Rookie Wednesday: Another way to try to avoid bag fees on Delta Air Lines

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RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a weekly feature on the Renés Points blog. Each week this series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this week’s feature.

delta size check for carry-on almost never ever used delta points blog

Delta has had, for a very long time, a really reasonably liberal carry-on policy. A 9x14x22 bag like this Tumi one can really hold quite a bit, plus you still get your “personal item” as well (that can be very big). There are, as I have blogged about before, a great many ways to tweak this to get a large amount of stuff on-board a plane with you for free.

tsa xray machine

But are there other ways to “try” to get something larger than the approved “size check” size bag on-board? Yes, if you are willing to risk it. What do I mean? Well if you are going to try this, there are some caveats. They are:

  • Come to the airport early (maybe REALLY early)
  • Know your local TSA folks & TSA Pre✓™
  • Watch out for the “hired airline goons”
  • Be ready to go to another line (even concourse)
  • Pick a regional airport
  • Pay if you must as a final step!

OK, full on game mode, what are we talking about? The TSA is not an enforcement arm of the airlines. The TSA web site says:

“TSA will screen any “Carry-on” baggage that will fit through the x-ray machine; however, it is up to each individual air carrier as to whether the baggage fits the size restrictions for your flight.”

tsa xray 2

And that takes us to the second point. I reached out to the TSA press secretary Ross Feinstein as to just how large a bag will fit into a TSA x-ray and was told they can accommodate large bags and they can vary by airport but the opening is at least 24″ wide by 16″ high.

Then we are on to our local TSA folks & Pre✓™. Again, out of 54 flight segments this year (or my 100+ last year) I don’t think I have ever had a rep say BOO about my bag sizes. It is not their job after all – safety is. They defer to the airline for size requirements.

So on to the “goon squad”. What is that you ask? Since I am not the only one to figure out that checking in online and going right to TSA is a good way to avoid bag fees, the airlines often hire non-company folks to “guard the gate” and send you back to check-in to pay for the too big bag. Now if you are a medallion, and want to push it, I have had reps walk over and “block the goon” and allow me to proceed (wow, was that fun). But don’t bank on this one.

What else can you do if you are blocked? Simple, if you are at a large enough airport, go to another TSA line where there is no goon. You may even have to change to another concourse as many times once you are through security you can connect back to another terminal; not always but many times this is the case. You see why it is good to arrive early!

Another option is avoiding the major hubs. I know for many this is just not an option but for others you can pick many smaller airports where the TSA is happy to let you bring just about anything you want through security (size wise I mean). You will end up on a CRJ many times and will have to at the least plane side check it or they are often just as happy to print a tag to check it all the way for you for free!

Is it worth it? I guess it depends on what a few minutes extra of your time is worth to try these little gems to avoid giving $25, $35 or MUCH more per person, each way, of your hard earned money to the airline. Oh, and if you really don’t want to carry the bag, I have never ever seen Delta charge to check your bag once you do get to the gate. Just walk up and ask if the flight is full and you can go ahead and check your bag for free instead of taking up overhead bin space!- René
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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  1. I would highly recommend checking your bag at the gate. Last week, I was flying out of Tampa on Delta and the flight was announced to be full. A major storm was approaching and the staff was pretty much yelling at passengers in the aisle to get in a seat so that they could close the door to leave–big problem: there was still more luggage brought on board than carry-on space above the seats. People were looking for space that was not there. The airline may be making more money with current baggage policies, but they are certainly convincing me to look at other alternatives rather than flying.

  2. Thanks Rene. It isn’t like people aren’t dragging on duffle bags they can barely lift already, let’s encourage everyone to try and “game” the system. That way we can sit there another 15 minutes while people try and cram their bags into the bins. I think Spirit’s much-critized system is the fairest: everyone pays for bags whether you check them or carry them on. Takes all the “gaming” out of the equation, same price for all.

  3. I’ve seen DL employees walk around gate areas (not gate agents) at LaGuardia pulling random people out of boarding line to check the size of their bag and if it didn’t fit to check it in after paying the FEE.

  4. Recently 2 goons walked up together at LAX and stood right before you give you ID and boarding pass. I had already passed, and a good pulled me out and told I needed to check the bag. I’ll skip the story and frustration, didn’t have time to go to the front and check. I found the elevator, got back in line, and went through with no problem.

  5. On the return at JFK, they made an announcement on board and that the bins are almost full and people should check and put something under the seat. Then a ground or gate agent got on and I heard him tell the FA that after the announcement that anyone who can find bin space he will pull off the flight. I thought he was kidding, then he said it to another FA again. A guy with a guitar came on board shortly thereafter, and he told him he should check it. The guy politely declined, the the gate Delta guy told him he would pull him off if he didn’t find space. That seemed a little hardass and unnecessary to me. And the guy found space…

  6. Rene,
    on the above post, I meant to use the word “can’t” not “can”.
    on my first post I used the word “good” and meant “goon”. Sorry about the poor proofread.

  7. No one hates baggage fees more than I do. I travel for clients quite a bit and they reimburse the standard fee for the first bag without batting an eye. Even in those cases, I twinge when I pay the fee. This is a good method but ultimately comes down to the airport. It works at MCO but you’ll find varied attitudes among TSA screeners from station to station. JFK seems to have some of the pushier TSA complement, at least at T4.

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