Stressed-Out Gate Agent Will Not Tolerate Tiny Purses On United Airlines Flights

Jarrod and his wife were returning from their vacation, flying United. Their flight was delayed, and they encountered a gate at 3 A.M. with a single employee working. They went to board their flight, and Mrs. Jarrod had a camera bag, a large shoulder bag, and a tiny travel pouch over her arm. Other airline personnel overlooked the tiny pouch, not even counting it as a “bag” for carry-on luggage purposes. Instead, the agent became just a little unhinged, not allowing Mrs. Jarrod on the flight until she nestled the little bag inside one of her other bags.

Wait, if one bag fits inside the other, what is the problem exactly?

My wife was carrying a camera bag, a large bag (kind of like an oversized purse) and a very small travel pouch/purse over her shoulder. Yes, we realize that we’re supposed to be limited to “one carry on item and one personal item”, but the small shoulder pouch barely took up any space and we thought it insignificant. In fact, we didn’t have any issues boarding the flight from Hawaii to San Francisco.

As the agent scanned my wife’s ticket, he looked her over and as she started to walk away he shouted at her, “you can’t carry on three bags! You’re limited to just two.” My wife asked why since the small purse was so very insignificant. He said “it’s the airline policy and that she would need to put the smaller purse into one of the other bags.” My wife, said “OK, I’ll do it” and started to walk down the jetway. He yelled at her again, “NO, RIGHT NOW!” Embarrassed, my wife fumbled about trying to put her small purse into the larger bag… and he proceeded to delay the boarding while he watched her put the purse into her larger bag. Laying it on top of the open larger bag/purse wasn’t enough. It had to be inside the bag. She eventually shoved it in and started walking down the jetway without additional issue.

As soon as we were down the jetway, my wife pulled the purse out of the bag and had no issues boarding the plane or storing it underneath the seat in front of her with her other bag.

I guess this serves as a warning that thou shalt not carry any bag, no matter how small, in excess of the two you’re allowed. But we think the situation could have been handled differently and in a more professional manner. Maybe by politely reminding us of the policy instead of being abrupt. In any event, I just had to vent. Thanks for listening.


Edit Your Comment

  1. nodaybuttoday says:

    She couldn’t give one of the bags to her husband?

    • bluline says:

      This is nothing new. My wife and I have combined several bags many times, then separated them again the moment we were on the jetway. Like the TSA, this sort of bag policy is mostly theater and doesn’t really accomplish anything other than to give gate agents a power rush.

      • Coleoptera Girl says:

        It makes putting away and pulling down bags faster. Some people are not competent enough to juggle three bags. Some can’t even handle one without nearly braining somebody…

    • nodaybuttoday says:

      Reminds me of the story on here about the father carrying the bag for his kid and they made the kid take the bag

    • Jawaka says:

      So women can’t carry bags in airlines while men can’t carry bags in the theater.

      That kind of balances out doesn’t it?

  2. TinaBringMeTheAx says:

    So this is really just a story about a rude airline employee, right?

  3. daggio says:

    What was Mr. Jarrod carrying?

  4. frank64 says:

    If she were let on then the next guy with a bigger bag would have to be let on. I can see someone writing in to Consumerist saying they let the woman in front of me on with a bag, mine was just a LITTLE bit bigger, and they told me I couldn’t bring it on. I wonder if it is because I am black? It was very aggravating because I am a grandmother, and I have cancer. Why are airlines so cruel?

    If this happened to me I would have rolled my eyes and that would have been it.

    • Kitty with attitude says:

      The person who saw it would have a huge fit about not being allowed to break policy for his/her own extra bag. I don’t condone the manner in which the gate agent enforced the policy but I understand why he enforced the policy.

  5. AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

    Do I just have thick skin, or is it a little ridiculous that so many people in Consumerist stories get “embarrassed” when an employee is rude to them?

    Also, no, clearly your special snowflake wife was not excluded from the airline’s carry-on policy, just because you choose to call it a “pouch” instead of a bag. Sorry.

  6. SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

    Tiny purses
    On the plane
    Make me happy
    Make me feel fine

    Tiny purses
    Make gate agents seethe
    With a feeling that they’re gonna
    Delay you till the end of time

    • Ilovegnomes says:

      Tiny purses
      On the passengers
      Tiny purses made of ticky tacky
      Tiny purses on the airlines
      Make the flight attendants go insane.

      There’s a green one and a pink one
      And a blue one and a yellow one
      And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
      And they all look just the same.

  7. Always Wondering says:

    As a business traveler I like to see when airlines enforce he rules. Why do some people believe the rules don’t apply to them. I know they don’t have to be rude about it, but I’m sure they get sick of people trying to skirt the rules all time.

    • Always Wondering says:

      ugh, when will I learn to proof read?

    • jeepguy57 says:

      Completely agree. I would also like to see “personal item” better defined. I hate when I can’t put my small roller bag in a bin because of all the jackasses bringing one a large roller AND a computer bag. Since when is a bag, large enough to hold a 17″ laptop, iPad, books, etc. a “personal item?”

      • Chmeeee says:

        If it fits under the seat, it’s a personal item. I bring my roller bag and a laptop bag. Roller bag goes up top, laptop bag under the seat. If there’s room once everybody’s boarded, I might move the laptop up top too for extra foot room.

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        I would like the “personal item” to be banned personally. All the women I see use purses bigger than my gym bag when they fly and call it their “personal item”. I know I’ll get flamed for this post but that’s what I think. Everyone should get one carry-on, period.

        • Elara says:

          Wow, grumpy much? You have the same right to bring on a large shopping bag/tote bag/computer bag as your personal item…so what’s up with the purse hate? You seem to be taking it as a personal affront. Did you have a bad experience with a handbag as a child?

          • AtlantaCPA says:

            I used purse as an example since that’s the one I see abused the most. But my point is an overstuffed tote bag or gimongous purse are both an extra carry-on and are an abuse of the 1 carry-on/plus personal item rule.

            Plus in practice we all know it’s harder for a man to get away with a large shopping bag as a personal item than a woman with a purse, so I don’t think there is equality there.

            I do take it a little personally b/c I have been on planes where the overstuffed purse abuse has caused me and others to have to check our modest carry-on due to no more room in the overheads at all. I’ll take the grumpy label :)

            • Elara says:

              I agree on the annoyance of people with overstuffed bags on airplanes…there was an idiot on my flight Tuesday that had overstuffed her soft-sided roll-on so much that it wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin, let alone under her seat. Those are the kind of people these flight attendants should really be going after. Though I still think this lady was kind of bitchy for not putting her 3rd purse in her bag to begin with.

        • Coleoptera Girl says:

          Only if they get one free checked bag could I even begin to think about condoning this.

  8. samonela says:

    Gate Agent: Enough is enough! I have had it with these MF small bags on this MF plane!

  9. Lisa W says:

    I have had a similar experience. However, I saw people with two items take up far more space. Maybe it should be one suitcase that can fit in the overhead and whatever you can put below the seat in front of you???

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      Yeah, bag size should be enforced. If there’s any question, the GA should have you stick your bag in the frame and there should be a frame for under the seat personal bags, too…

      Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with lack of overhead space this weekend. If I had, I could have stuck my personal bag underneath the seat in front of my fiancee with his backpack and my backpack under the seat in front of me…

      Maybe airlines should stop charging for the first checked bag. Then this wouldn’t be nearly as much of problem.

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        I totally agree with you, but I have noticed wild variability with under-the-seat space on the same plane. Sometimes in a row of three seats the chair supports for the seats in front are not dividing the area into equal thirds, and there are sometimes tubes or something taking up some of the space. I’m just guessing that if they had a frame for under the seat space people might get upset when their backpack fits in the frame but not under the actual seat? Still, I think they should do something like this, maybe just make the frame the minimum volume available so the only surprise is more space not less?

  10. macemoneta says:

    If you’re still buyng tickets and flying, why would they care?

  11. thomwithanh says:

    Thanks for flying the Unfriendly Skies with United

  12. JollySith says:

    Yes the agent could have chosen to overlook it, but they had no responsibility to. The rule is 2 bags, not 2 bags and then another bag as long as you call it a pouch. I have been on 4 flights in the past week and on every single one of them boarding or exiting the plane was delayed at least once by some idiot who thought the rules should be bent or broken just for them, and each and every one of them got an attitude about it.

    • JEDIDIAH says:

      The have a responsibility to not be a dick. This is just basic customer service. This is a responsibility they have to their employer moreso than to you. This idea should be so obvious that it need not even be mentioned.

      The fact that I even have to bring it up demonstrates why this point is missed by corporate middle managers.

      • Elara says:

        But wasn’t the wife being a dick by not following the airline rules? Everyone knows you only get 2 carryons. Why couldn’t she have just packed the darn thing into her larger purse since she KNEW what the rules are? Why do people have to go out of their way to skirt rules like this? I’d be annoyed if I was a flight attendant too- I doubt this was the 1st person with the “But it’s just a LITTLE 3rd carryon” line. It was a completely avoidable situation that the wife put herself into.

  13. Coleoptera Girl says:

    When I flew just this past weekend I noticed an announcement before boarding that stated that you should pack bags into other bags at that time… so as not to slow down boarding. I rarely say this, because others say it before me and better than me, but this is entirely the missus’ fault. She should have followed the rules.

    Now lets see the rule on baggage size enforced.

    • thomwithanh says:

      Spirit Airlines (NK) is anal about carryon size… if it’s even a fraction of an inch over you have to gate check it. Best part, not only do you loose your carryon bag fee but you get dinged with the checked bag fee on top of it.

      Check out FlyerTalk to read some of the horror stories.

      • Coleoptera Girl says:

        I can understand how much of a pain it could be and that losing money and your baggage because you had to gate check it is anything but ideal. Choosing to fly on a more flexible airline whenever possible is the solution… or you could measure your bag beforehand. I have limited sympathy when the rules for bag size are posted online. If they vary from aircraft to aircraft within Spirit Airlines, then I can see blaming the airline and only the airline.

  14. tidomonkey says:

    So, as per your words…

    You knew about the airline’s rule, but thought you could break it.


    Agreed to a solution, but didn’t follow through without having to be retold.

    • frank64 says:

      … and took the bag out right after, meaning they were just daring other staff to go through the same thing with them. Only thing worse than breaking the rules once, is breaking them again. Acting like kids.

      • AzCatz07 says:

        I agree. What a whiny self-entitled couple. Had I been behind them when she took the small bag back out, I’d have ratted them out. I can’t stand people who think rules don’t apply to them. They tend to be the first ones to complain when someone else breaks the rules, too.

  15. bill14224 says:

    This is why I avoid flying. I’ve been a good natural-born American citizen all my life who pays his bills, his taxes, his fines, takes care of his family, and serves on juries, while most of my leaders have been mostly the opposite. After being embarrassed by 9/11, which people like me saw coming, the authorities put the onus on people like us. I knew they’d be back since 1993. Islamist terrorists didn’t achieve the level of terror they wanted in the first attack so I knew they’d come back. Islamic extremists are as obvious as they are angry if you pay attention. They have never given-up in history, ever, I just didn’t know when or how they would strike. I expected a bigger truck bomb but I was wrong. They used airliners. Astute people knew they never give up. We knew they’d be back sooner or later. To my “leaders” I say go screw yourselves. You ignored my warnings and those of thousands more. I don’t pretend to be alone in my thinking. I will travel as I wish on the ground until the rest of you get a brain. Profiling is fine with me. Don’t strip search old ladies from Wilkes-Barre flying to New York for Thanksgiving, but you do. Go where the danger is. Don’t worry about what the feds say. They’re as misguided as it gets because they’re desperately trying to stay politically-correct. Political-correctness spells the end of our republic. That’s what the writers of history will say after we are gone. I am witnessing perhaps the biggest gaffe in human history.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      That’s all well and good, but the government had nothing to do with the two bag limit as far as I can tell.

      • bill14224 says:

        If you think that you’d be mistaken. Airlines since 9/11 have been trying to conform to increased and mostly misguided federal regs, offer affordable fares, and remain profitable, which is almost impossible, which is why so much airline consolidation has occurred since then. Please open your eyes. We had $79 fares from Newark to Florida before 9/11. We will never see fares like that under the current environment and we have no one but ourselves to blame.

        • StarKillerX says:

          Oh and I’m sure gas prices going from $1.50 a gallon to, at various times, over $4.00 a gallon had absolutely no effect on airline’s financial conditions.

    • NeverLetMeDown2 says:

      We should have profiling, absolutely. Based on the demographics of those who have committed terrorist acts in the US in the last 20 years, we should be closely scrutinizing white male military veterans.

      • bill14224 says:

        I am not a military vet, and as far as I know the last white American to highjack an airliner was D.B. Cooper in the early 1970’s. He had no political agenda as far as anyone knows. He only wanted to escape with the money he stole, so your argument has no basis.

        • AtlantaCPA says:

          S/He is counting all terrorist acts, not just plane hijackings. I think s/he has an excellent point.

    • K-Bo says:

      Thing is, sooner or later, they will find the old lady from Wilkes-Barre who just found out she has terminal cancer and has no money to leave her family, and they are going to offer her enough money that she can be comfortable in knowing they will be comfortable for a long time, and she will do it for them as her last act to care for her family. If you profile, they will find a way to recrute those who don’t fit the profile. Nothing to do with political correctness.

      • bill14224 says:

        Perhaps, but history has yet to prove your suppositions.

        • frank64 says:

          History shows they adapt to changing anti-terrorist measures. With your train of thought we would always be one step behind them.

        • AtlantaCPA says:

          Israel was focused only on males for suicide bombers for the longest time. Then the terrorists started recruiting women and it worked like a charm for a while. I think history has proven K-Bo to be correct (not in the exact specifics of an old lady from Wilkes-Barre but her general point).

  16. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I already do this. I have a carry-on (unless I check one bag), a backpack and a purse, which goes inside the backpack rolled up, contents in the pack. When I get where I’m going, I unpack the purse and put my stuff back in. When I leave, I repack the purse stuff and purse in the backpack. The pack fits under almost every seat in every plane. If I get a bulkhead seat, it goes overhead.

    I find that when I do this, I also don’t tend to stuff my purse as much. If I’m just going to work and back, I put half the house in there. It must be the sensation of being trapped at work.

    • bill14224 says:

      I feel for you, but I’d rather die than carry a purse.

      • bill14224 says:

        To amend my post you should know something. My mother taught me by the time I was 4 what the roles of men and women were and for the most part she wasn’t wrong. It was 1966. My mom was the boss. Her son (me) keeps his room clean, takes out the garbage, vacuums, shovels snow, cuts the grass after age 9, and when it’s slow do dishes. And of course I had to finish my homework before I played outside, which I always did before she got home from work at 4:30. What my mother did worked for her but not in my marriage. I got married in 1984 and by 1986 I knew I had to take charge whether I liked it or not, so I don’t see the female power thing anymore. The stronger mate needs to assert his or herself. We all deserve an equal part in a relationship, especially where children are involved. Ideally both spouses find balance, keeping their egos in-check, but sadly it doesn’t happen often enough and the kids always suffer.

        • longfeltwant says:

          Mmm hmm. Obviously it depends on the dynamic of the two spouses. Your mom’s comment speaks to her marriage and you learned that her experience doesn’t speak for all relationships.

  17. Geekybiker says:

    I wish they’d enforce the 2 bag rule and especially the bag size rule more vigorously. Too many people trying to cram a roll aboard well in excess of the limits into the overheads means not enough room for everyone. #badconsumer

  18. bnilsen says:

    Some gate agents are very strict on this rule and will not let you on the plane until you consolidate down to two bags— no exceptions. I’ve been traveling so much that I know the main culprits at the airports I frequent. It is just not worth the hassle to try to sneak in a smaller bag- no matter how tiny.

  19. Mulysa says:

    Two means two- not two + whatever nonsense you want to carry.

  20. longfeltwant says:

    I’m with the airlines. Women often get away with carrying baggage which men couldn’t carry. If you can fit all your bags into each other, then yeah, that’s exactly what you are supposed to do.

    “She eventually shoved it in”

    That phrase implies, to me, that the woman in fact had too much gear to go into the allowed two bags. It’s not like “she tossed it in the big open pocket of the larger bag.”

    Just like the adjacent Consumerist story about women being allowed to carry purses into theaters while men are not, women are allowed to do all sorts of things men aren’t allowed to do, and carrying extra baggage is a classic example. This lady is complaining she was expected to be a social equal. Kudos to the grumpy agent who enforced the rule.

  21. sukki007 says:

    United is the “new, improved” Continental. I am forced to fly United now where Continental once graced the skies. The employees here are all former Continental employees, and the grimaces I witness when I make a comment about how “it was never this way when Continental steered the ship” is so telling. They hate their new employer almost as much as I do.

  22. dollar327 says:

    As a frequent flier, I’m usually irritated by the amount of carry-ons that people bring on the plane and proceed to stow anywhere but under their seat.

    I’ve also noticed that the enforcement of the rules change when flights are full or not.

    I guess I would be one of those stressed out airline employees trying to make sure that everyone has room to stow their bags.

    (Don’t get me wrong.. I have no love for the airlines — they have taken all the fun out of flying — not that it was fun to begin with)

  23. nopirates says:

    the rule is two bags. this rule has been in effect for a very long time. the rule is enforced without interpretation or exception which removes any complaint about the judgement of the crew from the equation.

    know the rule, combine your stupid bags, and move on.

  24. TheCorporateGeek Says Common Sense Is The Key says:

    Just another typical flying douchebag carrying on more than they should in the first place. If you’re carrying on more than 1, yes 1 bag, you are a douchebag.

  25. Sad Sam says:

    I would say the problem is the consumer, but the problem was caused by the airline with the checked bag fees. Just another reason I prefer to fly SouthWest or Jet Blue. The bag wrangling on other airlines is beyond annoying.

    • hoi-polloi says:

      I rarely fly, and tend to go with the least expensive carrier. As a result, I frequently pay to check a bag and deal with carry-on baggage wrangling. Just the other week, I was on a plane booked to capacity. The shenanigans to get everyone’s wheeling luggage and personal items stowed made me twitchy. The whole boarding process takes much longer than it seems like it should, and the excessive carry-ons only make it worse.

  26. wombats lives in [redacted] says:

    Yes, we realize that we’re supposed to be limited to “one carry on item and one personal item”, but the small shoulder pouch barely took up any space and we thought it insignificant.

    If they understand the policy why do they think that it does not apply to them?

    • AzCatz07 says:

      Because they’re special. I’m sure their children are special snowflakes too.

      I’m more incensed that he felt it necessary to complain to Consumerist. Paraphrasing: “I know I was breaking a rule, but I don’t like that I was yelled at for breaking the rule by someone who is clearly beneath me.” What a jackass.

  27. Difdi says:

    When I fly, I usually carry a small duffel (small enough to go under the seat), a belt-wallet that has my critical stuff in it (ID, boarding pass, passport, credit card, money) and a vest-of-many-pockets that holds almost as much as the duffel does.

    The vest is a garment, not a bag, which airlines have no problems with.

  28. balderdashed says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t on the plane with this couple — or anybody else who’s narcissistic enough to argue: Yes, we realize we were supposed to follow the rules, but we thought we shouldn’t have to, because the matter was “insignificant.” Because we’re special. And besides, when we chose not to follow the rules, being asked to comply was embarrassing! Yes, let this be warning — to other self-centered, inconsiderate passengers everywhere.

    • JEDIDIAH says:

      That doesn’t make them narcisissts, that makes them capable of thinking for themselves. The intent of the rule is obvious and their actions did not violate that. The fact that there are some people that can’t see past the superficial is the real problem here.

      Of course it gives the relevant Beaurocrat a nice ego and power trip. The same goes for Busy Bodies everywhere.

  29. kcesarz says:

    I hear that United Breaks Guitars, as well – .

  30. jstimson says:

    I wish every agent was this rude.

    Way too many people get on board with far more stuff than is allowed. It makes for crowded conditions in overhead bins, under seats, and seat pockets. It makes it slower to embark and disembark as people gather all of their extra gear.

    And don’t get me started on those folks that love to stand up the nano-second the plane comes to a halt at the gate. Until the door opens, you’re going where exactly?

    • Chmeeee says:

      If it’s been a long flight, I stand up right away because I’m sick of sitting down and can’t wait to stretch. Us tall folk aren’t too comfortable in those seats.

      • Derek Balling says:

        +1 on this.

        When I fly JetBlue and have Extra Legroom? I’ll chill out til there’s a reason to stand up.

        When I’m forced to fly anywhere else, where even their “spacious” coach seats have seat-pitches that suck ass? I’m going to get out of that Torquemada designed contraption as soon as I can.

  31. meredithw says:

    Can you say … Security Theatre?

  32. sock says:

    Do men’s wallets count as 1 of the 2, then? I wear my wallet (read: ‘tiny bag’) over my neck & shoulder.

  33. Derek Balling says:

    I fail to see the problem.

    The OP was aware of the two bags rule. It’s on signs, it’s part of the pre-boarding announcements at the gate, etc., etc.

    You’re not a special little snowflake that gets to bring on three.

    • PhilFR says:

      Oh, goodness. This is the jump the shark moment, when a useful rule turns into a silly one by being applied in trivial circumstances.

      And if I carry my newspaper onto a plane rather than shove it in my bag, I suppose I should get hassled too? Or does it mean that if I have two carry-ons, I’d better chug my cup of coffee before boarding? And is my hat a carry-on?

    • Waltersinister3 says:

      That is because you are one of those people who fails to understand that rules are made for a reason, not just for the sake of pushing people around. The reason for the rule about one carry on and one personal bag is that the carry on goes in the overhead bin and the personal bag goes under the seat in front of you. It makes no difference to fitting bags under the seat whether it is two small bags or one large handbag. The reason we use human beings instead of robots is that most humans are capable of understanding the spirit of the rules and making an exception to the letter when there is no reason for sticking to the letter.

    • Coyoty says:

      When you have no common sense, such problems are invisible.

      She DID get to bring on three bags. Putting one inside another does not reduce the quantity of bags. The nestled bag did not magically disappear. Its existence didn’t really matter, but apparently to the agent, its magical nonexistence did. His competence is questionable.

  34. sjg1402 says:

    Why is this news? The limit is 2, you knew the limit was 2. If the tiny, barely there, “oh so very insignificant”, teensy-tiny bag would fit into the larger bag, why wasn’t it in there to begin with? PUT IT IN THE LARGER BAG AND MOVE ON. Your wife SHOULD have been embarrassed.
    Why do people think the rules don’t apply to them anymore?