Business Passenger Removes Economy Bag from Overhead Bin: The Poors Can’t Use My Space!

A business class passenger shares that they boarded late, and started shuffling bags around in the overhead bin above their seat in order to fit their carry on. An economy passenger two rows back asked them to “be careful with their bag.”

He pulled that passenger’s bag out “and placed it at his feet” and put his own up in the bin. The bin has a sign that marks what cabin it’s for.

  • Cabin crew tried to find another place for the economy passenger’s bag
  • They couldn’t, and that bag got checked.

The Passenger (understandably) and one of the ground personnel tried to have a shot at me for taking his bag out – said I shouldn’t have touched his bag.

My argument was I paid for the space according to my ticket. My bags were where they were meant to be.. his weren’t.

Wow. First, overhead bins are shared space. But airlines may designate a bin for passengers in a particular cabin, and everyone should follow those instructions. Second, I’m shocked that a passenger in coach who used the bin had their bag removed and taken out of the cabin.

Overhead Bins Fill Up For Two Reasons

Generally gate-checking bags isn’t much of a thing on Southwest Airlines. And it wasn’t much of a thing until 16 years ago when airlines started charging to check bags. When checked bags are free, people bring less on board.

And they used to be allowed to bring more bags on, overhead bins were smaller, and there was still enough room! Before 9/11 it was common for airlines to allow two full-sized carry on bags onboard and that didn’t even count your personal item.

Also, the TSA happened, and to speed up security checkpoints limits were placed on carry on bags. More bags carried on means more bags going through the checkpoint, and more work for screeners.

Airlines Are Designating Bins By Cabin

For years customers in economy have stowed their bags wherever they’ve been able to find space. And that’s been acceptable because there were no clear norms and no enforced rules over who overhead bin space belongs to.

Delta and now American label their bins with a respective cabin, and so do some foreign airlines, suggesting that only passengers in those seats should use those bins. That discourages some people from stuffing their belongings in the overhead as they walk by on their way to the rear of the aircraft, but it doesn’t work with everyone.

I’ve never seen a this rule enforced after a bag is placed in a bin and most passengers are seated.

Who Gets The Overhead Bin Space?

Here are (6) principles for carry on bags that I think are true.

  • When everyone is on board, remaining space belongs to everyone. It would be stupid to require a passenger to gate check a bag because there’s no space left in ‘their section’ of the aircraft but open space up front.

    If a passenger is entitled to use bin space in their ticketed cabin, and coach passengers should walk back to coach and hunt and peck there, surely this changes at some point during the boarding process. If you’re in the last minutes of boarding can’t you take any space at all?

  • A boarding pass is a license to hunt. While everyone except Basic Economy passengers on United and on some (other) ultra low cost carriers are entitled to bring a carry on bag onto the plane, there’s generally not enough space for everyone to actually do that anymore.

    And since there’s not enough room for everyone to have space above their seat, there’s no entitlement to the space directly above your seat.

  • It’s not ok to use bin space above the bulkhead if you aren’t seated there. Those seats generally don’t have floor storage so passengers in those seats have to stow not just a carry on but also their personal item up there as well.

  • Unwritten rules sadly aren’t enforceable. American Airlines says 87% of customers fly at most once a year. If there are unwritten rules, how are those customers supposed to know them? And if they aren’t required to follow unwritten rules, no one else can be either.

  • There’s an information problem. Passengers boarding the plane don’t know what bin space has already been taken or what’s left. Closed bins might be a signal, or the bins might just be closed.

  • Coach passengers taking first class bin space slows down deplaning. Each first class passenger that has to put their bags farther back in economy have to fight their way back into the cabin on landing to get their cabin baggage that delays deplaning a little. Deplaning speed suggests passengers should use space nearest to them, and taking space in front of your row means someone else has to move backwards on landing. Wouldn’t Kant say this is a categorical imperative?

  • Be sure you aren’t last to board. If someone is going to have to gate check a bag you don’t want it to be you.

This tells me that no matter what signs airlines put on bins, there’s going to be some deviation and airlines aren’t asking flight attendants to enforce the signs. First class bins should be for first class passengers first but the end goal should be getting as many carry on bags on the plane as possible.

Ultimately this is a war of all against all, and you have to take care of yourself, the best way to do that is to race the boarding gate and get on as soon as your boarding group is called.

This Passenger Was A Jerk

It actually sounds like this premium cabin passenger was going to fit their bag in the bin by moving some items around. They were being a jerk tossing the other passenger’s bag down. And cabin crew let them get away with it. But the coach passenger, taking bin space not designated for their cabin, would have been far better off not speaking up.

(HT: Paul H)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. @Gary – it just struck me that telling people not to board last seems a little contradictory coming from someone who cheerfully admonishes everyone to arrive at the airport as late as possible.

  2. I mean, there is a bit of equivocating here — first he says that there was room if he shifted some of the bags around, then he “clarifies” that there wasn’t actually enough room. I think it’s clear that in the former situation yta, in the latter, nta (but don’t be a jerk about it). It also doesn’t matter if you’re paid F or an upgrade — no one can know that without opening up the reservation.

  3. @Christian – I want to not be LAST to get overhead space, but also not to be FIRST!

    Of course the best is when I can travel with just my laptop bag for a simple overnight then I don’t need bin space at all…

  4. I would like the bin above my seat or across from my seat to be able to hold my carry on, if it cannot fit under the seat in front of me.

    My personal items belong as close to me as possible, for access and for security.

    If Airlines enforced this,, traveling would be that much easier for everyone. It would also be one less headache for their flight crew.

  5. I had the non bulkhead FC passenger stow his bag over my bulk head seat. I loudly stated, this ain’t gonna work and he jumped up and moved it. He saved me a trip to the flight attendant on duty.

  6. Big hat tip to passenger up front removing economy passenger’s bag. Too bad common courtesy fails to have the day but the right result comes to pass.

  7. Since FAs wont police it; you have to guilt the party nearby into compliance especially bulk head row and I agree wholeheartedly with the FC pax basically removing the economy pax’s misplaced luggage like he said, I paid for this space above my seat.

    Wonder how he determined the economy pax luggage was from an economy pax?

  8. 1: The economy passenger should have kept his mouth shut
    2: When I was doing regular cross-country flying, I’d either aim to be the first person on the plane if I was in first / had a large carry on, or the last person on the plane if I was in coach and had checked everything but the laptop bag. I’d let the gate agent know I was there, and to let me know when they were ready to close up.
    But why be crowded when you don’t have to be?

    3: There’s lots of reasons to be showing up at the last minute that are completely out of your control, like a delayed flight making your connection tight. So I have no problem with a late arriving FC passenger expecting to be able to get a spot in the FC marked overhead space.

    4: you gamble, you lose? Suck it up, buttercup

  9. 4. If the economy pax does not own up to that being his bag, open it up and look for a name tag or state over the intercom, this bag is being left here unless the owner identifies themselves now.

  10. In order to conserve bin space, some airlines make announcements during boarding to place the smaller item under the seat and the larger item in the bin AND to stow bulky jackets in the bin AFTER all the guests have boarded. But if there’s no more room in the economy bins after all the guests have boarded and there’s room in the premium cabin then the guest should be allowed to park their bag in that bin if the cabin crew agree to it.

  11. but only after all FC pax have put their bags up…. these economy moochers are doing it on their way to the back of the plane. That is a big no no.

  12. I side with the J passenger especially since there are clear signs. The rules are simple, if there is no space in your cabin, you ask the flight attendants. They either move it up to first class if there is room left, or you Gate check it. This happens almost every day on flights.
    The J passenger only removed the other guys bag after that guy identified himself. He clearly wouldn’t have done it to another person in J. However, the best approach would be to ask the flight attendant.
    It’s obvious that in this scenario, the flight attendant sided with the J customer – because his bag got gate checked and not the other dude.
    In summary, if J isn’t fully boarded yet, an economy passenger should not use the space upfront. If the back is full, have the flight attendant resolve it. Enf of story. So the jerk is the eco passenger.

  13. Wow, this business class passenger who boarded late exposed themselves as an a$$hole. Unecessary, and demeaning behavior.

  14. That first class passenger was a whole lot nicer than my husband has been in the same situation.
    I always dread it if we have to get on the plane later because of something like a delayed connecting flight.
    He flew with an air crew in the Air Force for years, and now many of his friends are pilots with the three major US airlines, and he has very specific ideas how things are supposed to happen, and has no problems, saying them out loud. I cringe.

  15. Don’t be a jerk. Place you items above your seat or the next one behind and so forth. Backpacks and coats, etc, under your seat. I hate having to say, “whose ish?”

  16. This is why I fly Southwest exclusively. While by no means am I a frequent flyer. I fly up to four times a year. I’ve never had to hunt for bin. I’ve always been able to put my carry-on over my seat or directly across the aisle. I’m aware of gate agents advising those in the C boarding group that the flight is full and they could gate check a carry-on for free even if they’ve already checked two bags. Go Southwest!

  17. No ticket includes guaranteed OH space, even for IFC.

    As for half these comments, the FA will tell passengers to use any available space (includes F) generally at point little is left. They may also place it there themselves.

    Touching another person’s bag can be bad. If you damage something you are liable.

    Lastly never (there was suggestion) ever open a bag and go rummaging through it. You had no right to even move them bag, but going through it will likely get police involved. What happens when they say you stole something or were trying to steal something? Oh I just wanted to know whose bag it was isn’t likely going to be end of conversation.

  18. I fly American domestic first class/business class often.

    My experience has been based on aircraft. If you make a left turn (787,777) overhead is never an issue. In a 737 it’s every passenger for themselves. I have had the running of the bulls for a backpack with other people booked in the same cabin. I have see often the last group (#100?) Place bags in the first class overhead. There is a sticker there , why? The issue is American has toooooo many boarding groups. The Conceriage class, active duty, left handed college students, etc.

    I board in group one on my pass (really group 4) and it’s the final group that does that is an issue.

    Actually, I would get the F/A involved after I remove the bag.
    I pay a premium and the benefits today are limited. No PDB, meals or snacks.

  19. I fly with the poors most of the time.

    If there was room in the monocle-and-top-hat section, it should be used by the poors.
    If a top-hat needs to be stowed, AND there is no space, the poor’s trash come put. If there is space, doors get to keep their torn footwear up there.

    Respect the rules and have common courtesy while maintaining decorum, people.

    Again, I am in the back of the bus 80+% of the time.

  20. About a decade ago, I sat in coach next to an extremely wealthy and prominent businessman. Some, including myself, are frugal.

  21. While it could have been handled better, I agree with the first class passenger. And I never fly first class. What is the point of paying extra for your seat and storage bin if someone else who didn’t uses it? To me this is akin to someone moving up from coach to an empty first class seat once the flight takes off. If there is room, absolutely, take the space, but if it’s full, priority should go to the one who paid the extra money.

  22. Just before boarding begins, the gate agent should say, “Listen up, everyone, this is important…a few rules to follow. You may bring onboard only one size qualifying bag to be stored in the overhead bin and one personal item like [give the examples]. Overhead bin space in main cabin, economy, and premium economy spaces is for only those ticket classes. Overhead bin space in first class [business class] is only for those ticket classes, none other.”

Comments are closed.