First Class Passengers Get First Dibs on Overhead Bins

American Airlines frequently begins boarding prior to posted boarding time, so when I am going to need overhead space I’m not just boarding 30 minutes prior to departure… I’m showing up at the gate several minutes before that.

Last Tuesday, though, my flight was nearly completely boarded when it was more then 35 minutes prior to departure. I got on and found all of the first class overhead bins closed. A flight attendant opened one for me, directly above my seat. It was empty. Score!

I tweeted:

This got some pushback. There was a suggestion that other passengers in economy being denied overhead space to save some for me wasn’t fair. (In fact no one had to gate check bags on this flight.)

So I asked:

I suppose that overhead bins are like first class lavatories. Are they for first class passengers? Are they for first class passengers, except when no one in first class is waiting? Are they for first class passengers… except when coach passengers really have to go? I think the norm here varies by airline, and whether there’s any barrier at all between the two cabins.

Overhead bins also aren’t like first class lavatories because there’s a very real tradeoff in who gets to use them. When a coach passenger uses the forward lav, they leave it, and it’s available again to everyone up front. But when a coach passenger uses the overhead bins in first, that overhead bin space is taken for the duration of the flight.

Often passengers will put their bags up in the first class overhead bins on the way back to coach, even when there’s still space in the economy bins. They’ve learned that there might not be space in back. So they put their bags up before they get to their seats in back and learn there’s no space, so they don’t have to return to the front of the plane and so no one takes the available bin space in the interim. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, everyone for themselves when it comes to bin space. And only the most aggressive survive don’t have to gate check their bags.

There’s an information problem. What bin space has already been taken? What’s left? It causes an inefficient distribution of carry on bags. Coach passengers with bags up front don’t delay deplaning much, they don’t take their bags out as soon as the seat belt sign goes off (and that’s a little bit inefficient) but they still get their bags on the way to the front of the plane. But first class passengers have to put their bags farther bag, which means fighting their way back into the cabin on landing to get their cabin baggage.

When first class finishes boarding and stowing bags, I do think any remaining overhead bin space ought to be available to anyone. I’d rather see that bin space used than have someone forced to gate check. Surprisingly not everyone on Twitter agreed, I didn’t expect it but I did see a sentiment that ‘first class overhead bins are for first class’ just as I saw it expressed that ‘overhead bins are shared space’ and no one is more entitled to the space than anyone else. In other words, first class is a seat only.

I thought the flight attendant did something wonderful, I was able to show up 5 minutes prior to scheduled boarding and still have overhead space near my seat. Others thought it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

So Should First Class Get First Dibs on the Forward Overhead Bins?

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. Hell yes, 1st class pax should get dibs on 1st class overhead bins. If Y pax want 1st class overhead space, they can buy an F ticket.

  2. Overhead bins in F should be for passengers seated in F. Period. Often times when I sit down, although I’ve stored my roller bag in the overhead, I still have my briefcase with me, as I’m looking at papers or doing some work before takeoff. I want that space to be available to me when I’m ready to use it. Furthermore, I find that the way some Y pax try to cram stuff into the overheads, they show little respect for other people’s items.

    If a Y pax doesn’t have room for his/her bag, it can be gate checked. The only exceptions I would make are when a flight attendant brings something place in the F bins like assistive devices like canes and crutches, a valuable musical instrument, or the bag of an elite-level flyer who didn’t make the cut on the upgrade list.

  3. Carry on storage is shared space . . . within the respective fare class. First class bins are for first class passengers. If economy passengers want to use the space they should have bought a first class ticket.

  4. I have seen many times when a Y pax has boarded before all F pax’s, the Y pax placed his roller board in the FC bin, when the F pax arrived no space.. I have told the F pax that (pointing at Y pax roller board) isn’t in F but Y. F pax removed roller board and informed the FA, who got on the PA system and paged the Y pax to ring their bell. Y pax was upset since it was an open space. I agree that once all F pax are seated then allow the FA to place Y pax carry on in the F bin is there is space… There are times when some people are “entitled” to things and this is one of them, all Bin’s in F belong to F pax’s first..

  5. There is even a discussion? If I have paid for a first class seat (or a domestic business class seat), then the space belongs to me…. I shouldn’t have to show up early to get space before someone in economy boards… If there is space after everyone boards, then the space can get used at the flight attendants’ discretion.

  6. Despite a lot of noise from the far ends of the spectrum, your perspective seems to be very sensible. Let the first class pax have first dibs, since they paid for the privilege, but let the economy people used any empty space. After all, it’s not like it costs anything to the first class passengers, with their bags already having been stowed.

  7. Really Gary? Taking to social media to humble brag about scoring some special treatment due to your elite privilege got some push-back? Who da thunk? Maybe it wasn’t the thought of reserved bin space that got the ‘push-back’. Maybe it was the awful tweet about it. Maybe some advantages are meant to be enjoyed without rubbing the common folks’ noses in it on Twitter.

  8. I echo the comments above. F bins are for F pax. Otherwise that sneaky old trick of Y pax using them on the way by will become SOP.

    I have no problem with proactive FAs finding unused space to help Y pax once F has fully boarded.

  9. i’m with you. First class bins are for first class pax bags, economy plus (or whatever it is called on your airline) bins are for economy plus (a marketed perk, though rarely enforced, on Delta) and the coach bins are for coach pax. I usually seen attendants enforcing the first class bins so someone disputing that is surprising to me

  10. I wish this was standard!

    I have to board early for overhead space. In the old days, I relished boarding last (knowing I could still get space), that the real luxury.

  11. I’m going to add a slight twist to the sentiments above. I think F bins should primarily be for passengers with a PAID ticket in F. Those on upgrades can have any leftover space and then the FAs can put in bags from Y (but not the Y passengers themselves).

    Now I’ll sit back and wait for the elites to start flaming me!

  12. Add me to the list … First Class overhead should be for First Class pax. ALL airlines need to enforce this. I also believe the lavatory should be for First Class pax.

    As a FC pax… I am paying for priority boarding, a better seat, better catering, overhead bin space and a quieter cabin. I don’t want people strolling in and out from behind the curtain.

  13. @Arcanum sorry disagree. If you are sitting in First Class it shouldn’t matter how you got there, be it upgrade, points etc…

  14. Just flew cross country yesterday in First.
    A passenger put stuff in on their way back and my pack was buried. Couldn’t get it out when we landed and had to wait for passenger to show up.
    Am a 1K flyer and fly with a backpack and small purse. I put purse at my feet and pack in the bin, But am often asked to put my pack at my feet so someone can fit their roller board in the bin. Aren’t I entitled to bin space as well?

  15. Bins in first class are for first class pax. If after all the first class pax have boarded then there is still left over space then Y can use the space. Honestly I don’t see it has a first class thing. I believe you are only entitled to use the bin over your own seats. Why should the person six rows down from me be able to take up my bin with their huge bag forcing me to have to check a bag? I’m ok with people using any leftover space after everyone has boarded, but all the bins on the entire plane are not common space for whoever rushes on board first to use.

  16. @Arcanum Cathay Pacific doesn’t do F catering for operational upgraded passengers to F. So the principle isn’t crazy. I just don’t know how it would work in practice. And while I could see it international most domestic passengers, if not upgraded, are on discounted buy ups… (when delta talks about how great they are at selling first it isn’t at full revenue…)

  17. 1) agree that F passengers should get first crack at Federal bins and 2) gosh, you could have made that point in half the words.

  18. Gary I definitely think first class bins should be held for first class passengers only.

    I also think the airlines should start charging for specific bin space or reserve bin space. That would raise revenue and make it easier for to board at our leisure.

  19. Firs Class bins are for first class passengers – not a tricky concept. Not sure why there’s even a debate.

  20. I swim up stream on this one. On a domestic flight, I view it all as shared space. 1st Class passengers already have first dibs to the space since they are the first ones to board. Hell, if they were really self loathing they could even walk their bag all the way to the last row and stow it there if they wanted. To me, first class allows you first crack at the space and a bigger, more comfortable seat. If you choose to not board when 1st Class is called, then you put yourself at the mercy of the mob.

    As I said in response to you on twitter, I think it’s perfectly clear which things a 1st Class ticket actually entitles the passenger to. Bigger seat, priority boarding, first one off the plane, free snacks/drinks and occasionally a meal. There is a lot more grey area in what else beyond those basics the passenger is entitled to. That would include whether the 1st Lav is exclusively for F passengers and whether bin space is shared space or not. I tend to fall on the side of these things as being community properties. You may get first crack at it, you may get easier access to it, but it’s not exclusive.

  21. Being a FQTV in domestic Norway, what really annoys me, is the excessive amount of crew-bags being loaded in seat rows 1-4 which in Domestic Norway is regarded as SAS Plus.
    I think the bins in the forward part of the plane is reserved for the passengers seated their !

  22. @Cory

    Sometimes it isn’t a choice to board later. I’ve had connecting flights where the board is nearly complete. There is no way I’m going to be able to get on board before other passengers unless the wait for me to board. So your point is often not the reason someone doesn’t board first.

  23. This isn’t limited to American. Delta has put signs in their F bins saying that they are reserved for First Class passengers only (at least on the flights I’ve been on since the 2nd quarter). My understanding is that the FC FA is supposed to watch this.

  24. I agree that first class bins should be for first class passengers. But I strongly disagree about the lavatories because if I am sitting in a Preferred Seat at front of coach, it can be next to impossible to get to the back lavatory while the food/beverage carts are in the aisle. And in case you haven’t ever been in the economy section, that can take over an hour. I would prefer to walk to the back lavatory but waiting an hour would be quite uncomfortable. Have a little compassion.

  25. @nealzaslavsky
    An important realization, and one reinforced by flying First and Business, is that money doesn’t buy class. (not by a LONG shot)

    I’d give my overhead space to a coach passenger in a heartbeat, if it meant that I didn’t have to sit next to some boorish, entitled sh**head who thinks that he can inconvenience everyone else at his expense.

    Anyway, concurring with most of the other comments…if you pay for FIRST, that’s your overhead space baby. For the coach passengers, that wasn’t in their deal with the fare. First means First…pretty straightforward.

  26. No brainer. F passengers get first dibs. If there is remaining space, then it’s open to all. Seems to me that part of buying that ticket, or getting that upgrade, is that you have a first claim on the space over your seat (or across the aisle). It’s part of what you bought, as is the ease of (though not exclusive) access to the bathroom.

  27. @Cory
    F pax are entitled to F or priority checkin, priority screening, priority boarding (even after F boarding is called), priority baggage, meal (when available), F bin space, and F lav. Generally, F bin space may be used after all F pax are seated and luggage is stowed. Generally, F lav isn’t available to anyone outside F (ex: United announces for pax to use lav in their cabin). Although, in rare emergency cases have I seen Y pax use the F lav.

    This is something for which you pay (or upgrade). I’m not always willing to pay for F. Therefore, I understand that if I decide to buy Y, I’m only getting what’s in Y. If for some reason I get to put anything in F from Y, it’s at the discretion of the FA after all F pax are seated.

  28. As someone who frequently flies in S,V,W fares I’d always thought the overhead bin space was for the people who were you know sitting under that particular bin. If I took up more space I was being an asshole to my rowmates. If someone else put their stuff in our bin he was being an asshole to everyone in our row. The thought about taking up FC bin space when not even sitting in that cabin seems like some one trying to bid for to asshole on the plane. It’s not like the over head bin space is ever changing, you can plan ahead at what will reasonably fit on in the event of a full flight and pack accordingly.

    The nearest bathroom is always in the aft- I’m not going to be “that guy that walks from seat 30+ down the aisle swings the curtain open and barges into first class”, that is just embarrassing. If there is a drink service going on I wait uncomfortably or I ask if I can get by if it’s really bad.

    I paid for an economy ticket so I have access to everything in the economy cabin. As far as my ticket is concerned the first class portion of the plane does not exist – I didn’t pay to go there.

    Most wouldn’t think it reasonable to see economy passengers claiming entitlement to louge access because the public restrooms are crowded so how is it different on the plane?

  29. First class passengers get priority claim on the bins there. Biz class get priority claim on those bins. If there is extra space available *after all 1st/Biz passengers are seated,* then it can be utilized by other passengers. Operationally, this means the FAs can bring stuff forward when the rear bins are filled, NOT that late-boarding passengers can automatically use them.

    You may be able to board early due to your status, but your bag(s) should be in the area of your seat unless the FA has to move them for space reasons.

    I have ZERO problems with 1st/Biz bins being used to fit in bags from coach…once all the 1st/Biz passengers have been accommodated, and if they’ve used up the space back there.

  30. I recently boarded a United flight (from LHR>SFO) in Biz class and all of the overhead bins were full from passengers on the inbound flight who were staying onboard. My biggest concern was that I was expected to put my purse into another section where I couldn’t keep an eye on it. Learned later that flight attendants also had their luggage in the biz class bins. Apparently its in the FA Union contract to be able to put their luggage anywhere they want. I was not a happy passenger.

  31. I agree with most other comments here. First overhead bins should go to first class passengers. A first class pax shouldn’t have to head back to economy during a flight or after landing to retrieve their luggage. Similarly economy pax shouldn’t be going up, into the F cabin to retrieve their items.

  32. I emailed AA about this question due to the opposite happening on a route I fly frequently. After the front was filled I went to add my small bag to the overhead in first. The FA told me my second bag needed to go under the seat in front of me because she wanted to save space for coach passengers to load bags. I emailed AA to ask what their SOP was since I always thought the first class bin space was shared for first not for the plane. Their response was gibberish and never answered the question

  33. As posted above, it shouldn’t even be a discussion. Just because someone cries on twitter doesn’t mean they have any idea what they are talking about.

  34. Agree. But if airlines strictly enforced their size dimension policies there would be no problem. I travel economy plus and it irks me to no end to see bags that exceed maximum dimensions take up valuable space, not to mention the time wasted by idiots trying to shove a square suitcase in a round hole.

  35. F bins should be for F passengers.

    but one thing that bugs me is when FAs close bins in coach before boarding has completed. leave the bins open, and send an FA through to close the bins after the boarding door has closed. far too often, i open closed bins in coach only to find some – or sometimes lots of – space left to store bags. rarely, it’s someone trying to guard bin space (like the time i found a whole bin occupied solely by a laid-flat jacket), but usually it’s the FAs.

    doesn’t gate-checking create more work for them? leaving the bins open should cut down on that chore, as pax find space in the bins.

  36. I’m with Gary. FC are for FC passengers with leftover space available for Y. One perk of flying in FC should be to board whenever you want without having to be overly concerned with bin space.

    BTW, it looks like BA is going to enforce their carry on rules – which is good. On some routes where people buy quite a bit of goods in the airport before heading home (LHR to ABV, ACC, LOS, etc.), they are carrying three and four bags each and putting all of it in the overhead. If you do not get on the plane early, you have a real problem finding space.

  37. Delta has installed placards on many of its aircraft indicating that the overhead bins in first class and Comfort+ are reserved for passengers seating in those sections. Flight attendants’ enforcement of those rules varies, of course.

  38. Don’t you think that everyone who paid for a ticket (whether first or economy) should be entitled to the storage bin over their seats?

  39. @John Bramlett I agree with you, but that would mean the gate agents would need to police people who have large carry on items and have them check them in, as well as the FA’s policing the Bin’s for items that could be placed under the seat in front of the passenger who placed that item in th bin. We all know THAT wont happen since the gate agents are on a deadline to get all flights out on time he extra time it would police and argue with passengers would cost the airlines on time rating to drop.. I personally think every bodies carry on item should have to be checked to see if they fit prior to boarding..

  40. As a Y passenger who routinely puts his bags as far forward as possible, I think there’s an easy solution to this:

    Stop charging checked bag fees, and I’ll either check my bag or not have to worry about competition (ie WN).

  41. I don’t fly first but I do agree first class bins are for first class flyers then it’s up to the FA to assist if there’s room. I have often found no space in Y but the FA’s are usually very good about helping finding room nearby or they store it for me. I’ve also noticed the lack of control for bag size sometimes contribute to the over crowded Y space bin. Rule is usually 1 carry on luggage of certain size and 1 laptop bag/purse but I’ve seen people with a carry on, a bag pack and a laptop bag, all stuff into the overhead bin.

  42. My biggest problem when flying FC is there is always some FC jerk that is first in line to board and he and his partner have multiple carry on, or a larger than average carry on, and hurry to use ‘my’ bins thinking they are entitled because they are first on the plane. I have had this happen twice and each time the Delta FA just cowered away not wanting to get involved.
    Bottom line for me is that the extra expense of flying FC should at least give me the right to the bin that is labeled for my seat. IF there is extra room, absolutely share as needed.
    PS: When I asked the last guy to please move his luggage so I could put mine in, the whole flight I heard him loudly tell his partner that I was going to Hell. It was pretty comical.

  43. I disagree on allowing Y pax the ability to stow bags in F even after F has fully boarded. Why? Some F pax may still be working from a briefcase before take off with the intent of adding such a bag just before departure. If space has been consumed by Y pax, then that’s not fair. Then, there’s the scenario of Y pax coming into the F cabin during flight to retrieve and stow, sometimes repeatedly, items in their bags disrupting the comfort and conveniences of F pax or the FA attending them.

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