Don’t Ban Overhead Bins On Planes

I’d be on board with a plan to charge for carry on bags and offer all passengers free checked bags. This would preserve the scarcest space, rationing it to those most willing to pay. It would speed up boarding and deplaning. There would be fewer passengers and flight attendants injured. In other words, it would align incentives beautifully.

But there’s no way I’d agree with banning carry on bags entirely, turning us all into United Airlines basic economy passengers.

To be fair,

  • People bring items that don’t fit in overhead bins
  • And they don’t know how to stow things in the bin properly
  • Nor to put smaller items underneath the seat in front of them
  • This all delays boarding and deplaning, and leads to to higher costs for airlines and missed connections for passengers

Airlines install bigger bins but they’re still not enough, in some measure because people don’t place bags in bins on their sides.

Ultimately though if consumers have difficulty with user experience, that can’t be pinned on the consumer. You’re asking people to do things differently than they’ve always done them, without clear enough instructions or assistance.

I don’t have a problem with airlines enforcing their size rules at the gate, but then asking passengers to pay to check those bags just contributes to further delay to address an edge case. It’s only when too many people start intentionally bringing oversized bags to the gate in order to check them free that this needs to be addressed.

It’s long been said that there’s only two kinds of luggage, carry on and lost – and airlines don’t yet even have to refund checked bag fees for luggage that’s lost (though the Biden administration wants to change this).

Banning carry on bags might save several minutes during boarding and deplaning, only to cause even greater delays at the baggage belt. While Alaska Airlines and Delta manage to consistently do a great job delivering bags in under 20 minutes from arrival, American Airlines, United, and Southwest do not. American only hits 20 minute bag delivery less than two-thirds of the time in Miami.

Furthermore if you’re forced to standby for an American Airlines flight at the gate, your bags will not make it – by system design. There are simply too many items that are too important to check and too many lucrative premium cabin customers airlines need to be profitable that foisting this on them makes no sense.

Charging for carry ons Spirit-style, waiving the fee for elites and cobrand cardholders, is something to consider. Banning carry on bags, however, is not.

(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 »

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  1. I recently flew on a full LH a321 in Germany. Seated in the back, it took < 5 minutes to deplane. Only about 10% of pax had roller bags. The same aircraft and seat ATL-TPA on DL takes 20-30 mins – every time. Yes- charge for these bags, I’d pay an extra $20 to get those half hours of my life back.

  2. I agree with Mr. Leff on all counts. I wonder if it would be practical for airlines to provide multiple bag sizers at each gate and require all passengers to use them and get some sort of sticker for their bag proving it isn’t oversized? then any other bags would not be subject to free checking at the gate. I know this sounds pretty onerous, complicated, and possibly impractical, and I’m willing to consider other options, but something might be better than the current mess.

  3. Part of the reason people don’t put the smaller items under is that thanks to the airlines, you barely have room to put your feet underneath let alone a small bag

  4. The middle road is to ban larger size carry on. They are really the problem. I see passengers with roller bags and a carry on. 2 pieces. Then there are the women who cannot physically lift their bag to the overhead bin. If the airlines used a screening device at the gate for size the problem would solve itself.

  5. I agree with you in disagreeing with the article about carry-on. But in that article is also some hate for people putting a backpack in the bin. Well, that’s me: I paid to check a bag, so I’m darn well putting my backpack up above.

  6. I have a roller bag that is exactly 22x14x9, the max permitted dimensions on all the domestic majors. It took me a good amount of searching because most rollers sold as carry-ons are actually oversized. I am often carrying the smallest roller bag onto the plane. Enforcement by screening everybody’s bag before boarding would simply add to delays. The time would just be incurred in the terminal instead of on the aircraft.

    Random checks plus a penalty fee are the way to go. Right now, airlines check oversized carry-ons as normal baggage to be claimed gratis. That needs to change; oversized carry-ons should go be checked to the destination baggage office and held there with a penalty charged to all passengers, especially “elites”. Frequent flyers know the rules better than others.

  7. Carryon bags need to be checked before boarding. Mostly everyone carries bags larger than stated by the airlines.

  8. I dream about how much faster boarding would be without carry-on bag stowage. Ban carry-ons I say!

  9. -Charge for all carry ons
    -Reduce charge for checked bags
    -Do not allow pax to wear their backpacks (and hit me in the face with it in my aisle seat)
    -While we’re at it, let’s stop the pet parade on aircraft

  10. What sort of article is this? There is no one or organization calling for overhead bins to be banned.

  11. Rarely slows departure. How many times does the plane start roll back 3 min or less after all seated and bags stowed. And if connecting, will be many more bags missed next flight, especially if a late arrival (often).
    And more checked, more wait at baggage claim.

    But if 25% more checked, more employess needed and cost goes up .

    I 90% check as not in rush and easier to get around. But I always use overhead for backpack. I use less overhead space than most.

  12. Now that you mention it, I do carry my laptop in a backpack along with my headphones. Obviously, I need an exception.

  13. They need to issue tags for bags that are allowed in the bins. One max per passenger. Then just before closing the door, they need to roll a huge grinder machine down the aisle, connected to a vacuum hose going out to a dumpster planeside, and throw any bags without tags in the bin into the grinder.

    Problem solved.

  14. @marc, agree 100%.
    On a recent trip to Hawaii, I could not even place my purse under the seat.

  15. Actually, the author of the article could have saved herself a lot of grief if she simply had not scheduled such a “tight connection time in Chicago.” On Memorial Day weekend. That’s, um, kinda asking for trouble. And for the irretrievable loss of your soul to some different realm.

  16. Mobility and medical devices don’t count toward carry-on limits when flying with American Airlines. However, American Airlines advertises, “if space is limited, the device doesn’t fit in the cabin, or if it isn’t required during the flight, it may need to be checked. These include,
    canes, walkers, continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAP), and other assistive devices that can be collapsed to fit into overhead and under-seat storage or items used for comfort such as seat cushions, arm or footrests.”

    As a firefighter and paramedic, I understand coach-cabin passengers are disappointed when told their $2,000 CPAP machine must be gate-checked due to limited space. Unfortunately, vital medical breathing machines have been smashed beyond repair while gate-checked in transit when passengers arrive by air more than 12 hours from home.

  17. Years ago a bag sizer was on the TSA security belt. If the bag was over size you would be directed back to the counter to check the bag. I agree with most readers all luggage should be checked curb side or at the counter.

  18. Airlines brought this on themselves by charging for checked bags. Now they are too addicted to those fees to give them up.

  19. Fortunately thevidea isn’t from the government or an airline but just some travel writer I’ve never heard of. I almost always travel carry-on only, even when checking a bag would be free for me. I want to be on my way to where I’m going or to a lounge when I get off the plane, not waiting bu a conveyer belt for a half hour waiting (hoping) for a bag to come. Really terrible idea and it would affect my choice of carrier.

  20. Fortunately the ides isn’t from the government or an airline but just some travel writer I’ve never heard of. I almost always travel carry-on only, even when checking a bag would be free for me. I want to be on my way to where I’m going or to a lounge when I get off the plane, not waiting by a conveyer belt for a half hour waiting (hoping) for a bag to come. Really terrible idea and it would affect my choice of carrier.

  21. Just board from front and rear doors like European LCCs. Much faster. Frontier is going to try that at DEN. Should be interesting.

  22. I am always amazed at how fast European planes board and deplane — literally 5 minutes for an A320. By contrast, a United 737 often takes half an hour or more.

    I suspect that more people would die in an emergency on a US plane, because at least a few people would try to get their stupid oversized roller bags down from the overheads and block everyone else in the process.

  23. Look, I hate to say it but the American population in general is DUMB, over entitled and only think about themselves.

    There is no feeling that these people think or care that someone might be trying to catch a connecting flight while you take your sweet time.

    And the mediocre domestic airlines (ALL of them are sub bar) don’t have the intelligence to put the people who have connecting flights in the front, so they can get out faster.

    I often wonder how these people actually fly planes. Monkeys would do a better job.

  24. Ban those stupid carry ons.

    I just boarded an A350 on Singapore Airlines. Boarding started T-30 and we were ready to leave at T-10. The plane was 100% full; almost nobody had carry ons. It was pleasant and fast. What a way to fly — bad those stupid carryons: one personal item should be the absolute maximum onboard.

  25. It’s quite ridiculous that airlines charge for checked bags and allow monstrous things to be carried on. They have it exactly backwards … how long will it take for the airlines to understand this simple concept? Exempt the carryon charge for first/biz class, affinity CC holders and airline elites, charge everyone else. There, done with that, let’s move on to the next issue.

  26. Boarding on Southwest Airlines is generally much quicker as most people check their bags.

    The last two times I have flown American and carried thing on, they have asked us to gate check our larger bag at no cost. I do not know if this is something that generally happens, though.

  27. I travel with a smallish shoulder bag and a briefcase. The last time I checked anything was 1969. The bag goes overhead and the briefcase under the seat. I am headed downtown while the jumbo luggage fans are waiting for the carousel even if I was in the back of the plane. Southwest has it right with checking included in the fare. The advantages of packing light and carryon are explained by George Clooney in the movie “Up in the Air.”

  28. Oh please. 25 years ago, maybe even longer, lost bags were commonplace. But I’m on 50-100 flights per year, every single time with a checked bag, and it’s been several years since I had a bag go astray, and even when that happened, it wasn’t lost – it had just missed a close connection and arrived on the next flight.

    I wish you wouldn’t perpetuate the old “carry on or lost” quip, because it hasn’t been true for a long time. I’m not saying checked bags never get lost, but the number of times this happens is so small these days that it’s hardly worth thinking about.

    Baggage pricing policies have encouraged everyone to carry on their bags, but I will never join the masses lugging big bags onto planes and fighting for bin space. I’d love to see airlines encourage more checking of bags.

  29. Use the smaller-aircraft gate-check option for carry-on bags.

    The idea of smaller carry-on items under the seat ahead doesn’t work on aircraft like the RJ-145 or CRJ. There’s barely enough room for feet in those aircraft, much less feet-plus-bag.

  30. Was exiting aircraft or trying to but a hefty woman was holding up the works as she struggled with multiple carry-ons PLUS her rollerboard. How’d she get past?

  31. When I see people forcing bags into bins which they know will not fit I want to beat them about the head.

  32. Americans are tight arses and rather than pay to check bags, carry on 4 or 5 items which goes unpoliced by boarding agents. Easy solution….check everything under the plane, eliminate bins. You are allowed a small backpack or purse but that goes on your feet. The bigger the bag you bring, the more it sucks for you. When boarding, you find your seat and sit down. How long do we all have to wait to board as each dickhead has to fiddle with their carryon before storing it and sitting down?

  33. Ban overhead bin use. This will reduce to two the number of tasks so many travelling imbeciles seem to find so difficult when boarding a plane. One, find your seat. Two, SIT THE F&CK DOWN. Simple.

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