The United Airlines cabin baggage allowance is relatively simple to understand, although there are some exceptions to the standard rules. However, similar to other US ‘full-service’ carriers, the check-in baggage policy is quite complicated, and any free allowance will depend on your route and fare type/class of travel. Therefore, you should carefully check your allowance for your specific booking, noting that on certain routes seasonal limitations apply which override the standard allowances.
In this article, I explain United Airlines’ cabin and check-in baggage allowances, and exceptions to the standard rules. I also provide examples of the charges you can expect to pay for any bags additional to your free allowance and the fees for oversized or overweight bags.
Given the complexity of the United Airlines check-in baggage policy please consult United’s website for any latest information, and carefully check the conditions of travel before you book and confirm your ticket.
United Airlines Cabin Baggage
On most United flights, you are allowed to bring on board one carry-on bag and one personal item (plus other special items), although there are some exceptions.
Cabin Baggage Allowance Exceptions
If you’re traveling on a Basic Economy ticket, you can only bring one personal item on board, and if you bring a full-size carry-on bag to the gate, you’ll need to check it in. You will need to pay the applicable check-in bag fee and a $US25 gate handling charge.
The exceptions to this rule are listed below:
- Customers traveling on trans-Atlantic flights to or from the USA, Mexico, and Central America, as well as to and from El Salvador, Panama, and South America
- Customers traveling on trans-Pacific flights to or from the USA
- MileagePlus Premier members or companions traveling on the same reservation
- Primary cardmembers of qualifying MileagePlus Chase credit cards or Star Alliance Gold members
If any of the above exceptions apply, you can follow United’s normal cabin baggage policy.
If you are traveling by United Airlines’ regional partner airline Air Wisconsin CommutAir you are allowed to bring only one personal item into the aircraft cabin as the aircraft are small and have less room available in the overhead compartments.
Other Cabin Items
In addition to your one carry-on bag and personal item, you can bring the following items on board the aircraft:
- A jacket
- An umbrella
- Reading material
- Food or merchandise that you bought at the airport
- Assistive devices
- FAA-approved child restraint system or safety seat
- A diaper bag
- A breast pump
- A camera
- A pet carrier (but note that fees apply for in-cabin pets)
United Airlines Check-In Baggage
Depending on your route and your class of travel/fare type, you may have to pay to check in your bag(s). United provides an online baggage calculator so you can check your allowance and any fees for your particular journey.
Check-in Baggage Allowances and Fees
Baggage allowances and fees are not neatly summarized on the United Airlines website, however, United has a very informative online baggage calculator which I used to check for any free baggage allowance and any applicable fees for a variety of example flights and classes of travel without any frequent flyer status. This is what I interpreted from the calculator:
If you are a United MileagePlus Premier member, you and up to nine travel companions traveling on the same reservation can check-in 70lb/32kg bags for free, as shown in the table below:
There are some exceptions to the above for travel to San Salvador, Havana, Santo Domingo, Managua, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, and Guatemala City, where the number of 70lb/32kg check-in bags is restricted to two per passenger (all membership tiers/all cabins).
Benefits For Co-Branded Credit Card Holders
The primary cardmember of a wide variety of United MileagePlus Chase cards and one companion traveling on the same reservation are eligible to receive up to two standard check-in bags on United and United Expressflights when the primary cardmember purchases their ticket with their United MileagePlus card. You can check the benefits here:
Military personnel have free baggage allowances when traveling on United and United Express flights as follows:
- Official business: Five bags, 115in/292cm, 100lb/45kg
- Military dependent with orders: Two bags, 62in/158cm, 70lb/32kg
- Personal travel: Three bags, 62in/158cm, 70lb/32kg
Dependents of active US military personnel have the same benefits exemptions as the service member when traveling on the same reservation.
When travel is on official orders, dependents can travel alone. When dependents travel on their own without proof of military orders, normal baggage allowances and fees apply.
Seasonal Check-in Baggage Limitations
For some United destinations, there are limits on oversized, overweight, and additional check-in bags. Some destinations have year-round limits, while others have limits during peak travel periods. The limits are for flights to, from, and through these destinations.
The following destinations do not allow bags that weigh more than 70lb (32kg) all year round:
- Auckland, New Zealand
- Melbourne, Australia
- Sydney, Australia
The following countries allow only up to two check-in bags that weigh up to 50lb (23kg), and oversize, overweight, and excess bags are not accepted:
- Honduras, year-round, except between December 1 and January 15 when the embargo does not apply
The following routes allow up to only three check-in bags, and oversize and additional bags are not accepted:
- Flights between Guatemala City and Washington DC (Dulles)
Some destinations limit oversized, overweight, and extra checked bags during peak travel periods such as Spring Break or other holiday periods. United has four different check-in baggage embargo periods:
- March 23 to April 4
- June 1 to August 31
- November 19 to January 15
- December 10 to January 5
The embargoes typically apply to destinations in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. There are different limits on the number of check-in bags allowed, but the maximum weight allowed in all cases is 100lb (45kg).
When embargoes are in place:
- United will accept one box instead of one bag when there are limits for check-in bags. The box can weigh up to 50lb (23kg) and measure up to 62in (158cm) total dimensions. For destinations in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, this box can only measure up to 42in (107cm) total dimensions
- United does not accept large items of sporting equipment such as bicycles, hang gliders, and surfboards
Please consult United’s online information to ensure you are aware of the latest embargo information:
Check-in Baggage Size and Weight Limitations
The maximum total dimensions (length + width + height) for a standard check-in bag is 62in (158cm), including handles and wheels.
The maximum a check-in bag can weigh depends on your travel class cabin and MileagePlus Premier/Star Alliance status. If the maximum size or weight differ based on your class of travel and MileagePlus status, United will apply the higher limit.
United offers a customizable baggage subscription which allows you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation to check in up to two bags per flight for free. The baggage subscription is customizable as follows:
- First standard bag, or first and second standard bags
- Number of travelers
Baggage subscriptions start at $US349 per year.
The baggage subscription does not waive the fees for oversized and/or overweight bags and does not cover the cost of checking in more than two standard bags.
United’s standard check-in baggage weights are 50lb/23kg for Economy and Premium Economy passengers, and 70lb/32kg for Business and First Class passengers. Bags weighing more than the standard weights are charged excess baggage fees in two overweight baggage tiers as follows:
- 51-70lb/ 24-32kg
- 71-100lb/ 33-45kg
The overweight baggage fees are significant, typically $US200 to $US400 extra per bag.
For all passengers bags larger than the standard size (62in/158cm) are subject to an excess baggage fee which is typically in the range $US200 – $US400 extra per bag.
These excess baggage charges are in addition to any charge for additional bags over your free baggage allowance.
United does not accept bags that measure more than 115in (292cm) linear dimensions or weigh more than 100lb (45kg). However, United will accept musical instruments up to 165lb (75kg) and all assistive devices.
Notes For Basic Economy Fare Passengers
If you are traveling on a United Airlines Basic Economy fare, the key things to remember when it comes to baggage are as follows:
- You are allowed one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag, or other item measuring up to 9 x 10 x 17in (22 x 25 x 43cm). Mobility aids, assistive devices and medical devices including breast pumps are also permitted
- Your carry-on baggage allowance is the same as for standard Economy tickets if you are traveling on trans-Pacific flights to and from the USA, or trans-Atlantic flights (flights to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East) to and from the USA, Mexico, and Central America, as well as to and from El Salvador, Panama, and South America
- For all other Basic Economy tickets, a full-sized carry-on bag is not allowed unless you are a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, a cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or a Star Alliance Gold member. Otherwise, if you bring a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate, you will be required to check it in and pay the applicable check-in bag fee plus a $US25 gate handling charge
- Basic Economy fares have the same check-in baggage allowances as standard Economy tickets. For Basic Economy fares on trans-Atlantic flights, you’ll be required to pay for your first check-in bag. Trans-Pacific fares include one free standard check-in bag
Traveling With Infants and Children
If you are traveling with an infant or child, you can bring the following items on board in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item:
- Diaper bag
- Breast pump and milk
- Government-approved child seat
- Compact folding stroller that meets United’s cabin baggage size limits (9 x 14 x 22in or 9 x 10 x 17in), otherwise the stroller will need to be checked in
United will also accept one car seat free of charge for each child in addition to a stroller. This includes children under the age of two traveling on an adult’s lap and infants traveling internationally on 10% fare.
United does not consider ‘pack ‘n’ plays’, collapsible cribs, and similar products as transportation devices and so these will need to be checked in as part of your check-in bag allowance.
United’s check-in bag policy and allowances apply to children with purchased tickets, including infants traveling internationally on 10% fare. If a child’s baggage allowance is exceeded, any extra items will become a part of the accompanying adult’s allowance.
United accepts a wide variety of sporting equipment as part of your check-in bag allowance as long as they are packed in suitable containers and are within United’s standard size and weight limits. Any oversized and overweight sports equipment items are subject to standard fees for oversized and overweight bags.
Note the following:
- Bicycles are not subject to oversized baggage fees, but overweight baggage fees still apply
- Kayaks and canoes are not accepted by United
- United Express flights may have stricter limitations in place for sports equipment, and some United Express flights are unable to accept certain larger sports equipment items
- When baggage embargoes are in operation some sports equipment is not accepted by United
- For customers traveling to and from California, oversized bag fees are waived for up to two surfboards, wakeboards, or paddleboards
Depending on its size, your musical instrument can be classed as a carry-on bag or a check-in bag. Alternatively, you can purchase a seat for your instrument.
Small instruments such as violins or guitars can be taken on board the aircraft if they fit in an overhead compartment, or under the seat in front of you, as long as there is space available when you board the aircraft.
Your instrument can count as part of your check-in baggage allowance. However, United will levy charges if you exceed your check-in allowance, if your instrument measures between 63-115in total dimensions, or if your instrument weighs more than 50lb/23kg.
If your instrument measures more than 115in total dimensions, you will need to contact United’s Customer Contact Center.
If you want to buy a seat for a musical instrument that is too fragile or bulky to handle as a check-in bag the following restrictions apply:
- Must not exceed 165lb (75kg)
- Must be packaged or covered in a manner to avoid injury to other customers
- Must be secured by a seatbelt in a seat adjacent to the owner
- Must not restrict access to, or use of, any regular or emergency exit or aisle
- Must not obscure any customer’s view of signage in the aircraft cabin
- Must be reserved in advance and applicable charges paid
When traveling with United, most passengers are allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item. Some passengers traveling on Economy Basic fares or traveling with some of United’s regional partners in small aircraft may only take a personal item on board.
United’s check-in baggage allowances depend on your route and class of travel/fare type. United Mileage Plus and Star Alliance frequent flyers, and eligible United MileagePlus Chase cardholders receive additional baggage benefits.
United operates seasonal check-in baggage restrictions/embargoes on some routes.
Given the various rules and complexities please check your exact allowance when you book your ticket and again before you travel to ensure you are within your allowance, otherwise significant additional and/or excess baggage fees will apply.