Congress Wants to Shrink Your Carryon!

It’s bad enough the government is concerned with what’s in your carryon (liquids).  Now CrankyFlier points to H. R. 2870: To standardize and clarify the dimensions of carry-on baggage and personal items on air carriers.

The proposed legislation will

limit carry-on bag dimensions to no more than 22 inches by 18 inches by 10 inches for a total of 50 inches. It would also make the TSA reinstall those obnoxious bag sizers on the security machines

Cranky points out that most airlines already permit only 45 total inches. But a handful of carriers do permit larger carryons — Southwest, for instance, is more generous allowing proposed maximum of 50 inches, and Airtran allows a full 10% more than that.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) issued a press release encouraging the government to get involved.

We applaud Representative Lipinski for his strong leadership on this issue and for his responsiveness to our members’ pleas for help in fixing this exploding problem.

Exploding problem? The Richard Reid-ization of carry-on bags, we’re all shoe bombers now! Seriously, ‘exploding’ seems a bit over the top.

Current programs to control the weight, size, number and contents of carry-on bags are inconsistent, inadequate, confusing and outdated.

This union’s concerns with carryons are inconsistent, confusing, and outdated. There, I said it — with just as much explanation and evidence as this union musters!

At the beginning of the decade two carryons were generally permitted, now only one is. So fewer carryons are now allow. Meanwhile, some airlines (eg Continental) have gone to lengths to install bigger overhead bins to accommodate the carryons. And it would seem that more stringent restrictions of carryons is the outdated idea in a world of increasing fees for checked baggage.

Passengers must navigate a maze of carry-on baggage programs that differ at each airline

Navigate is the right word, i.e. on an airline’s website!

Most carriers have standard sizes already, but if the customer gets it wrong, the worst case scenario is having to check their bag — the very same worst case scenario this Flight Attendants’ union wants — to legislatively require for larger carryons.

flight attendants continue to have to settle overhead bin disputes and are often times injured by items that do not meet current guidelines

Injurious are a spurious issue here, the legislation restricts a handful of carriers from allowing carryon baggage that’s at most a few inches in total size larger than is currently permitted. And I don’t know of a single study that’s ever suggested this change would reduce injury.

Meanwhile, “settling overhead disputes” is just the kind of problem that such lofty Chambers of Government ought to be addressing, I suppose. It might prevent them from causing real damage to the world economy.

Current standards for carry-on baggage were established more than a decade ago when passengers brought far fewer items on board with them.

This is just false, prior to 9/11 passengers could generally bring on two carryons. The issue with crowded overhead bins now is a function of higher load factors — a half-empty plane doesn’t fill up overhead bins the way a full aircraft does. (And that leaves aside any effect of checked baggage fees.)

The bill also requires that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) install and utilize a template with depth and width limitations that would prevent items that exceed the prescribed dimensions from passing through the conveyor belt.

If you believe that the TSA is useless in performing a protective security function, then I suppose you need not be concerned about giving the TSA the new mission of policing the size of carryon baggage. So I won’t really complain about this one.

Fortunately, I don’t see this legislation going anywhere. It’s only been introduced, and will be sent to both the Committee on Homeland Security and to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the House.

Presumably this is just grandstanding by Congressman Daniel Lipinski, a member of Congress since 2005 who serves on the Aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee. His Congressional seat was previously held by his father (1992 – 2004). The transportation committee is a good place to be if you’re a Congressman from Chicago, home of United Airlines (notice that they already comply with the rules this legislation would impose). According to, his top five donors are transportation-related, four of which are unions. Naturally United’s PAC kicks in as well. Gotta keep in the news, though, if you’re a relatively junior congressman from Chicago!

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 »

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  1. I got nailed on AA last week at LAX, carrying on my “carry on garmet bag” that I’ve used for the past two years out of the same airport. I was told the place was crawling that week with FAA Inspectors “enforcing” the carry on dimensions. I was forced to check the bag (enroute to Santiago, Chile), which they lost. 🙂

    I realize that something has to be done about the “drag aboards” that folks are lugging on board. But it’s easy to tell the difference. Some of those duffels could hide a 3 year old!

    And Flight Attendants don’t want to deal with it. they’d prefer it regulated so they can blame someone else. Airline Customer Service 101.

  2. The reason the overhead bins are so full is because the airlines decided to start charging for checked bags, so more people carry bags on to the plane to save money. This legislation is one of the most idiotic pieces of nonsense I have seen in a long time. All this would do is waste the time of the TSA by making them the baggage size checking police.

  3. What’s up with the AFA? Is there some agenda they have that I’m missing? Are they just stupid? Are they gaming an adversarial relationship with airline management? Do they want customers to lose even more respect for them with their confrontational attitudes?

    I’ve been a marketing/branding/PR/customer-service consultant guy for a long time, and I just don’t understand the communications coming from the AFA. There’s so little logic to every stance they take.

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