Passengers Forced to Gate-Check Purses

June 14, 2013

in Luggage Stories

My story concerns a flight from Houston to Portland, as part of a trip that was to end in Honolulu. My mother, age 75, was traveling with my oldest son and me. Our purpose was to attend my youngest son’s wedding in Honolulu. Because of my mother’s rather fragile health I arranged that we have a wheelchair escort between planes. We reached Houston with enough time to make our connection and when we boarded our flight we discovered that my son had upgraded us to the bulkhead row because he is over 6 feet tall. There was no bin space available, so Mom and I had to “gate-check” our purses and my CPAP machine (medical equipment). We were not given any alternative by the flight attendant at all.

When we arrived at our next stop in Portland, I was informed that our purses and the CPAP machine would be at the luggage carousel. I thought they would be handed back to us upon arrival, not dumped onto the luggage carousel with everyone’s suitcases. I immediately started running so I could get my purse and Mom’s purse before anyone else could. The wheelchair attendant rushed with Mom to keep up with me, shouting directions as to how to get where I needed to be. He was as horrified as I was that this had happened, instrumental in us finding where the luggage would be, and was very nice to Mom. We had to leave security and would have to be re-screened once I had our stuff. The time for our next connection was very tight now.

I got our stuff and Mom, who used a quad cane, was told to give the cane to the screener. He said, “Stand at the metal detector and fall through. I will catch you.” I was horrified and tried to intervene, but was told to stand back. Luckily, Mom did not fall and could manage her adventure without me, but I was really angry by this point. We made it to our flight with minutes to spare, but without the advice of the wheelchair attendant we would have missed our connection.

This does not compare to other stories I’ve read here, but I am not a frequent flyer and still cannot understand why our purses had to be checked as luggage.

– Jo Griffith

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

mrsjamiecbaker June 14, 2013 at 11:27 am

Any experts here that could weigh in on the rules and regulations when it comes to carry-ons? I was under the impression that passengers were afforded at least one carry-on item, provided they aren't grossly enormous. Being asked to check a purse is ridiculous, especially since a woman's livelihood is generally contained within. I'll be damned if I'm giving up my wallet, cell phone, medicine, etc. 🙂 If anyone can shed some light on why the purses would have had to be checked, that would be wonderful!


Local reader June 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm

The only thing I can think is that the purse was large and the FA thought it was a satchel-type suitcase. It doesn't excuse the FA because you *are* allowed one carryon. The airline also goofed by putting gate-checked bags on the luggage carousel, they're normally brought up to the jetway or (for smaller commuter aircraft) placed at the bottom of the stairs as passengers disembark.


Aaron June 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I think your story fits right in here! It's those crazy little things that add up to a flight from hell. Glad you made it.


madachode June 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

what's fookin wrong with the mum? using a cane


Jodi June 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm

What is wrong with you for asking such a personal question??


sexygal April 8, 2014 at 5:29 am

what's wrong w/being curious (even though it's none of anyone's business) ?!?!


lin June 17, 2013 at 9:01 am

As I sit here shaking my head about what happened to you I can't decide which was worse. Taking the purses then putting them on display with luggage or having your mom "fall" through security.

I would have been livid on both counts. As someone else stated my lifeline is in my purse and there is no way I would give it up. And for what happened to your mom…horrible. I would def send the airline a letter or such with complaints. Good thing you had the wheelchair person there to help you.


Jo Griffith June 18, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Thanks for the comments. The logic about taking our purses was that we were seated on a bulkhead row and we are not allowed to hold them in our laps or put them under our seats. As for Mom, she has had several small strokes and has balance issues because of them. She also has a heart condition that is well controlled with medication but she did not need the stress of trying to walk from gate to gate without assistance. Thank God for the wheelchair attendant in Portland. He was truly a bright spot in this mess.


Gregg June 18, 2013 at 9:28 pm

My elderly mother-in-law (she's now 100) has had nothing but exemplary service from wheelchair attendants in airports from what I've seen. They've been gems in what can often be stress-filled settings. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!


Trixi June 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm

No room in the overhead bin for a purse? A purse?


FedUp June 19, 2013 at 7:37 am

The FA was right. All you once a year fliers who think that the rules of 1 carry-on do not apply to you need to wise up. I am tired of seeing ignorant passengers try to cram luggage, backpacks, bags of crap into the overheads. It is wonderful to see the TA's enforcing the 1 carry-on rule. If you keep doing what you are doing, we will end up paying a fee to carry luggage onboard. Thank god for first class, where I sit, where we don't have this problem.


madachode June 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm

That’s right, and to top it off lugging around a fookin CPAP machine? WTF. use breathing strips.


cpapflyer August 3, 2013 at 1:06 pm

How insensitive! Some of us cannot use breathing strips because we have severe sleep apnea. Legally, the FA cannot make you put the CPAP as checked. They are allowed onboard and do not count as a carry on.


Diablo August 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Yes, and if someone has a problem with that, they can listen to the obnoxious noises made by those who suffer from it. At least we're trying to fix it huh? I admit, i've woken myself up from it. CPAP machines should be allowed no matter what.


Diablo August 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Preach, CPAPflyer =)


RedHead0186 July 10, 2013 at 12:25 pm

As I understand it, they each had one purse, therefore that fits into the 1 carry-on rule that you're referring to. They should have been allowed to put them in the overhead bins, per the policy. The CPAP machine, yes I could see that causing some issue, but I can't blame them for not wanting to check that-they recommend you take important medicine/medical supplies onboard with you so they don't get lost. However, if the plane was full I could understand the FA wanting to gate-check the CPAP machine, and that's reasonable. The purses, no, that was just ridiculous.


Rich April 21, 2015 at 9:56 pm

Old post, but I have to reply for anyone that may read this in the future. They had one carry-on, and that was the purse. Per FAA rules the CPAP machine, as a medical device, does not count against that. On top of this is the fact that "one carry-on rule" is incorrect. It is one carry-on and one personal item such as a purse or briefcase that can fit under the seat in front of you. The problem here was that there was no seat in front of them and other rude travelers had already taken the bin space that should have been for those bulkhead seats.


Boydboy April 26, 2014 at 8:49 am

It sounds like a lot of you people don't fly much. There is no rightful 1 carry-on rule like some of you keep repeating. It's all up to the airline depending on the plane as well as safety issues. On a lot of smaller regional jets just about every bag is gate checked unless it is a small personal item. I carry a small cabin bag from either JFK or LGA to ORD almost weekly. Most of the times I have to gate check it. This bag is way smaller than any typical carryon it's just a briefcase style cabin bag. If you've ever island hopped in places like Hawaii even messenger bags get gate checked. The main problem with what happened to the OP is the airline sent gate checked bags to the luggage carousel. Gate checked bags should be laid out outside the airplane door on the jetway or the tarmac depending on your exit.


Krista October 12, 2014 at 12:59 pm

The FA should have allowed the purses in the overhead bins and made someone else with oversized luggage to check their bags, or someone that has put both their carry on and personal item in the overhead. I would have given up my overhead space for you.


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