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So do they then charge the $25 bag fee?

That's probably why they're checking so far ahead of the gate...closer to the baggage check. Gate check is more likely to be complementary because nobody's trying to monetize at that point, they're trying not to get fined for late departure.

Might be just a crackdown from above to start maximizing revenue by enforcing size standards.

Maybe...wouldn't surprise me, but the stated reason does seem to be FAA's position of "you make a rule, you gotta enforce the rule."

I never see Southwest fly where I want to go at the times I need, but I have friends who got RDU-FLL or other FL points and love it.

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