If you’re planning on flying with United Airlines this year then you’ll want to know what to expect in terms of potential fees and luggage restrictions for both your carry-on items and checked bags.
So for your convenience, whether you’re traveling with carry-ons, checked bags, or both, here’s a comprehensive list of every important United baggage policy all passengers should be aware of in 2021.
In this post you'll learn:
United Airlines Carry-On Allowance
Don’t risk arriving at the airport for your flight and having your carry-on luggage turned away or unexpectedly checked. United Airlines lets most passengers travel with one carry-on bag and one personal item each, free of charge, as long as the items do not go over the airline’s size and weight restrictions.
Basic Economy tickets allow for one personal item only and do not include free carry-on luggage. If you do bring a full-sized carry-on bag when flying economy, you will be required to check the bag and pay the checked bag fee (whatever it is for your flight) and a $25 gate handling charge on top of that. All other flight classes include one free carry-on and one personal item.
Your carry-on bag technically has no weight restrictions, but it is expected to fit in the overhead bin. This means it must not exceed 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches or 22 centimeters x 35 centimeters x 56 centimeters. This includes all exterior hardware such as handles and straps. Your personal item, which is expected to fit under the seat in front of you, must not exceed 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches or 22 centimeters x 25 centimeters x 43 centimeters.
Other items that all passengers may bring in addition to their carry-ons include standard “special” items such as umbrellas, FAA-approved child restraint systems and safety seats, assistive devices such as wheelchairs and walkers, and pet carriers.
Carry-On Allowances for Toddlers and Children
If you are going to be traveling with an infant or young child, there are a number of necessary items you can bring that United Airlines will not charge you for. These include:
- A diaper bag 🎒
- A breast pump and milk 🍼
- An FAA-approved child or infant restraint seat 👶
- A compact folding stroller that meets carry-on size restrictions (9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches or 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches) 👩👧👧
All children under the age of two may travel with one car seat and one stroller. This allowance is included in all flight classes and on all flights. Strollers usually need to be checked at the gate but if they do not collapse, you’ll need to check them at the ticket counter.
Bringing Pets Onboard
Small dogs and cats are allowed on most domestic and international flights, but you will, of course, need to pay for your pet to travel with you in the cabin. A service charge of $125 is charged each way for a pet, and an additional charge of the same amount is assessed for every stopover of greater than four hours.
Service animals are not under the same restrictions as pets. See this page for information on traveling with service animals.
Pit Bull breeds are not permitted on the airplane at all.
The requirements for traveling with pets are as follows:
- Puppies and kittens must not be younger than 16 weeks old
- Unaccompanied minors are not permitted to fly with pets
- Additional pets require an extra ticket and an additional $125 each way
- Pets that don’t fit in kennels may not accompany you in the cabin and will need to travel in a separate compartment of the plane through United Airlines’ PetSafe transport program
- You and your pet must be on the same flight
- Oxygen services are not available for pets in the event of an emergency
Your pet will need to be up-to-date on its rabies vaccinations and you must bring a health certificate showing that they are to the airport. Some states, like Hawaii, have their own restrictions in place that you need to research.
Small instruments such as violins and guitars are permitted as long as they are in a hard case. If they are placed in the overhead bin, they’ll count as your carry-on. If they are placed beneath the seat in front of you, they’ll count as your personal item.
Certain items are strictly prohibited on United Airlines flights. These restrictions are put in place by the federal government and there are no exceptions.
Items never allowed on a flight include:
- Self-balancing or self-riding bags
- Camping equipment that contains fuel of any kind
- Defense sprays such as pepper spray, tear gas, or mace
- Explosives including but not limited to fireworks, flares, and gunpowder
- MREs containing flameless heaters
- Shock absorbers
- Smart bags with batteries that cannot be removed
- Select electronic devices
- Perishable items
Items allowed on flights with restrictions include:
- Power tools
- Mobility devices
United Airlines Checked Baggage Allowance
How many bags you can check for a United flight and how much each of those bags will cost to check depends on your loyalty status with the airline and the flight class you’ve chosen. Size and weight restrictions are also dependent on flight class and loyalty status.
Here’s a Visual Breakdown:
For United Economy flyers, checked baggage may weigh up to 50 pounds or 23 kilograms. United Business, United First, and United Polaris checked baggage may weigh up to 70 pounds. The latter is also the restriction for passengers with Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, and Star Alliance Gold (First, Business, or Polaris) MileagePlus status.
No bag may exceed a combined total of 62 inches (length + width + height) unless checked by an active-duty U.S. military member traveling for official business.
You can pay for your checked baggage, provided that it meets size and weight requirements, online before your flight or at check-in.
How Much Do Checked Bags Cost on United?
To get the most accurate cost breakdown on how much it will cost to check your bags on your next United flight, use their baggage cost calculator.
The cost varies not only by route but also by which cabin you’re sitting in (economy, premium economy, business or first) as well as your membership and status. Your membership and status are determined by the credit cards you hold and whether or not you are active in the U.S. military.
In general, for North American economy flights you can expect to pay $30-$35 per bag depending on whether you prepay or not. If you need to carry a second bag this will cost an additional $40-$45.
For flights to Europe the first checked bag is free even for those in the economy cabin, however second bags will cost up to $100 to check.
If you’re flying any level above economy both your first and second bag will be checked free of charge. Same goes for acting U.S. military members. You can read more about this in our “Exceptions and Waivers” section further below.
Checked Baggage for Children
The same checked baggage policies apply to children with purchased tickets and infants flying internationally on 10% of adult fare as for adult passengers. Should a child’s baggage exceed their personal allowance, the fare-paying adult accompanying them will need to assume the excess baggage as part of their own allowance.
Excessive Baggage Fees
If you must bring a bag that exceeds the above size and weight restrictions or you want to bring an additional bag, you may do so for a fee. Some flights do not allow oversized or overweight bags at all, so be sure to look into this every time you fly.
Checked baggage may never exceed 115 linear inches. Most baggage may never exceed 100 pounds. Musical instruments and mobility devices, however, may weigh up to 165 pounds. Overweight bags (weighing over 70 pounds but less than 100) can cost up to $200 each. Oversized bags measuring more than 62 linear inches also incur a fee, which is dependent on the flight destination and subject to change.
Please note that if a bag is more than one of these things—extra, overweight, or oversized—you’ll be charged more than one service fee. Extra bags are permitted only when there is space available on the plane.
Fragile and/or Bulky Items
If you happen to be flying with an oversized, bulky or fragile item that is too delicate to transport as checked baggage, you may choose to purchase a ticket for it and have it sit next to you or in another open seat. This item and ticket purchase must be approved by a United Airlines agent.
Some examples of cabin-seat baggage that would be approved by United may include the following:
- large musical instruments
- electronic devices (cameras, computer hardware, medical devices)
- garment bags
Please note the following cabin-seat baggage restrictions:
- Item(s) must not exceed 165 pounds (75 kg).
- Item(s) must be safely covered in a way that avoids injury to other customers.
- Item(s) must be secured in a seat adjacent to the owner.
- Item(s) must be properly secured by a seat belt to avoid shifting during flight.
- Item(s) must not restrict access to, or use of, any regular or emergency exit or aisle of the cabin.
- Item(s) must not obscure any customer’s view of “seatbelt,” “no smoking” or “exit” signage.
- Item(s) must not contain dangerous goods.
- Item(s) must be reserved in advance and applicable charges paid.
You can read more on United’s cabin-seat baggage restrictions here.
Exceptions and Waivers
Both active-duty U.S. military personnel and their dependents and MileagePlus Premier members and their travel companions can have checked baggage fees waived. For these flyers, a maximum weight of 70 pounds is enforced rather than the standard 50 pounds.
Active-duty military personnel and their dependents receive 3 complimentary checked bags for personal travel, 2 for travel orders, and 5 for official business travel. MileagePlus Premier Silver members receive 1 complimentary checked bag on most domestic and select international economy flights, Gold receive 2 complimentary checked bags on economy flights, and Platinum and 1K members receive 3 complimentary checked bags on economy flights. All premium cabin travel permits 3 complimentary checked bags for those with Silver, Gold, Platinum, or 1K status.
Some destinations such as flights to San Salvador and Havana have additional restrictions in place when it comes to complimentary checked baggage. See these here.
Credit Cards That Give You a Free Checked Bag With United Airlines
As you can see, United Airlines does not offer free checked baggage to just any customer, as some budget airlines do, but there are a couple of ways to check a bag for free when you’re a United passenger.
Not a member of the military or a United Airlines favorite customer? A United Airlines credit card might be the way to go for you. United offers five different credit cards through Chase bank and all cardholders receive at least one checked bag for free.
Here’s how many free bags you can check when you’re a United cardholder:
- United Explorer Card: 1
- Club Card: 2
- Presidential Plus Card: 2
- United Business Card: 1
- United Club Business Card: 2
According to United, having the United Explorer card (first card on the list above) can save you up to $140 per round trip! The primary card holder plus one companion on the same United reservation both get their first standard checked bag for free on all United-operated flights. You’ll have to make the purchase with the United Explorer card for the deal.