Familiar to anyone?  Perhaps we could change this scene?

Familiar to anyone? Perhaps we could change this scene?

On a recent flight, I was getting myself situated in my seat, while boarding continued around me. I had boarded in Group 1 (thank you Star Gold) and was waiting for the other people in my row to join me.  It was about halfway through the boarding process of the fully sold-out flight that I saw something that shocked me. A passenger was carrying a giant hiking pack through the aisle, heading for their seat. I was blown away that this giant backpack somehow made it past the gate agents and on-board the aircraft. Surely this person was not seriously thinking that a giant backpack like that would pass as ’œcarry on.’  But sadly, it had.

Before we go to far, this is what I normally carry on with me.  That black bag has at times been heavier than it should be.

Before we go too far, this is what I normally carry on with me. That black bag, which has my photo gear, has at times been heavier than it should be.

I became to realize that the passenger with the large backpack wasn’t abnormal — it had become what the American traveling public have deemed acceptable as a carry on item. I did not grow up in the United States, but this country is now my home. When I first experienced flying in the U.S. (back in 2007), I don’t think it was as bad then as it is now.

I had never really ever experienced ’œgate lice’, the Boarding Scrum, Zone Boarding (or Group Boarding, depending on the airline), or the experience of gate-checking a bag.  All of those items were foreign to me until that time. Now they feel like part of everyday life.

For some reason, the American flying public thinks that they need to carry on everything they own when they travel (I am not talking about overpacking here).  I am sure this all goes back to when airlines started charging checked baggage fees, but what people don’t realize now is that it has gotten out of hand.

I am not talking about the cost of fees or the fact that fees are being charged (welcome to everyday life, people!); what I am talking about is what people are claiming as a piece of “carry on” luggage. The airlines have rules as to what is classified as a carry on piece of baggage and all airlines are different. Carriers in Europe are generally more strict on size, where as in Australia and the South Pacific it is weight, as well as size. There was a time in my life where I was absolutely petrified of having my carry on weighed (I was carrying a large amount of camera equipment at the time) and being told to pay a large fee or check some of it. But in the US, even though there is testing equipment visible anywhere in the airport, the rules never seem to be consistently enforced or even bothered with.

This cat is clearly thinking it can fit in this box, it is wrong.  Like so many people out there flying today thinking they can fit a giant bag in the overhead compartment - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

This cat is clearly thinking it can fit in this box, but it is wrong. Like so many people out there flying today, thinking they can fit a giant bag in the overhead compartment – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Much of the problem comes down to the way people act about the carry on baggage rules. They see a piece of testing equipment and they have the same attitude that is seen in the popular internet cat meme ’œIf I Fits, I Sits.’ Now, I am not a big cat person, though I am assured that this is a real thing; cats will try and fit themselves into things they quite possibly shouldn’t. It seems cats are not the only ones; just because you can cram a huge backpack into the sizing equipment, it doesn’t mean you should.

Do you really need to try and carry everything through the airport with you? Why not just fork over the $25-30 bag fee and let someone else do the work for you? Sure, I understand that a lot of people these days think that the airline is going to lose your bags at the drop of the hat, but those instances are few and far between. You worry that you won’t get your bag in time before you need to run away from the airport? Take a few extra minutes and use the bathroom, bring yourself back to reality after being squished for your flight.  Perhaps get yourself a coffee or a snack before heading to baggage claim; those few extra minutes would not be wasted.

Perhaps if we were not all fighting to get onboard, we wouldn't have boarding situations like this?

Perhaps if we were not all fighting to get onboard, we wouldn’t have boarding situations like this?

A lot of it comes down to attitude of the flying public. Once one group of people start doing it, more people will do the same thing.  It is a “monkey see, monkey do” kind of attitude. If we could all start to be a bit more mindful of what we are carrying on, how we are doing that, we wouldn’t have these problems. There wouldn’t be any ridiculous boarding problems as people try to swarm onboard to get the best position to store their bag because they don’t want to fork out for a bag fee.  But I hear you saying to yourself, ’œI don’t see any solution here and the airlines are just going to charge me a fee for it.’ Well here is a solution, one that many people may not like, and it is quite simple:  JUST CHECK YOUR BAG.

Yes, I said it – check your bag, it isn’t hard. ’œBut that will cost me more,’ I hear you saying. Will it?  How many of you out there have even bothered to look at some of the ways to avoid paying a bag fee?  One of the easiest ways of doing that is to fly Southwest. Some of the best and least stressful boarding experiences I have had were while flying Southwest. There is no massive scrum for the overheads and people understand that they can just check their bags.

For the other airlines that charge bag fees, there are plenty of ways around having to pay one.  If you fly one airline regularly enough, just getting the bottom-tier elite level could be enough to get you a free bag. ’œBut I don’t fly enough in a year to even get near elite status,’ I hear you saying back at me.  For some airlines, elite status is much easier to obtain.  Want Star Gold but don’t fly enough to even make silver with United?  Send those 24,000 miles to Aegean and you will have that Star Gold you dream of, and with it comes lounge access and a free checked bag.

Some of Southwest's "Bags Fly Free" advertising.

Want to avoid paying for a bag fee… here is a way! – Photo: Southwest Airlines

Another way to get around bag fees is to get an airline-branded credit card. Airlines like United, American, and Delta all offset bag fees for co-branded credit card holders. Some even give you better boarding position or other perks. Often, those credit cards come with a free first year or a heavy chunk of points to go with it.  Often times, those perks are included for others on your reservation. Ultimately, the more bags you check rather than carrying on, the less hassle there will be onboard and you won’t have to fight someone for that last final space in the overhead compartment.

Do we really need to wait for the aircraft manufacturers to make bigger bins (like this Boeing Space Bin)?  Shouldn't we do something about it ourselves? - Image: Boeing

Do we really need to wait for the aircraft manufacturers to make bigger bins (like this Boeing Space Bin)? Shouldn’t we do something about it ourselves? – Image: Boeing

If we can all be a little bit smarter in what we carry on, many of the problems we have in this day and age with boarding will disappear. Can you imagine what it would be like to not have flight attendants walking down the aisle telling us to ’œhurry up and store your bags and get out of the aisle?’ Sure, we could wait for the aircraft manufacturers to make bigger overhead bins that can accommodate more bags (they are by the way), or we could do something about it ourselves — sooner.

You are probably thinking right now ’œwhat is the point of this whole piece,’ – well here it is: It is not hard to read the airline’s carry on baggage policies – please do this first. Then follow those rules and perhaps even check a bag as well. We will all be happier and it will mean less hassle when boarding, less hassle in the airport security lines, and less stress for everyone. Doesn’t that sound great? It does to me! Fly on my friends… fly on!

CORRESPONDENT - SEATTLE, WA. Mal is an Australian native who has been a huge fan of airlines and aviation and currently works in airport-related operations. Email: malcolm@airlinereporter.com

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M Simons

Have ONE 17″ carry-on which carries all I need for up to 1wk trips.Haven’t checked anything in over ten years, and don’t intend to.

I agree, it is getting out of hand. 1 month ago we had a young woman bring a backpack/bag that was clearly too large to be a carry-on. She looked at the overhead space and loudly complained that people shouldn’t be putting bags up there that can fit under their seats! If you have a reasonable sized carry-on, you can put it wherever as far as I’m concerned.

not only is it out of hand…but right down dangerous…all that extra weight in the bins can kill us when there is a crash landing, have you seen the video footage of the last few plane crashes? people jumping out of emergency exits with their carry-ons….those fat rollerboards and camping back-packs should be in the lower cargo bin…we have arrived at the time for airlines to stop the nonsense…

On a recent cross country (USA) leg, the airline offered upgrade to 1st class for $75 upon online check-in. With the upgrade came free bag check for 2 bags, a savings of $50/bag). Essentially, I got upgraded to 1st class for $25.

Thank you for saying this! I am absolutely sick of everyone’s roll-aboard suitcases. The fact that the flight attendants have to make a statement when boarding about placing smaller items under the seat in front of you to make room for the suitcases is just atrocious. Why should I who paid to check my bags (on the off-chance I fly something other than Delta where it’s free..)lose my leg room so someone who could not be bothered to check their own bag can have the space? Not to mention the time lost waiting for all of these suitcase toting individuals to attempt to locate an appropriate amount of room for all their possessions. A bit of a rant I apologize but this has bothered me for a while.

Amen – though I get really irritated when someone puts small things in the bin and takes up space prior to the larger bags being put in. I always wait and when boarding around me is done – I’ll toss my small bag in. Courtesy folks.

I travel for business. Checking a bag adds between an hour to an hour and a half to my trip between waiting to check and waiting for them to deliver it. I don’t have that time. I also need the flexibility to be able to change flights if mine is delayed or canceled and you can’t do that with a checked bag.

Boarding would go a lot faster if people would get to their seat and step in and then start putting stuff away instead of blocking the aisle. And in any case, in the end the plane is leaving on schedule. It’s not leaving any earlier if everybody checked bags. That takes time…so does fueling and cleaning and catering.

So really, at the end of the day, what does someone putting a bag in the overhead affect you? It’s not making your flight late, and if you check your own bag, then you don’t need thst space anyway.

Excellent article!
I have been checking my luggage since 1981 when I started flying commercially. I travel about twice a month and carried on my luggage on board about twice in 34 years. About 90% of the time, I have to connect in DTW, MSP or ATL, so not checking my luggage would be a real pain for me. I have only had my luggage delayed once in the last five years and that was when I was going home so it wasn’t a problem. I have gold status on Delta so it doesn’t cost me anything to check my luggage. However, I believe that most people who travel for business could expense the checked luggage fee anyway.

Try it sometime; it is very liberating!

At the end of the day, most of the time it’s just people being lazy. God forbid they have to go wait at the luggage carousel.

On a Jet Blue flight earlier this year, the lead FA came on the PA twice and thanked everyone for having so many people check their bags.
We fully boarded an A320 in maybe 5 minutes. She even put the movies on for free as a thank you.

And then there’s the idiot whose seat is in row 90 but puts his/her bag in the overhead on row one as he/she treks to the back of the plane.

Scott Shearer

Right on the spot, Malcolm. As a Platinum Medallion flyer with Delta I never carry more than my backpack on board, unless I’m taking my cat with me and then it costs $125 to put her kennel under the seat in front of me. It pisses me off to no end to see the amount of stuff people try to get by for carry-on these days. Very often, because of full flights, Delta will offer complimentary gate check for bags and people still insist on taking the bag (or bags) on board. Pretty soon the airlines are going to have to hire a person just to oversee passenger’s carry-on is kept to a strict limit.

What makes me really laugh is someone isn’t willing to pay the fee to check a bag, but they will bring on $30 of airport food and coffee that they don’t end up fully eating or drinking.

I flew Delta last year. I had the allowed size amount of carry-on. The airline asked people to check in bags due to a full flight AT NO COST. My wife and I did it, not that we needed to. And yes, the people who pushed the limit certainly didn’t seem interested.

Airlines continue to treat people like cattle; now we are starting to behave as such!

I blame the airlines for not enforcing the rules — they need to be more pro-active.

Amen, bro. Amen! It is Waaay out of hand. All carriers apparently have their own rules, but compliance and enforcement seems to be at the whim of the lice-herding gate agent. Clamp down more, folks!! ONE piece per person, max weight 25# and call it anything you like; purse, tote, laptop bag – I don’t care. One Piece. Sure!! Buy a spendy BC or FC ticket and get a bit more room/weight. Where the masses fly, what seems like 15-across for a single aisle airplane and seat pitches that feel like 12″ is a good deal, ONE PIECE per person and check the rest. “Oh! I have a Necessary Medical Device,” she says. “Oh! Yes Madam, we will accommodate that and can assure you of OH Bin Space. That will be a $100 surcharge, Madam. With that be cash or credit card?”
Good heavens, people! If your carry-on does not pass muster, Check the Damn Thing and let’s get the airplane moving, on time.


I can’t remember the last time I flew AA when they weren’t offering to check bags for FREE at the departure gate- As long as you can get your contents through security why pay to check it at the counter? They’ve brought this on themselves…. NUTS!

One more time, people loading carryons isn’t significantly changing whether the plane is on time. It takes time to fuel and cater the plane and it takes time to load the bags. You aren’t losing lots of time. Just spending some of it in the aisle instead of standing at the gate. The plane is still leaving at the same.

So…if you are checking your own bag, why is it your business whether others do? You don’t need that space anyway.


When I FLY, I never carry anything on board with me, except, myself, I don’t want the hassle of being bothered with some stupid Bag , that’s what the belly of the Aircraft is for, Duhhh !!!
OK – I’ve got a Boeing 707-320 to catch than hop on a DC-6, then on to a Lockheed L-1049 Constellation !
catch ya all later, Fly me away !
Joe Patroni’ Chief Engineer / Airport 1970

I much prefer checking my bag because it’s much more convenient, but I can’t rationalize paying an extra $50 roundtrip to check a bag if I don’t have to. Though the carry-on I use actually conforms to the rules (which is why I don’t always use it – it’s only big enough for 2-3 days of clothes). If airlines want to solve the problem, they need to enforce the carry-on restrictions. If airlines want to solve the problem without pissing off most of their customers, they’ll ease up on bag fees.

If the entire airline industry and every airline would enforce the carry-on policies, then the “pissed off’ public would have no choice but to grin and bear it. What are they going to do, drive instead? As a hypothetical situation, how long would it take to board a plane if NO carry-ons were allowed? One can dream!


So frequently these days I cannot find space above my seat for simple small bag containing those essentials that may be needed if your main baggage goes AWOL

The time the great unwashed and ignorant people spend standing and obstructing aisles whilst attempting to tuck away cabin baggage is astonishing this with the constant bobbing up and down during the flight for those seemingly essential items they should have stuffed in their pockets is infuriating to say the least.

Lets return to one small item of hand baggage per person days, everything goes in the hold, no choice..

The cargo (baggage) weight is known, while the weight of passengers (and their carry-ons) is often just estimated in take-off weight calculations.

The incorrect passengers weight estimate contributed greatly to the the Air Midwest Flight 5481 crash in 2003.

Please remember this the next time you want to save an hour or $50 by not checking your bags.


“or the fact that fees are being charged (welcome to everyday life, people!)”

I think this is the main point of the article, right here. Airlines charge fees, about $25-50 to check a bag. Welcome to reality, people; this is the norm, get used to it!

But there’s a counter-argument, and the main reason why this new ‘norm’ isn’t being well adopted by the American public, because people are selfish….and I’m attempting to use ‘selfish’ in a good, or at least neutral way because I wholeheartedly agree, I’m selfish, too. When I roll a 60-lb, STUFFED TO THE POINT IT WILL BARELY ZIP, “carry-on” through security, through the terminal, through the gate and try to cram it onto a plane that was built in 1997, you know, back when that same overhead space was intended for 3 people, the only 3 people I care about are me, myself, and I.

Let’s say I was considering paying a $35 fee to check my bag…as a convenience. Who’s convenience? Mine? Rolling around my own suitcase is indeed a bit of an inconvenience…but not a $35 inconvenience. I’ll spend that $35 on something else, I dunno, maybe a bottle of water and a muffin from the concourse shops.

You’re right, this is a reality, and a norm that bags now cost $35 to check…but also, the reality is, no one is willing to pay that. Not for their slight inconvenience and certainly not for the convenience of others.

Absolutely agree! I carry one piece of carry on bag (with wheels that are flush so other bags may be stored) which is not the hard shell type to boot. The past two flights have caused anxiety since I’ usually seated near the rear of the plane and am one of the last to board. It never ceases to amaze me that I am stopped before boarding and told to check my bag since no overhead space available. You think?!!! I just watched a plane full of folks with multiple bags per person along with an oversized piece that would fit another small human! How is it fair that I pay for my I met and abide by e rules only to become the odd person out? Annoying and unfair to say the least!

Hello I will gladly check my bag…. if you’re paying. Unfortunately some of us are on a budget and that 25-30$ can go a long way. So how about you pay or mind your fuckin buisness

100% disagree. For my family of 4, checking or carrying on is a difference of $200. And what do I get for that $200?…the privilege of spending more time in the airport, and the risk of our bags not all making it to our destination. It’s simple economics…people are going to do what is in their best interest.

How about just truly limit the size of a carry-on and actually enforce the rule at the gate?

BUT I respectfully disagree with the ‘always check your bag’ advice — learn to pack smarter, take less, and use a well-designed bag (preferably one without wheels, like a Mystery Ranch Mission Duffel 40 which is much more easy to navigate with, and removes any issues with sidewalks, roads, carpet, etc. and is nearly indestructible) and walk off the plane and go.
Keep in mind, checking bags on the front end takes time too, so the “time savings” point might not be as valid as the author thinks; I watched on my last trip dozens of passengers scramble to the kiosks and ticketing desk, checking suitcases, etc. and trying to get through as fast as possible. Lots of waiting and growing lines while passengers watched the clock, still needing to go through security….another joy.

And, yes, paying $25+ for one bag is something I don’t do. I can get away easily and comfortably for 3-6 days with a carry-on (one that is actually legal carry on size, and not a mini steamer trunk disguised as a C.O.) I then take the $$ I saved for a good lunch at a local joint (not an airport restaurant) then head to the hotel while others are grappling with their tonnage.

Less is more, and call me impatient, but I wait for no luggage…..

Peter Drecker

I agree with your rant, but this is a simple case of incentives. When the airlines started charging $50 extra for them to handle your luggage, people stopped checking luggage. I pack light and small–$50 is the cost of a significant portion of what I’m carrying in the bag. I’m not going to pay $50 extra every time I fly, so I carry on both my roller suitcase and my personal backpack with camera / electronic gear.

It’s gotten so bad in the US that my last 3 international flights did not even include luggage in the cost of the ticket! Which makes bringing liquor back from abroad impossible, due to the silly TSA doing an unnecessary check on your connecting flight after you arrive in US.

The changes imposed by the airlines and government over the last 15 years have made air travel rather unpleasant. But the current system has now become the bureaucratic status quo, and I don’t see it changing. Southwest is the one holdout on luggage (TSA forced them to redo their excellent boarding system), but I’ve found their ticket prices are no longer the lowest. Americans are very price conscious. Ask us to pay extra for something, and we will alter our behavior in response.

Another huge benefit is that one can skirt the airport arrival rules if one checks no luggage. I typically arrive at the airport 30-45 minutes before a flight, even for international flights, and the airline never knows because I “checked in on line” hours earlier, go straight to a kiosk which prints a boarding pass, and never interact with the airline until I’m boarding the plane, so they have no idea when I arrived. If I was checking bags, many times I would have been turned away because I wasn’t there 2 or 3 hours in advance as the rules require.

When returning from abroad, there is the new US Customs express line–in Dallas, TX if you have no checked luggage, you get to use the pilot / crew line to go through customs — zero wait, they ask you 2 things–what country you visited and was it business or pleasure, and welcome you to USA, no hassle.

Bottom line is: the rules make it advantageous to carry on bags, in many ways, so people will do that. In order to change that behavior, the rules need to change, and I don’t see that happening.

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