What airlines should really do about carry-ons

Now that most airlines charge for checked bags, I think they should charge for carryons or do away with them all together.

Charge for carryons

I'd divvy up the overhead into small compartments that would hold one rollaboard. Then I'd sell each compartment. You could buy an overhead compartment at the same time you buy your ticket, or when you check-in or at the gate. But not on the airplane. The idea is to make it faster to board – letting people buy space on the plane would make it slower.

I'd also give the IT staff the budget to put a little LED screen on each overhead compartment that would show the seat number of the person that "owned" it.

If there were unpurchased overhead bins, they'd stay closed and empty. The idea is to board quickly and smoothly.

Do away with overhead compartments

I think the best solution would be to remove the overhead compartments. I personally wouldn't like this one as I never check a bag and always take a rollaboard on the airplane. However, I think this would really speed up boarding. People wouldn't rush to board and then stand in the middle of the aisle looking for a place for their bag. They wouldn't walk all the way to the back of the airplane to put their suitcase up and then walk back to their seat while everyone is trying to walk the other way to get to their seat.

You'd have the space underneath the seat in front of you and that's it. In exchange, your flight would board quickly and smoothly. And theoretically the airlines would pay for less gate time so your ticket would get cheaper, but I wouldn't hold your breath for that.

To keep your frequent fliers happy, you'd have to improve your baggage handling process at the same time. You should never have to stand around for half an hour waiting for your bag to come out.

Doing away with carryons, like charging for food and baggage, would really only be a bandaid. The whole airline industry needs to change if it's going to succeed. But charging for checked baggage and not carryons is creating a mess and making air travel even less pleasant.

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ma1974/ / CC BY 2.0

23 Replies to “What airlines should really do about carry-ons”

  1. I don’t know about you, but I always sit down with my hand baggage on my knee until everyone is past me, and only then do I put it in the overheads. Even better is to get the person on the end of the row to put everyone’s baggage up.

  2. Charging for all baggage isn’t going to solve any problems, but instead will probably only create more. Several airlines have retracted their checked luggage fees a bit anyway, now that the price of fuel has gone down. More importantly, charging for carry-on would only serve to punish those who do take care to board quickly and always use carry-on. What they need to do is fix the boarding processes and proactively enforce carry-on rules. The people that are a problem there are the people who have to stand back up and get their book out of the overhead, put their jacket up there, and their travel partner’s jacket, and oh then they need their reading glasses. And they don’t peruse the under seat storage. And then there’s TSA pulling people aside at the jetway, after they’ve already gone through 3 different security checks already.
    But charging me to take luggage on a flight is just stupid. Amtrak doesn’t have these problems, and they don’t even have assigned seats for the majority of passengers. And they let you carry unloaded weapons right on the train again.

  3. I’d happily sacrifice a *slight* bit of unpleasantness while waiting for others to put their luggage in the overhead cabinets, if it means that I don’t have my hand luggage restricting my feet space for a 4 hour flight. In fact, I travel a lot and have never once thought “hmm, the way to make this better is to stop people putting luggage in the overhead compartments”. There are a lot of annoying things with travelling on planes, this is REALLY not one of them. Sorry, its a really dumb idea.

  4. On the flights I’ve been on recently that would mean you wouldn’t get to put your bag in the overhead … My last few flights they’ve had to carry a bunch of bags off and check them.

  5. My other thought was make everybody carry everything on and do away with the checked baggage – that’s a bit more like trains. However, I think it would slow everything *way* down.

  6. But how many people use the stuff in the overhead during a flight? Most people are just using it as luggage space. So have them check it.

  7. I suppose I’ve been fortunate to fly on lines that usually allow me two pieces of checked baggage “for free” (with weight restrictions) and one carry on with size restrictions. (Air Canada, West Jet, and Air New Zealand.)
    I’m sometimes confused how some rollaboards get through, given the size restrictions. I assume that the staff don’t enforce them, even though they usually have a cage mechanism to judge it.

  8. Carry-ons serve three purposes – to let people access their stuff during flight, to let people access their stuff while in the airport and to let people keep a few things on so when the airline looses their luggage they are not SOL. Your idea fails all three of those uses without a clear benefit.

  9. I don’t think that charging for carry-ons is going to solve any problems. It’s not going to deter people from bringing their baggage carry-on, and so the congestion will still exist.
    For a flight that I took last week, passengers were boarded five rows at a time starting with the rows at the back of the plane. It was the swiftest and most efficient boarding process I’ve ever experienced because nobody had to wait behind people who were putting things in the overhead bins. Imo that is the correct solution to the problem.
    I do agree that the airline industry needs to pursue a more holistic overhaul to improve things in the long-run. It’s remarkable that humanity can attain an achievement as noble as flight and yet make the actual experience of flying so totally degrading.

  10. Can’t speak for others, but my carry-on bag contains only the things I want during the trip – laptop, book, etc. And I do keep it in the overhead space, because most planes offer little enough legroom as is, without having to keep my bag in front of the seat.
    Really, I think you’re looking in the wrong direction here. Actually boarding the plane does take a while, true enough, but it’s not really significant in the scheme of things. When I have to be at the airport two or three hours before the flight, taking a few minutes off boarding time just isn’t worth it… worry instead about the pointless security efforts, and so forth…

  11. and what does this tell you? that there isn’t enough space for the ridiculously large bag people cram into the overheads?

  12. boarding is definitely the issue here. anyone caught standing in the aisle, blocking traffic, whilst they put their bag into the overhead should be ‘taken out’ by one of those sky marshals you guys have riding around planes.
    frankly, i find waiting for people to stow their bag the biggest waste of time when boarding a plane. it might help if planes were boarded back to front in smaller sets of rows at a time.

  13. rollaboards are suitcases with wheels. they should go in the hold.
    if you fly on really small planes they can’t even get those into an overhead locker.
    I remember flying to Eindhoven every week for a year, on an ATR-72, and the cabin crew stood outside the plane whilst you boarded and took every rollaboard off people as they came to the plane. they then attached a red priority sticker to the luggage and put them in the hold. when you landed at the other end, they took the priority luggage out first and lined it up next to the plane between it and the door to the terminal building. you then picked up your luggage as you walked in. of course, an ATR-72 only takes around 50 people so that makes that approach at small airports possible.

  14. I think you’re forgetting one important part in your equation… Putting luggage under your seat… would mean that I basically wouldn’t be able to sit down, along with everybody who’s taller than let’s say 1m70. Great move considering the average world population is getting taller.
    Airlines should just make sure that:
    (1) nobody takes in more than a limited volume of carry-on luggage (ex : a rollaboard, a small handbag/laptop and a coat).
    (2) make sure there’s sufficient overhead locker room for that
    I see people board with insanely big amounts of carry-on, that’s just unacceptable, whether you store it in the overhead lockers OR under your seat.
    And what Ryan said about boarding last rows first should also be enforced. It just makes everybody’s life easier.

  15. Now if the speed of boarding actually were an issue here, I’d be all with you. But as far as I remember my flights the last people to board arrive after everyone is already seated. And then it’s not uncommon to wait another 5 minutes until the plane starts moving.
    So I’m not convinced people boarding slowly even matters for take-off time. I do agree that it is annoying to stand in the aisle waiting to get to my seat, but that could be solved way easier by just letting people board slower.
    And last but not least I avoid airlines that charge extra for luggage. I am convinced the default price for a plane ticket should include both carry-on and the usual 20kg of luggage.
    I don’t mind if they give you money back if you don’t use it, but don’t mess with the default please.

  16. The advantage of trains is that they have _way_ more space available. Space is at much more of a premium for airplanes that it is for trains.
    This is not unrelated to the fact I take trains rather than planes wherever possible. Can we have that Obama high speed North American train network yesterday, please?

  17. Also saves you time and hassle checking your luggage in and getting it back again later. Why Greyhound buses manage this much more efficiently with a Luggage Management Team consisting of…the driver is a mystery for the ages.

  18. The problem with that is that people don’t obey the instructions. If you try and tell people to board that way, they just don’t do it, and you lose more time in the lounge shepherding people around than you save on the plane. Even with the simplified system, if you watch carefully, you’ll see many people go up before their row has actually been called.
    Airlines have people who spend their lives researching ways to improve the efficiency of the boarding process. These people have neat little simulations of planes filling up which bear absolutely no correspondence to what actually happens when you try and get four hundred real people onto an aeroplane. The airlines have come to recognise that, and the present systems are the best compromise they’ve found between the nice obedient simulato-people and the real world.
    Of course, the sense of entitlement of business and first class passengers screws things up more. They always want to get on first, even though they’re at the _front_ of the plane (for silly reasons of human psychology related to prestige) and hence screw it up for everyone else. This is actually partly why recently designed planes tend to have two sets of boarding doors – so one can be used for the first class people and they can get to feel suitably important without screwing up the loading process for cattle class.
    Sigh. I’d be really depressed, if I were one of the research guys with the simulations. I bet they have little faith in human nature.

  19. Most people I know use their carry-on for stuff they’d need if their checked luggage went missing, as happens all-too-often– toiletries, drugs, change of clothes etc. So while they may have no intention of using that stuff during the flight, checking it in would completely defeat the purpose.

  20. “I think you’re forgetting one important part in your equation… Putting luggage under your seat… would mean that I basically wouldn’t be able to sit down, along with everybody who’s taller than let’s say 1m70.”
    What? You’ve always been allowed to stow luggage under the seat in front of you in the vast majority of aircraft. Stormy is just suggesting to make that the *only* storage available, instead of having both that option and the overhead locker option. (Yes, that would mean you’d have to take less on board, which is partly her point.)

  21. I’d solve this issue in a less radical and lower-tech manner.
    1) Have the TSA security checkpoints (in the US) actively enforce the already-existing 45 linear inch regulation for carry-ons. They can integrate this step into existing security checkpoint steps.
    2) Keep the existing overhead bins, but insert plastic dividers that split each bin into 2 or 3 sections (one section for each seat underneath).
    3) Number the overhead sections according to the seats, 16A, 4D, etc. No fancy LCDs necessary, really.
    Now, when you board, your overhead space is unambiguously yours. Later boarders are not penalized by cheating earlier boarders with oversize carryons.
    And boarding/de-planing time is reduced, as people no longer have to find a spot for their bags; they can just go right to their assigned spot, shove the bag in, and sit down.
    If you snuck through security with a bag too big to fit, it gets checked. Yes, this will inconvenience the other passengers, but they can give nasty looks as the bag gets taken off the plane, and should get better over time as people realize that no, really, you can’t cheat and the price for cheating is waiting 30 minutes on the other end for your bag to arrive at the carousel.
    Unlike the other commenters, I like the fact that airlines charge for checked baggage (iff it reduces my cost as a carry-on only passenger); but the system breaks because it’s easy to cheat and there are no repercussions for doing so.

  22. I see your point, Stormy. Since charges for baggage have been introduced, people are carrying an insane amount of stuff on board. I wouldn’t mind a fee for anything bigger than a small backpack, which should be enough for: toiletries (you can only bring a quart sized bag of those now), change of shirt/socks/underwear, book & laptop.
    Really, though, if screeners or gate agents would just enforce the current carry-on limits, that would go a long way to fixing this. I’ve been to airports (maybe in the UK?) where the x-ray conveyor belt goes through a metal bracket that prevents an overly wide bag from going through.
    Those brackets were removable for items like strollers & medical devices.
    I like Alex’s idea of labeled slots, too!

  23. I agree. One of the easiest, simplest things to do would be to enforce the current rules and divvy up the overhead and assign seat numbers to them.

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