Airport Packing

Should You Check Your Bag for Free at the Gate?

Been on a full flight lately? Then you may have heard an announcement or seen an appeal posted on the monitor at the gate asking for passenger volunteers to check their bags at the gate for free.

[st_content_ad]Asking for volunteers to check their bags at the gate is the airline’s response to two things. First, they know that there is likely going to be more carry-on bags than there is overhead bin space, an issue that leads to unhappy passengers and significantly slower boarding times. Second, it can also often be a sign that there’s a lot of room in the under-plane baggage area, which can contribute to weight distribution issues on the plane.

[st_related]The Best Carry-On Bags[/st_related]

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should check your bag at the gate. Sometimes, it can be a great opportunity; other times, it might slow you down. Here’s a quick guide to deciding if you should check your bag at the gate:

Should You Gate Check Your Bag for Free?

  1. Are you in a later boarding group? If so, you might arrive on the plane to find your overhead bins already full, and it could reduce stress to know you don’t have to fight to find a home for your baggage. Answer: Consider checking
  2. Are you going to be in a rush when you arrive at your destination? Unlike true “gate check” items like strollers that you can grab on the jetway as you exit the aircraft, the bag you check at the gate under these circumstances will most likely be routed to the baggage carousel at your destination airport. If you don’t have time to stand around and wait for your suitcase to reappear, keep it with you as a carry-on. Answer: Don’t check
  3. Do you have a connecting flight? If you do, verify with the gate agent that the bag will be able to make the connection. If that’s the case, you should consider checking the bag unless you’ll need it during your layover, since it’s a lot easier to make a tight connection—and less burdensome to wait out a longer layover—without a suitcase to drag behind you. Answer: Consider checking
  4. Are you traveling with young kids? If you’re trying to wrangle little ones and pull carry-ons (say, because you want to avoid checked bag fees for the whole family), free bag check at the gate can be like a golden ticket. But, make sure you’ve got everything you need in the bags you’ll carry on with you before turning over your suitcases—you don’t want to find yourself without extra diapers or the only stuffed animal that will make your kid stop crying midflight. Answer: Consider checking

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis uses these guidelines to decide whether or not to gate check her bags. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at

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