What is gate-checking a bag? And is it bad?

What is gate-checking a bag? And is it bad?

A few days ago I flew home from London with Easyjet. I was one of the last passengers to board, and was carrying a big backpack. An employee told me the flight was full and I would have to gate-check my bag.

At first I was annoyed because:

  1. I’m always annoyed in airports
  2. The bag would probably fit under the seat in front of me
  3. I would need to take a bunch of things out of my bag and carry them loose onto the plane (laptop, purse, book)

BUT I knew it was useless to argue with her (and she was probably tired and overworked and not super happy to be there either), so I let them gate-check my bag.

Wait, what is gate-checking?

It’s different than checking your bag the “regular” way, where you line up before security and drop off your bag with the airline.

Gate-checking is when your bag is checked from the gate, i.e. right before you board the plane.

It’s luggage you planned to carry on the plane (cabin baggage), that respects the airline’s size and weight limits, but that they would rather not have in the cabin because the overhead bins are already full.

Usually the airline decides for you and it’s not optional, but if you like it some airlines will agree to gate-check your bags if you ask, even when the flight isn’t full.

What types of bags need to be gate-checked?

If the airline is asking you to gate-check your bag, it’s usually because it won’t fit under the seat in front of you. Wheelie bags are the most common target, but any large bag is a candidate.

You could request to gate-check any bag, but it’s important keep electronics, valuables and travel documents with you.

Was I right to be annoyed?

When I left my bag in the designated spot (in the tunnel, just before stepping on the actual plane), I had visions of it being forgotten, squished, or somehow sent to the wrong city.

As soon as it was too late to turn back, I remembered an important document I left in there. “Goodbye, important document!” I thought.

When I got on the plane and found my seat, I felt vindicated because the under-seat space in front of me was enormous- it could have fit my bag easily.

BUT, even I change my mind sometimes 😛

When we got off the plane, we went straight to the immigration lineup (thank goodness I remembered to take my passport!).

It wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it was a good 30 minutes of sardine-shuffle until it was my turn to get stamped and waved through.

(NB: I love French immigration officials, they are so fast because they don’t ask any questions at all. Hi. Stamp. Bye.)

I couldn’t quite remember if gate-checked bags are usually returned to you right after you get off the plane or at the baggage carousel with everyone else. I spent part of the 30 minutes wondering if I’d walked past my bag and lost it forever.

But then, after immigration was the baggage carousel, and I was happy to find my bag there.

So, was gate-checking your bag worth all this complaining?

No, it wasn’t. It was actually really convenient.

Having to lug my bag off the plane and through the immigration lineup would have been a hassle.

Gate-checked bags are the last to be loaded on the plane, which makes them the first unloaded from the plane, meaning you don’t need to wait forever at the baggage carousel.

Carrying my stuff “loose” wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be- I just stuffed everything in my laptop sleeve.

Mind. Changed. I might actually request to gate-check my bag next time!


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