NEW YORK (AP) - United Airlines is getting tough on passengers with oversized carry-on bags, even sending some of them back to the ticket counter to check their luggage for a fee.
The Chicago-based airline has started a push to better enforce rules restricting the size of carry-on bags - an effort that will include instructing workers at security checkpoint entrances to eyeball passengers for bags that are too big.
In recent weeks, United has rolled out new bag-sizing boxes at most airports and sent an e-mail to frequent fliers, reminding them of the rules. An internal employee newsletter called the program a "renewed focus on carry-on compliance."
The size limits on carry-on bags have been in place for years, but airlines have enforced them inconsistently.
United says it is just ensuring that bags are reviewed at the security checkpoint, in addition to the bag checks already done at gates prior to boarding.
Passengers are typically allowed one carry-on bag to fit in the overhead bin, which can be no larger than 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches. Fliers can also bring one personal item such as a purse or laptop bag that fits under the seat in front of them.
People flying with oversized bags can have the suitcase checked for free at the gate, a longstanding practice. But those who get halted at the entrance to security must now go back to the ticket counter and pay the airline's $25 checked-luggage fee.
Some travelers suggest the crackdown is part of a larger attempt by United to collect more fees. The airline says it's simply ensuring that passengers have space left for them in the overhead bins. In recent years, the last group of passengers to board has routinely been forced to check their bags at the gate because overhead bins were already full.
"The stepped-up enforcement is to address the customers who complained about having bags within the size limit and weren't able to take them on the plane," United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said. "That is solely what this is about."
It has nothing to do with revenue, Johnson said, adding that one non-complaint bag takes up the same space as two complaint ones.
But the airline is likely to benefit financially if more passengers are turned back at security.
"This new program is primarily to drive new revenue and will likely delay the boarding process even more unless better education is provided around what is and is not acceptable," said Brian Kelly, an industry watcher who writes about flying trends at ThePointsGuy.com.
But, he added, having fewer bags on board could also be good for passengers.
"I've been whacked more times than I can count by people loaded down with their life's worldly possessions," Kelly said.
United collects $638 million in checked-bag fees a year but wants to increase that figure. In a January earnings call, the airline's chief revenue officer, Jim Compton, said United hopes to collect an extra $700 million from extras such as baggage fees and the sale of extra legroom during the next four years.