United promises larger overhead bins will bring end to gate-checking bags

By Tom Bergeron
Chicago | Oct 28, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Toby Enqvist, the chief customer officer at United Airlines, enjoyed taking a slight break in the middle of his presentation to more than 100 journalists from around the globe last week in Chicago.

“Let’s all pause and soak in the calming effects of this picture,” he said. “This is like my Mona Lisa.”

The picture was of six roller-board carry-on pieces of luggage, nicely tucked in to the new (and larger) bins United will soon start installing on its planes.

“This is the dream, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “In 2020, we will start working to make this a reality for most of our customers. It won’t happen all in one year because we have hundreds and hundreds of airplanes. But, by 2023, we expect to have over 80% of our mainland fleet able to offer this: Every passenger being able to (bring) one large carry-on bag.

“This is what we call 1-to-1, bag-to-customer ratio.”

United brought the journalists to a two-day event at its Chicago headquarters to discuss all of the improvements and initiatives the airline feels it has made in recent years.

More than a half-dozen top executives discussed numerous plans and procedures. None drew as many questions as the idea of having bigger storage bins.

Enqvist said he gets it.

“Installing these large bins will destress the whole customer experience,” he said.

No more arriving early and crowding the gate lines to ensure you get on early, he said. Not to mention a much faster — less stressful — boarding time.

“Simply put, when we get to 1-to-1 bag-to-customer ratio, we’ll probably put an end to the need to gate check bags,” he said. “To put this in perspective, when we install these new large bins on a regular 737-900, it will allow for 65 additional bags to be stored. That impactful.”

Enqvist was short on specifics. Customers, he said, would not be assigned bins. And there was no plan for flight attendants to ensure that the bins are not used for other carry-on items, including personal bags.

All of that will be worked out, he said. And it doesn’t take a win from the bigger picture.

“It will make both the customers happy and drive operational efficiency for us,” he said. “It’s a true win-win.”

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