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Originally published February 11, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Page modified February 12, 2012 at 7:48 AM

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More reader responses on carry-on bag hassles

We asked for your suggestions on how the airlines can better help passengers deal with the hassles of finding room on the planes for carry-on...

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A few thoughts from an airline pilot. First, with respect to reader Sandy's problem... MORE


We asked for your suggestions on how the airlines can better help passengers deal with the hassles of finding room on the planes for carry-on bags.

Here are more responses:

Nobody has properly challenged the baggage/tote fees that air carriers now charge. Previously, the weights and measures of baggage were a part of the airfare. A seat/passenger weight figure, plus baggage weight (limit per passenger) was used. The cost of carrying the baggage per passenger was imputed for each ticket sale. That practice still exists.

So the fact is, passengers are now paying double (or more) for baggage checked. The carriers' representatives will deny it. But they are in a business that is based on lies, denials and refusals; those employed in the business are taught and told to lie, deny and refuse.

In my U.S. Air Force days I took many flights overseas in U. S. Air Force transport aircraft. Before boarding, passengers were weighed, baggage was weighed and measured. Men were allowed to carry aboard a "shaving kit" (Dopp Bag); women were allowed a small purse and a "makeup bag."

There was never a problem with overhead bins; such were not installed. Carry-ons easily fit under a seat. Passengers were allowed "one standard suitcase" that had to fit within framework which was on the baggage scale.

Rigid? Yes! Overweight persons, male and female, were bumped from their scheduled flights.

Airlines today will not enforce standards they set for themselves. Flight crews are told not to confront passengers over "trivialities", i.e., bins, baggage on board, and overweight persons.

The airlines themselves have created all, absolutely all, the adversity associated with air travel today. It makes no sense that passengers must pay extra fees over amounts already included in an airfare ticket. It is an example of consolidated white collar crime.

James, Seattle

Enough is enough with the airlines. They have no right to charge for bags period. I have traveled as a platinum 15 straight years and I have seen it all, especially the rudeness of the agents. They claim they have to charge for checking bags due to fuel cost increases and I say for that they increase the ticket cost. What else do they want?

As far as carrying one bag and one personal item, that's fine but in many cases they are items that cannot be checked. My daughter traveling from Europe to Boston, just graduated from medical school, was not allowed to carry three of her most important medical books. These books caused her checked in bag that was three pounds overweight. The agent told her there is no way I will allow you to carry the extra item onboard and those are the rules! You can dump them in the trash bins in your way to the gate. The books are worth approximately $500, and Delta couldn't care less.

Tony, Seattle

I was glad to see you bring up the issue of carry-on luggage. It's long been a pet peeve of mine to watch people come on board with so much stuff, and proceed to take up all the room in the overhead bins, meaning that others don't have anyplace for their things.

But there is an airline that has cracked down on this practice — Alaska Airlines. The last time I flew — a round trip on Alaska — they stopped people at the gate if they had too much stuff and made them check it. The result was that even though the flight was completely full, there was plenty of room in the overhead bins for everyone. I know, because I was one of the last people to board and was able to store my bag right over my seat.

I always prefer Alaska for flying, not only for that practice, but for the fact that they have actual legroom in their seats. Since I'm 5 feet 8, with most of my height in my legs, I am miserable in most planes. My knees are literally jammed against the seat in front of me. But in Alaska's planes, I've got a few inches to spare between my knees and the seat in front, and that means so much, especially on a long flight.

Nancy, Seattle

I traveled over 90,000 miles last year, primarily on Alaska Airlines. I've witnessed some very rude behavior from airline passengers ranging from people carrying on 3-4 items to coach passengers placing their bags in the first class overhead bins, to passengers bringing on messy, smelly food on board.

I think that airlines enforcing their own rules at check-in would be a great start. Passengers being required to check bags that are borderline size-wise or being required to combine items when they have more bags than they should, would really alleviate tensions between passengers. Checked bag fees are not an issue on Alaska Airlines if you have even the lowest frequent flier status (MVP). Alaska does it right.

What I've found most interesting when traveling on other carriers that impose a checked bag fee is how much longer it takes for them to load the aircraft due to everyone and their mother trying to carry everything on board. I'm certain it's much more costly for an airline to experience delays in their schedule than just allowing passengers to check one bag for free. What's the point if an airline is delayed 20-30 minutes per flight, with passengers missing connections and tempers flaring all around?

I say raise the airfare by $20 and let everyone check at least one bag. I refuse to fly on airlines who nickel and dime you with charges such as bag fees, aisle and window "preferred seating" charges and other ridiculous charges. US Airways lost any chance of earning my business several years ago on a Philadelphia to Seattle flight that was over five hours and they didn't even serve passengers free water. I had no cash on me at the time, they didn't accept credit cards and I gave up the water bottle I did have to an elderly woman sitting next to me who appeared in distress.

Airline tickets are not cheap. But to me there should be some basic requirements for safe and sane airline travel — free cups of water on flights over one hour in length, one checked bag, no petty fees.

Now don't get me started talking about airline passengers who "forget" to bathe before traveling!

Sandy, Seattle

Thank you for voicing our collective frustration at the fee-shirkers who carry too many, too-large bags to the gate. When I first heard about EasyJet's policy, I was intrigued — and very curious why U.S. airlines haven't copied it. The escalating fee discourages the gate-checkers.

Maybe passengers should be allowed ONE carry-on of moderate size — or weight — clearly defined. Scratch the "personal item" category. Everything else is subject to a charge with the FIRST ITEM FREE. If all you have is the overstuffed duffel you were going to carry on to avoid the checked-bag fee, now you can check it free and get on board faster.

I have NEVER seen any carry-on bag submitted to the "Does it fit in here?" screening. At the very minimum, that should be enforced well before boarding begins.

Yes, there are valid reasons to carry on a bag — it won't get pilfered or lost, you are flying standby, you can run to a close connection, you need items during the flight (food, diapers, etc.). But the argument that you don't want to wait at baggage claim is ridiculous — you're just shifting the wait to the beginning of the flight and, when so many people carry so much stuff, we're all held up at boarding AND disembarking, when you try to move against the flow to get the bag stored in the overhead somewhere else on the plane. Remember when the liquid-bomb thing first happened? No one carried anything aboard; we all checked everything. We got on board in a few minutes and were on our way. Not any more.

Now I need to go, to figure out how I'm going to pack all I'll need for 10 days into the 25 lbs. for a checked bag and 10 lbs. for a carry-on limit that the foreign puddle-jumper airline will surely enforce.

Kristin, Seattle

Your article brought to mind a most unpleasant experience I had with US Airways last October. My flight was Seattle-Phoenix-Mexico City. I travel with an oxygen concentrator due to allergies. It is only used nocturnally. I always carry a letter from my physician authorizing this equipment. Most of my travel is on Alaska and United. Both airlines do not count medical equipment as a carry-on. But at the door to the plane a very unpleasant employee of USAir "barked" at me that I had not 2, but 3 items and would have to relinquish one of them: my purse, my carry-on with food for the two 3-hour flights or this medical device which, if damaged, would cost me $6000 to replace.

My food was parceled to travel companions and I checked my carry-on bag. Same arrangement occurred on my return flight. Back home in Seattle I went to the websites of several airlines looking for their policy on medical devices. US Air says nothing. So I called customer service and explained my confusion. The representative was unable to find any information. I was handed off to a supervisor. She was unable to find a clarification.

At this point, I would normally forget about the whole incident and especially US Air. Except, this airline has the right flights at the right times. The employee insisted that this ruling meant canes, crutches, walkers, etc. Is this airline the only one with such stringent rules? Should I be composing a letter to the CEO?

Sandy, Seattle

Totally agree with your comments regarding carry on luggage and enforcing the one luggage, one personal item. I would also like to see the airlines restrict the overhead bins to the people that are sitting in the seats. They get one item up there per seat.

We recently experienced a flight where we were one of last to board the plane. We each had our carry one luggage and 1 personal item. The proper etiquette is store your personal item under your seat ... luggage above. When we opened the bin all space was taken — and many of it was due to a rude passenger who boarded first and evidently thought that entitled him to fill the over head bin not only with his many personal items he brought on — but also his luggage. Leaving him plenty of room under his seat the leg room for the three hour flight.

When my husband and I were struggling to find space, he did not offer to move any of his luggage. He just watched as we did our best to store our luggage and personal items. We ended up 'cramming' one of our carry on luggages under the seat and had the pleasure of sitting with our knees to our chest the entire 3 hours.

Since people still think this is the 'good olé days' of flying — they need a little help remember the 1 and 1 rule. If airlines tagged the over head bins with the seat number — you would eliminate the over usage of the bins — and the problem with people bringing too much on the plane would naturally take care of itself. Imagine the embarrassment on that gentlemen's face when we would have walked in to claim our 'bin space' and had to remove 3 or 4 pieces of his luggage/personal items!

Also, if this were put into place the airline would also eliminate the situation where you are in row 20 but have to put your luggage back at row 30 because there is no room. That happens too often and then requires a huge jostling of who gets their luggage first which completely stalls the deplaning process.

TJ, Seattle

Enforce the one bag rule! The planes would load and unload faster.

Dave, Seattle

I'm a diamond medallion on Delta, so I fly a lot. One of the other reasons for carry-on bags is the airline's own restriction on what they will allow in checked baggage. No electronics, no jewelry, nothing of "value" — look at the exemptions that they decline responsibility for.

Consequently, the laptop and camera have to go in carry-on. Ditto on watches and jewelry. Ditto on Kindle and tablet. Plus their associated wires and chargers — having wires show up on the x-ray means your checked bags are more likely to be opened by the TSA. Ditto on any books or presentation binders — the x-ray sees the density and now your stuff gets pawed through by TSA.

On a typical trip, my carry-on is filled with this stuff, and not with clothes. Would I rather have much of it in the hold — you bet. Would Delta reimburse me for damage to my Canon? Or the tablet that I won't be using on board, so it could go underneath? Nope. So I tote it through security screening and then onboard.

I completely agree that people are being cheap and trying to game the system by exceeding the carry-on limits, both by number and size. A 22" roller, PLUS a bulging backpack, plus a purse/manbag is not one carry-on plus a personal item.

Donald, Seattle

I'm constantly amazed at the size of some wheeled cases that people think of as "carry-on". There is no way that many of those cases will fit into an overhead bin with the wheels out, as passengers are constantly reminded is the way to stow bags. A bag that will only fit sideways takes up the space that two regulation-sized bags would occupy. The airlines need to do a better job of enforcing the rules pertaining to size. Every passenger should be required to fit their bag into one of those metal "bag size" contraptions BEFORE boarding. If the bag won't fit, check it, and charge the fee.

Then there are the airplanes with undersized overhead bins, installed before the days of charging for checked luggage. I flew to Honolulu earlier this month on Hawaiian Airlines aboard a B767 aircraft with overhead bins that wouldn't accept my regulation-sized carry-on bag in a "wheels out" orientation. The only way it would fit was by turning it sideways. Airlines should be forbidden to charge for checked luggage if they aren't willing to upgrade their aircraft with modern overhead storage, roomy enough to accommodate regulation-sized carry-on bags in the most efficient manner possible.

If bag size rules were enforced, and if aircraft had proper overhead storage, then everyone's carry-on could be accommodated without problems. I hate it when I'm assigned a seat near the front of the coach section (and consequently boarded last), only to find when I finally get on the plane, that someone sitting further back in the plane has already taken up the storage space over my seat.

James, Seattle

In my opinion, the airlines should stop charging for checking a bag and start charging for bringing a carry on larger than a laptop size briefcase or small backpack. That would really speed the process of security and boarding. I travel light and it is very frustrating seeing the size of bags people lug in the cabins and the time it takes to get them settled. On another note, the airlines should board the planes from the back to the front with the exception of those truly needing assistance in boarding. Think how much that would speed the process up.

Lori, Seattle

Here is my suggestion to fix the whole industry — turn the bag fees completely around. Charge for carry ons, not checked bags. Reasons:- charging for carry ons gives a disincentive to carry on.

Fewer carry-ons means less stress, less competition for space, more overall elbow room and faster security lines. The airlines still have an avenue to add on extra fees, so they don't lose their cash cow.

Some travelers (mainly experienced business travelers) have insisted on carrying on for years before bag fees came about for several reasons — less chance of lost bag, no delay waiting to pick up checked bag etc. Since that clearly has value to those people, they would be willing to pay. Fewer carry-ons means far faster boarding.

Airlines are always looking for ways to speed up the time it takes to board or empty a plane. So, the ideal policy would be:- one personal item (purse, briefcase or laptop bag) free. Charge for every (legal sized) carry-on- First checked bag included with every ticket. Policies on subsequent bags can vary as airlines see fit.

Jim, Redmond

As a fellow flight passenger, I agree with you that it would be helpful if the airlines would at least enforce their own rules: one carry-on to be placed in the overhead bin and one personal item to placed under the seat in front of the passenger. I don't care if the personal item is a backpack, purse or whatever, as long as the passenger stows it under the seat in front of them. What frustrates me is when rude or uninformed passengers appear to be loading the overhead bins not only with their carry-on bag, but with their personal item too, thus using up the capacity of the overhead bins for other passenger's carry-on bags.

Unless flight attendants begin policing the loading of bags in the overhead bins by passengers, I don't see this situation improving.

Kevin, Olympia

Just finished your article regarding the issue of carry-on luggage. I have been saying for YEARS that the airlines need to do something about this issue. I am always amazed when I see people brings bags and bags of stuff on a plane. I'm guessing some folk scare just clueless, while others think the airlines may lose their luggage and carrying it on will help prevent that. Lost luggage is always a possibility (even on nonstop flights) so the airlines should work on that. But they really need to start enforcing the carry-on rule. If it takes imposing extra fees to get people to comply, then I'm all for it. There is no way a person will need everything in a carry-on.

Lori, Kirkland

I enjoyed your article about the problems related to too many carry-ons. I heard an idea somewhere several years ago that I've always thought would be effective: simply place a frame on the incoming part of the TSA x-ray machine that reflects the actual size limits for carry-on baggage. If you're taking something too big for carry-on spaces then you won't even get it past the TSA checkpoint. It doesn't address the number of carry-on bags, but it sure would address the size issue. It would remove 90% of the gate agents' arguing matches with travelers about what's 'too big' or not. It'd be great for the airlines, too, because people would have to then pay to check those too-large bags.

I've always wondered why garment bags are allowed as carry-ons, for instance, when they're literally larger than many checked bags.

Peter, New York

As an airport employee in Seattle I just want to point out that many travelers are checking in at home, bypassing the ticket counters, going through security and then arriving at the departure gate. The TSA is the first point of contact with an airport employee. Passengers first point of contact with an airline rep is not until they reach the boarding gate.

Every airline does things differently, but I think one possible solution would be to mandate baggage sizars that go on the x-ray belts at security. If it's too big, then the passenger has to go back to the airline that he or she is traveling with and check the bag. There is no consistency with airlines and there is no consistency with TSA checkpoints across the Nation. Adding baggage sizars to the X-rays would be something that everyone would have to comply with (airlines, TSA passengers).

It doesn't fix all of the problems but it does address one of the bigger issues. I think if we saw consistency with that we would notice baggage fees changing with airlines.

H.M., Seattle

I always check my suitcase and carry on a small bag and purse. Most of the time I am not permitted to stow my carry on in a bin because there needs to be room for the suitcases. Why in the world do I have to give up leg room to put my carry on under the seat. I figure I paid for the privilege of more leg room.

Another concern is the weight and size of the baggage being lifted into the bins. Several times I have been hit because of people trying to stow or recover their bags in a crowded aisle. What would happen if those bins opened during air turbulence or for any other reason and caused physical harm? Who would you sue, the airline or the owner of the bag or both?

Linda, Seattle

I agree with your suggestion re: carry-ons 100%, 1 + 1, AND there needs to be some size limitation, too.

I have flown a lot lately, and I am continually amazed at what folks try to carry on ... everything, it seems, "but the kitchen sink", to quote my long-deceased father. And then they seem surprised, even disturbed, by the lack of overhead space and the suggestion that they use the space under the seat in front of them! If you happen to get on the plane first, the rule seems to be: load up the overheads and let everyone else struggle. Sad.

Enforcing not only the number but the size would do it. It sounds like you know about the "one-carryon-per-passenger" rule enforced at Heathrow — a pain, but it works. I've only seen the size limitation enforced twice — once a few years ago at Dulles with United, in which the conveyor for the security scanner would allow bags of only a certain size, and once in domestic Australia, where a gate clerk came by the queue and checked all carry-ons. She told my wife her rollabord was too large — it was a smaller size that seemed to work everywhere else — and of course, my wife protested. The clerk was pleasant about it, but firm, and my wife, and several others, had no choice but to gate check their bags!

Bob, Seattle

We are all frustrated with the fact that excess and oversize luggage is brought on board on every single flight. I always feel sorry for the flight attendants who are always caught in the middle. They need to get underway and yet they do not wish to antagonize passengers by forbidding the excess/oversize luggage to be brought on board. In fact, I do not think that should be part of their job description. Plus airlines don't want to made their customers mad, or at least they shouldn't.

Here's what I would try to implement. It's never going to happen, but I think it would solve the problem. I would add a checkpoint in the security line ahead of the person that checks one's ID and boarding pass. This area would have a person, unaffiliated with any airline, would verify that the rules regarding the amount, size, shape of carry on luggage are being followed. (Every area already has a"template" and a sign that says, If your bag doesn't fit inside this shape, it cannot be taken on board. I have yet to see anyone stick a bag in it.)

The advantages:

Oversized stuff never gets run through the x-ray, thus reducing the number of bags needing to be checked.

Excessive number of carry-ons are stopped, also lessening the x-ray examinations.

Problems are prevented from surfacing at the last minute on board the aircraft.

No specific airline is tagged with being "mean" to passengers.

The bottom line is why not weed out the issues way upstream? Passengers would quickly change their behavior.

C. Johnson, Seattle

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