes, someone stole her bag.

    For future reference, though, if you gate-check your carry-on when you’re on the first leg of a connection, it is certainly possible that your bag will (by design) not get on the same planes as you. I once took a Philly-Milwaukee-Madision flight and was told after gate-checking in Philly that I should not pick up my bag in Milwaukee; it would go straight through to Madison. It ended up going to Chicago first, and then made its way back to Madison about 8 hours later.

  21. Cor Aquilonis says:

    Aaaaand this is why I only travel with a backpack and a humongous purse. Backpack goes in the overhead bin, purse below the seat (so I can rummage in flight.)

  22. aristan says:

    I sell luggage for a living and have had to recently deal a large increase of customers complaining that their bags are “too big”.

    Delta & United worked with luggage companies to create “wide-body” bags that were shorter and wider to fit in overheads easier. Now, they’re banning those exact same bags from the planes in favor of the traditional 22″ slim carry on.

    I recently dealt with a woman who complained that her bag was oversized -on a single leg- of her flight. She (and her lawyer) demanded I take the not-gently-used bag back.

    Thanks, Delta!

  23. kimmie says:

    I refuse to gate check because the airlines own insurance policy won’t cover the stuff in my bag. I just keep repeating that to the stewardesses until they give up. That said, I also make sure it can fit under the seat in front of me because of the jackasses that bring oversized bags onboard to avoid paying for checked luggage. Flying sucks.