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United steps up enforcement of bag limit

Violators sent back to counter to check luggage

When checked luggage fees began in 2008, more passengers started bringing their suitcases — many of them overstuffed — into the airplane cabin. Suddenly there wasn’t enough room in the overhead bins for everyone’s bag.

M. SPENCER GREEN/ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE

When checked luggage fees began in 2008, more passengers started bringing their suitcases — many of them overstuffed — into the airplane cabin. Suddenly there wasn’t enough room in the overhead bins for everyone’s bag.

NEW YORK — United Airlines is getting tough on passengers with oversized carry-on bags.

The Chicago-based airline has installed new bag-sizers at most airports. It also e-mailed its frequent fliers, reminding them of its rules on carry-on size. United says there is no change in policy — just a campaign to improve passenger awareness.

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Some of United’s new sizers are located prior to security checkpoints. As of Saturday, employees contracted by the airline are sending passengers whose bag exceeds the dimensions for carry-ons back to the ticket counter, where they check the bag and pay a $25 fee. Airlines have traditionally asked people with oversized bags to check them at the gate, but waived the $25 fee at that point.

Some travelers are suggesting this is part of a larger attempt by United to collect more fees. The airline says it’s simply trying to speed up the boarding process.

The size limits on carry-on bags have been in place for years, but airlines have been inconsistent in enforcing them. Passengers are allowed one carry-on bag to fit in the overhead bin that needs to be 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches or smaller. They can also bring along one personal item such as a purse or laptop bag that fits under the seat in front of them.

The process of getting on a plane dramatically changed in 2008 when US airlines started charging $25 to check a suitcase. To avoid the fee, more passengers started bringing their suitcases — many of them overstuffed — into the airplane cabin. Suddenly there wasn’t enough room in the overhead bins for everyone’s bag.

Although more United passengers may end up paying a $25 fee, having fewer bags on board could also have its benefits.

‘‘I’ve been whacked more times than I can count by people loaded down with their life’s worldly possessions,’’ says Brian Kelly, an industry watcher who writes about flying trends at ThePointsGuy.com.

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