What To Know Before Gate Checking Your Bag

Traveling with just a carry-on has its perks. Most notably, saving time on checking in your luggage and skipping baggage claim, and keeping more money in your pocket by avoiding checked baggage fees. While it might be slightly annoying to tow your luggage with you around the airport, you also have the added bonus of knowing exactly where your stuff is at all times, and the odds of you losing it versus the airline are less likely. However, on smaller planes or fully booked flights, you may not have a choice about where that hand luggage ends up if you are seated in economy, and it doesn't fit under your seat. In many cases, it will get gate checked and placed in the cargo hold.

This is because there is limited space in the overhead bins, and flight crew want to both save room for priority passengers' luggage and avoid overpacking these compartments. And there's nothing worse than being watched as you desperately try to shove your carry-on into a space where it will absolutely not fit as everyone waits for you to finish up so the plane can depart. So, here's what you need to know about gate checking your luggage.

Your gate-checked bag's journey

Once the flight crew realizes that gate checking will be necessary for a smoother and more streamlined boarding procedure, they will make a call out to the passengers in the gate area. They will either ask passengers to voluntarily gate check their bags that will not fit under the seat or request that non-priority groups bring their bags up to be gate checked. In most cases, you will receive a special tag that you or the gate agent will place on your bag, and the bag will be taken away. In other cases, you may receive the tag and you'll be asked to leave it in a designated area when you board. Airlines do realize that this is an inconvenience to travelers who specifically want to avoid checking their bags, so sometimes they will even give these passengers the opportunity to board first.

However, regardless of how your bag is taken away or where it is left, it's all taken to the same place: the underbelly of the plane. Depending on the airline, you may be permitted to pick up these bags immediately after landing (if making an exit directly to the tarmac), but in most cases, these bags will be located in baggage claim. On the plus side, your bags may come out first on the belt if loaded after the checked luggage.

What to do if you're asked to gate check your carry-on

Yes, for most passengers who intended to travel with just a carry-on, it sucks to gate check your bag. It defeats the whole purpose! You wanted to avoid baggage claim and keep your personal items, well, on your person. But unless you require special accommodations — let's say you're carrying extremely valuable items or medications — you have little recourse for arguing with the flight crew about it. You will need to give up your luggage. However, should you be in this situation, don't be afraid to ask questions about where the bag is going and where you will pick it up.

A word of advice, though, leave absolutely nothing of value in that bag, even if you have a lock on it. Some passengers, like your dear author, have had the unfortunate experience of items being stolen from gate-checked bags. If there's a possibility you may have to gate check your bag, be sure to pack away a smaller backpack or a purse that you can pull out that can hold items like a computer and electronics, your documents, cash, and any other valuables you might have. While baggage handlers do have one of the hardest jobs in the airline industry, there are opportunists who may take advantage of you having to part with your carry-on at the last minute without thinking to secure your items.