The Truth About Under-Seat Storage: Why Passengers Are Stowing Carry-On Bags All Wrong

On most airlines, passengers are allowed to bring a full-sized carry on bag on board along with a ‘personal item’. There are size limits to these, but that usually means something like a small roller bag and a laptop bag or purse. You put the larger of those in the overhead bin, and the smaller underneath the seat in front of you. Simple, right?

People seem to get confused over whether they use the space under the seat in front of them, under their own seat, or both. Three stories,

Lady was sitting in the first row of C+ on the aisle. There was no seat in front of her, the row in front was first class (single seat – CRJ900). So she decided to put her bag under her own seat. A few min later a guy sat down in the seat behind her – he had a backpack that should go under the seat in front of him but this lady’s stuff was there. He asked her if it was hers, and she said “well there’s no seat in front of me – I’m allowed to do that.”

I had a woman try this on a transatlantic flight and she did have a seat in front of her! I pressed my call button and told the flight attendant someone must have left their bag from the flight before (I knew full well that wasn’t the case) and immediately the lady pipes up to say it’s her bag. The FA chastised the passenger and her tone was definitely “come on, you know better.” That was only the beginning of the war between us for the rest of the flight. Rudest woman I’ve ever encountered on a flight, aside from the lady who took off her shoes and socks, crossed her leg, and put her disgusting toenails two inches from my coffee cup. And that was in first class

Older business man type put his bag under my seat (he was row 1, I was row 2). I asked around if anyone was missing a bag and then finally I ask him if it was his. He didn’t even look at me and said “yes and I boarded first so I’ll be using that space”. I corrected him and said sorry you must not fly much but since you’re in bulkhead you don’t have under seat storage. He ignored me and didn’t look at me so I picked his…bag up and dropped it right on his lap. There were audible gasps but he still had zero reaction at all. I put my bag under the seat and sat down. Lady next to me quietly high fived me. He then snapped his finger at the FA and handed it to her and said “find somewhere for this to go”

Let’s be clear:

  • As a general rule, you don’t get to put your belongings underneath your own seat.

  • You don’t even get to put belongings under your seat when you’re in the last row of first class on some planes. Increasingly airlines have removed full bulkheads as they’ve worked to squeeze in more seats, so that space under your seat belongs to the person in the first row of coach.

  • Last row of the aircraft, though? You can often have at it.

It’s possible that a given person does not know this, even though it is pretty basic. People do fly for the first time, and also fail to listen to instructions. Most of the time, though, the person so bold as to do this is simply a psychopath.

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. Don’t engage with other passengers. If you find a bag in the underseat space for your seat, just move it into the aisle after everyone has boarded. A flight attendant will come by and take care of it.

  2. To be more clear—bulkhead seats store everything in the overhead bins.

  3. When I was a timid fellow, an NCAA basketball player sat next to me and asked if he could put his bag in my underseat space instead of his, because he was tall. Stupidly, I agreed, because I grew up in the Midwest where we are culturally taught to be people pleasers.

    I hate the Midwest for making me so timid. I am now in the Northeast and trying to grow a backbone.

  4. Let’s be clear. People who don’t follow the rules on an airplane aren’t confused, they’re either arrogant or stupid. Let’s stop being politically correct about bad behaviour. Call it what it is. You have to laugh at someone picking up a mis-placed bag and dropping it in the pax lap. That’s about the best definition of stupid I’ve ever read. He was lucky the pax didn’t punch him out.

  5. I like that strategy. Rather than jack around trying to stow my bags, I think I will snap my fingers and say, “Find someplace for these.”

  6. Thanks for the article; I never knew the reason for this — if it was a safety issue or what.

    “[..] psychopath.”
    Or simply don’t know the reason 🙂 The airlines don’t say.

  7. That’s an interesting standard for someone to be categorized as a psychopath. Unfortunately, we are on path to to re-elect (as President of the USA) a much worse psychopath in November unless the current incumbent gets re-elected to consecutive terms. Fortunately, won’t have such a psychopath as a passenger on any flight of mine since the guy would hog all the space without remorse.

  8. People literally lose all sense of courtesy and decorum when traveling in an airplane. A few years back, I was on a late afternoon flight on WN out of Richmond and seated in an aisle seat around 8 rows back on a fairly empty flight with many open seats. Just prior to closing the door for pushback we heard an announcement that they were bringing on a severely disabled passenger and would need a whole row. As I was the only one seated in my row I said I would change. They brought the passenger on and got him seated by the window and then the person traveling with him approached the row and opened the overhead bin. She then screamed loudly “who belongs to this stuff”? I had not thought to remove my belongings as they were in a hurry to close the door. Before I could say a word, she began throwing my things to the floor, even though there was an empty bin directly across from her. The FA quickly relocated my things and apologized for the situation.

    Never saw anything like that before or since. People have become very rude.

  9. GUWonder,
    Really? You bring your politics and extensive knowledge of psychology (sarcasm alert!) into this discussion?
    The underseat bag issue is, if nothing else, simply rude and selfish behaviour.

  10. Phil C., that’s exactly why he didn’t bring politics into the discussion. He brought a very prominent and recent example of rude, childish behavior that most people would be able to recognize as his example. [Wink]

  11. Donald Trump is one of the rudest men ever. Per my now deceased grandmother who rarely ever had a bad thing to say. So yes people are following his example. To be fair many democrats are following his example too.

  12. Airlines should enforce size limits on carry on bags. Many such bags are way too large.
    Alternatively, they should not charge for checked bags but charge for those larger carry ons.

  13. No offense, but how stupid are people today. . .oh right, they voted for Trump. But seriously it’s been decades since bags when under your own seat (used to be that way in the 70’s) . It’s no wonder there are flights on planes. I think we need to start to test people before they travel and if they can’t fingure out basic common sense then. . .NO TICKET FOR YOU! LOL

    Can’t wait to see whose panties get in a bunch of this post. Losen up but come on people it’s not that hard.

  14. I don’t think you understand what “all” means. I’ve had enough of this click bait.

    Aside from that, I’ve had only one instance in my life of somebody putting belongings under their own seat by mistake.

    It’s not an issue in first class because there’s plenty of overhead space. Plus, especially on international flights, there’s no shortage of space in places like foot wells or other storage compartments.

  15. Someone has a severe case of TDS. The thread is about storing your bags for Chrissake.

  16. I’m not sure that there is space directly beneath your own seat to put something down and shove it back under. I’ve noticed the way they are built on some planes it seems there are barriers between the bottom of the seat and the floor too small to fit something in. (After all, stuff doesn’t slide forward when you’re landing.)

    Anyway without trying to get too political I’ll just add one thing. In 2016 I wanted my grandson, then 4, to get a sense of the election. I played a short speech by Clinton and he watched and listened politely. Then I played one by Trump. After it finished he sadly shook his head. For me seeing him make fun of that disabled reporter was enough, but kids just know when someone isn’t right.

  17. Considering that there is a bar across between the front legs of your own seat, blocking you from sliding anything backwards, there should be no question that this is not the place for your belongings. Claiming that you thought this is your space is disingenuous B.S.

  18. It was mentioned earlier by Michael H, but I’ll repeat – give a free checked bag and charge the $35 fee for a carry-on (personal bag allowed). The whole issue is the fault of the airlines not thinking things through.

  19. I don’t think I have seen bags stored under the seat a person is sitting in. I have had people try to put their feet in the area where my feet are supposed to go. I typically push their feet out. If I need to, I tell them their feet go in the space in front of them.

  20. I always put my personal items in the overhead. If I found anything in my footspace I would just dump it in the aisle.

  21. My Italian nature is likely to come out if the guy behind you acted rudely and arrogant like that to me. I’d have to take his bag and slap him upside the head. Rude people bring out the worst in me.

  22. Wow Joanie. Is that your Italian nature or your personal nature requiring psychiatric treatment? My next door neighbors were Italian immigrants and nothing like you. Of course I have also seen aggressive people of Italian heritage who need to be locked up – because they’re aggressive, not because their ancestors were Italian.

    It’s not rude of someone to give your bag back to you.

  23. @sunviking82

    One can like Trump’s policies without liking the man. I’m not sure that people who voted for Trump are stupid or more stupid than someone who voted for someone occupying the WH who is, unfortunately, obviously cognitively impaired. Shame on his family for allowing him to be put in the situation.

  24. The airlines created this monster by charging for checked baggage (and losing it all the time and well as taking so long to remove it from the plane). That, and the class system have made air travel so distasteful that I loathe flying anymore. Just what is going on in first class that they need a curtain to keep everyone from seeing? And never mind that there’s a bathroom there only 15 feet from me, IT’S THEIRS. I need to walk all the way to the back of the plane to the peon bathroom.

  25. @Ron

    The charging for carryon has one small fault. A lot of items CANNOT or should not be checked.

    Batteries, laptops, tablets, personal medicines, jewelry, etc.

    I don’t mind them cracking down on large stuff but a little common sense needs to apply as well

  26. I’m just starting to fly again in my new role. As such, I don’t have status. I will often pay to check even a carry-on size bag as I know that I will be boarding in a later group typically or the plane is designed for larger overhead anyway. my complaint is that I will store my backpack overhead and I had a flight attendant pull mine out so that somebody could put a carry-on there. So, I pay to check my luggage, don’t get overhead storage, and somebody who is carrying on their luggage gets to take the space that I should be equally allowed. That one torques me.

  27. Have you ever noticed how many bags flight attendant bring on board with them, they store them in he overhead bins, Which means less space for passengers to put there bags. Airlines need to start enforcing bag sizes that can be carried on the plane,

  28. I boarded a HA inter-island flight. I watched the family of 5 ahead of me board with a full sized roller bag and backpack of equivalent size. I had checked my carryon, all I had was a small purse/backpack – loungefly. I placed it underneath the seat in front of me – as one should. The lady sitting next 2 me had a large purse, and a full beach tote. The beach tote went above her and the large purse at her feet.

    The FA monitoring the carryons and the greeter must have said – a thousand times – that roller bags have a priority over smaller totes. That FA monitor asked whose tote was in the overhead and the woman next to me answered, “it was hers” The FA said, since we are trying to make room for the roller bags, she would have to move it. Her purse was too big and both items could not physically fit on the floor in front of her.

    The FA pointed to my underneath storage area and said, put it there. I looked at the FA, and the woman next to me and said, “no, that is not going to happen” the tote stayed in the overheard. We took a lengthy mechanical delay, I got up and walked thru the cabin to the lav – on my way back – that family of 5 had their beach hat’s underneath the seats but all 10 of their items got placed into the overhead on the right – facing forward – cuz the left side doesn’t accommodate roller bags. They were seated in 2-2-1 on the left side.

    I remember flying with open overheads for hatboxes, gentlemen’s hats, and overcoats. I’m not the scapegoat for your poor mismanagement of monitoring the carryons. 10 f-ing bags!

  29. @ Ron

    But you’re fine with Trump being cognitively impaired. Hypocrite.
    His policies were also terrible.

  30. On narrowbodies, I’m always in row 2. I had a streak a few years back that the person in front of me popped their bag in my space. I never let them get away with it. Recently, the tendency if for bulkhead passengers to have bags at their feet and act/are surprised when the FA tells them they need to go up. Additionally, on one flight the row 1 passenger thought the entertainment screen attached to the bulkhead was a footrest.

  31. I was once in last row of first class on an international fight and wanted to put an extra bag under my own seat. Since there was a bulkhead and galley behind me, there were no main cabin seats. FA informed me that space was reserved for crew baggage and emergency equipment.

  32. I would just like to see everyone only take one carry on plus one personal back. That’s it. I hate to see people come on board with several small bags and put them all over. This way their stuff is stored and others are not.

  33. I just assume those that bring too many bags are too poor to pay for checked baggage.


  34. Airlines that run correctly do not have these problems. Earlier this week I had an Asiana flight from LAX to ICN on an A380 and another Asiana flight from ICN to PNH on an A321. I had an upper deck window seat on the A380. There was not only enough overhead bin space but also a side bin under the window where my personal item and jacket were stored. The flight attendants did some moving around of luggage in the overhead bin as needed to get everything to fit near where people wanted it to fit. For the A321, a gate agent got some people to check their carry on roller bags for free. This freed up enough space so that everything put in the overhead bins fit after a bit of moving as necessary by the flight attendants. Great service plus great meals.

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