Regional jet carry-on rule costs a traveler her connection


It’s a travel axiom that when taking connecting flights, it’s better to carry on your luggage. But sometimes axioms can be wrong, because it can result in missing your connection, as a client found out this weekend.

Carrying your own luggage definitely increases the chances of arriving at a destination on the same flight as your bag. On the other hand, lugging a heavy bag while racing through an airport can slow you down.

But, chances are, you’ll be better off; except when you aren’t. Here’s the scenario.

A passenger was traveling from San Jose via Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, so there weren’t many options. She could either chance an admittedly tight 41-minute connection at 10:10 a.m. (the minimum is 30 minutes between Delta flights), or leave on a 6 a.m. flight and wait almost five hours. The traveler decided to risk it.

Upon getting to the gate at San Jose Airport, she was told that her small carry-on bag, while acceptable with most flights, was too big for the regional jet. She had to gate-check it, which meant she had to pick up the bag in the Jetway upon landing.

The flight was slightly delayed in San Jose, but still landed in Salt Lake City with 20 minutes to spare. Since it’s not that large an airport, and the gates weren’t too far apart, it seemed like a tight-but-makeable connection.

Alas, for whatever reason, there was a delay in bringing the gate-checked bags to the Jetway. Even so, she figured it would be okay, especially since Delta knew about the connecting passengers. Plus, she went directly to the departure gate for Jackson Hole as fast as she could, once she got the bag.

The plane was still at the gate, but she had missed Delta’s 10-minute cut off. The agent said they had just closed the door and the best Delta would offer was a flight the next day — 21 hours later.

Now, had the traveler checked her bag, rather than carrying it on, it might or might not have made it onto the flight. But, she would have made the flight to Jackson Hole with a few minutes to spare.

After a night in a local Comfort Inn by the airport and a lost vacation day, she would have taken a day in Jackson Hole without her luggage rather than an overnight in Salt Lake City.

With a situation like this, do any readers have suggestions about what might have been done differently, or better?

Does customer service seem to be lacking when the plane is sitting at the Jetway prior to its scheduled departure and a passenger is faced with an overnight stay instead of delaying the departure by a couple of minutes?

Photo: By redlegsfan21 from Flickr Creative Commons

  • Anonymous

    Yes there is something she could have done differently. She could have checked to see what the maximum carryon size was for all of the planes she would be traveling on, and used a carryon that adhered to the smallest of those, so that there would no one forcing her to gate-check her bag.

    This problem is nothing new. When I travelled to Australia on Qantas many years ago, I discovered ahead of time that Qantas allowed carryons no larger than 30 inches and about 12 pounds, while American (it was a code share and my first flight was with American) allowed 45 inches and 40 pounds. The people at American of course assured me that since I was booked on American and starting my journey with American, that American’s rules would apply. I ignored them and put my very expensive and irreplaceable equipment into the 30 inch 12 pound bag. Since some of the things that fit would have made the bag more than 12 pounds, I stuffed many other items into my coat pockets. A coat was one of the items that Qantas listed as acceptable to carry on the plane.

    I was very glad I did that. It was mayhem at the gate in Los Angeles, where more than a hundred people with valuables, meds and all kinds of things in their 45 inch carryons that American had assured them would be perfectly legit, were desperate and screaming. You see, the Qantas reps went around the gate with a tape measure and portable scale, confiscating every bag that was outside their rules but within American’s rules, not honoring what American had told us. There were people were frantically trying to grab out meds and valuables there on the floor, without even having another bag of any kind to stuff them into, since they never dreamed they would be re-packing en route. One old lady was crying. There was a musician with a clarinet, and they tried to take his instrument as well. He threw a fit (rightfully so in my opinion) and a supervisor eventually ruled in his favor. (It occurs to me that nowadays, he would have just been handcuffed and led away.)

    Some of the people (over 100 people in this situation) had even brought print-outs of the American rules stating that the rules of the originating carrier applied, but the Qantas reps wouldn’t budge. They said they didn’t have to honor anything since it was a Qantas flight. This story has been repeated many many times over the years. It’s pretty common knowledge that the airlines do not honor each other’s rules. I’ve seen people connecting in London to European airlines who were told that their checked-through bag was rejected for weight (although it was fine when they checked in in the US), and told they could not continue with their connecting flight unless they somehow managed to repack right there in the airport. Some could pay a hefty fee, but some were told their bag wouldn’t be accepted.

    So I think it is clear that if you really need to keep something with you, or you really need to make that connection, then you must follow the rules of the most restrictive carrier. Even written assurances from the airlines have never been worth a hill of beans.

  • Alan Gore

    Airlines love it when they can stick it to passengers the way Qantas did that day. The sight of all those Yankee tourists scrambling to stuff meds, camera lenses and electronics in their pockets in a desperate attempt to make that flight must have been a huge laugh backstage.

    When it’s a dull day on the job, liven things up by pulling a new rule out of your butt!

  • Anonymous

    While I’m not sure why some carriers have such tight carry-on restrictions, the rules aren’t new or made-up on the spot.

  • KV

    “Regional Jet Carry On rules” did not cost her – her not knowing those rules cost her… plus she made the decision to ‘risk it’ instead of taking an earlier flight, and she suffered the consequences. Dissecting each point where a few minutes was lost is pointless… those things happen on every trip and should be expected – and they are the reason you build buffers into your travel schedule.

  • Bill

    three things:
    1. jane4321 – the regional jets are so small that anything but a briefcase doesnt fit in most CRJs. although i think it is important to know the rules of each airline, i do not think this would help at all.
    2. the “gate check” waiting times are out of control on all airlines. staff has been cut to such minimal levels that most of the time they cannot do everything they need to do. waiting for gate checked bags adds 15 minutes to a flight. personally, i think it is time that the MCT (minimum connecting times) are revisited in light of the fact that airlines are very hard-nosed about the 10 minute cut-off rule and the fact that more and more regional jets are a significant and integral part of airline travel these days. IMO, MCT are way too short for most airports – SLC and MSP have a 30 minute MCT, but considering that the distance can be great between RJ gates and mainline gates, combined with the fact that it really is only a 20 min MCT due to the 10 minute rule, disaster spreads.
    3. the old days of holding planes for late connecting passengers is gone. airlines routinely scan the list for misconnects and start giving away seats to standby pax all the time. i have more than once showed up at the gate (before the cut-off time) and the agents have been surprised that i am there – my seat had already been given away and they had to fix things. with the emphasis of the ON TIME stat from both airlines and DOT perspectives, combined with the fact that some airlines pay bonuses if x percentage of flights are on-time each month, there is absolutely no incentive whatsoever to make accomodations for late arriving pax. i also cant count the number of times i have landed and sat on the runway for 15-45 minutes because “our gate” is not available. the only way to fix this is to somehow have a new metric about misconnecting passengers – and make that the priority for all the spoke and hub airlines. that would force airlines to rethink the current strategy of closing the door and pulling the jetway at t minus 10 minutes. the plane is operationally almost never ready at t minus 10 minutes (cargo ro the sort), but the door is closed so the gate agent can say an on time departure. if we want change, we first need to start with changing the notion that the only thing that matters in air travel is on time arrival.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t believe you are correct when you say that nothing but a carryon can be brought on a regional jet. My 30 inch bag fit under the seat in front of me on every single regional jet I have ever taken. It often would not fit in those sloping overhead compartments, but it certainly would fit under the seat in front of me.

    Anyway, my point was more that she should have checked what would fit and packed accordingly. If only a briefcase could fit as you say, then her only other option was to schedule a longer connection time so as to be able to recover her gate-checked bag.

  • Anonymous

    The worst case scenario is that her inbound flight arrived on the B concourse and left out of the E gates. If one walks briskly, that it no more than a 5 minute walk. The problem is that when one arrives at the E gates, one stands in line to check in and by the time you get to the podium, you’ve spent anywhere from an additional 10 to 20 minutes.

    I agree that the 10 minute cutoff makes it virtually impossible to make a tight connection anywhere. The idea that we worry about what time the plane pushes back, as opposed to what time it arrives at the destination is one that I’ve never understood. It strikes me as the typical airline approach of setting things up so that they can spin things to be most favorable to them and not what is best for the consumer.

  • StephenD

    I agree with the two previous comments below … fundamentally … know the rules and know the risks.

  • Jeff

    Airlines don’t hold planes for people, for the most part. I’ve seen it done when there is a large contingent of people missing from a connecting flight, but not for a single passenger. I suppose it could happen, though.

    But the suggestion would be to never chose an itinerary with a connection time of less than an hour. Especially if that first flight is a regional. If that 10:10 AM SLC to JAC flight was the last of the day, then that would have been adding to the risk. If it wasn’t the last flight of the day, then I am surprised she could be on stand-by for a later flight.

    But in the end, she took a risk with a tight connection window. And lost.
    Should they have held the plane? Probably. It is unlikely that a 10 AM flight would have had crews reaching their time limits. And it is also unlikely that it would have caused connection delays for other passengers (who would be realistically connecting in JAC?) Could have impacted DOT on-time ratings, I suppose.

  • Anonymous

    Assuming the aircraft got to JAC, and then turned back to SLC, it may have caused a delay on that flight and caused people to misconnect.

  • TerryT

    The answer was in the story “she decided to risk it”. Don’t EVER risk anything when it comes to airline schedules – NEVER!