How much worse is the carry-on baggage situation getting?
August 5, 2008 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Question for frequent flyers: have airlines' new pay-to-check-a-bag policies significantly affected how much baggage passengers are trying to carry on board? To the point where it's gone from just aggravating to completely !%@#!*#@ impossible?

I have to fly in a couple of weeks (SEA-ORD), and I'm booked on American, which now charges $15 for every checked bag.

In the past I've always travelled very light and packed everything in a modest-sized carry-on. However, my expectation is that the new baggage fee will lead people to act even more egregiously than before with regard to carry-ons, and that I would be competing with teeming hordes trying to jam steamer trunks into the overhead bins. Hence, I'd been thinking, "Oh, the hell with it, I'll just pay the fee, check the bag, and reduce my aggravation" (which is, of course, making the large assumption that the airline doesn't lose it).

But I was wondering if there's actually been a significant, discernable increase in the amount of carry-on luggage on those airlines that charge the checking fee. Those of you who fly often -- have you seen a change? Do you think ponying up the $15 and checking the bag would lead to any appreciable decrease in hassle?
posted by Kat Allison to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It does seem more common now to have announcements that they expect the overhead bins will be full and so encouraging people to stow under the seat in front.
I can't comment beyond that observation as I always stow under the seat (so that I can easily reach my snacks!) therefore there is always a space for my bag. (Once in the air, pull the bag towards your seat, then you get your legroom back. Best of both worlds.)

I think the hassle of waiting at baggage claim is greater than the hassle of stowing a bag under the seat.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:52 PM on August 5, 2008

I haven't flown recently so I can't answer your question, but the coolest travel tip I have gotten recently is to ship a box or suitcase via fedex or UPS a few days before your trip and carry on ultra ultra light. You avoid the carry on hassle and the baggage claim hassle. You do however need a place to ship to. When your trip is over ship the box or suitcase back home.
posted by snowjoe at 1:56 PM on August 5, 2008

Unless you sit in the very front of the cabin, you will have room overhead for your bag. If there's no room in the bin directly above your seat, just stow your stuff in the bin closer to the front of the airplane. Those passengers haven't boarded yet. Those boarding last are the ones who get screwed by having no room above to stow their stuff. This is all about your conscience. Are you willing to take advantage of others (and wait longer to exit the plane) to save yourself the 15 dollars?

As for steamer trunks in overhead bins, it logically follows (and I've anecdotally observed) that flight crews are enforcing size limits on carry-on bags more strictly. They are well aware of the crowding that takes place in overhead bins, and seem to have no qualms forcing passengers to check their oversized bags. The best-of-both-worlds "gate check" (no fighting for the bin AND no waiting at baggage claim) seems to be turning into a thing of the past as well (save for strollers).
posted by aswego at 2:00 PM on August 5, 2008

Just flew American two days ago and it took them quite a while to get the carry-ons situated. I was on one of the smaller American Eagle flights, but despite many of the carry-ons being stowed under the plane, they still filled the overhead bins and had to jostle luggage around to get it all to fit. I wouldn't be surprised if they abandon their new policy when they see that it can lead to further delays.
posted by mamessner at 2:07 PM on August 5, 2008

I have not noticed an increase in carry-on luggage on my recent flights on carriers that charge the fee. Granted, people try to get away with a lot, but I did see crewmembers limiting the size and amount you could bring in, and checking some people's extra stuff at the gate. This may also vary from airline to airline.

In terms of hassle, I think it's a matter of which pain in the ass is more of a pain in the ass to you. I personally prefer battling for space onboard to stow my bag over waiting at baggage claim, and I have yet to not find space.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:12 PM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: Since April or May or so, I've noticed the "Overhead bins are full" announcement several times, say five (out of ten flights since then) where I might have heard it only once or twice in all of last year.

On the other hand, I've also noticed staff questioning people about bag size more frequently at the boarding pass kiosks: "Are you planning to carry that on?"

Passengers seem to be about the same when it comes to stowing carry ons - oblivious that they're blocking the aisle, sitting on your shoulder, dropping things on your head, pretty much as usual.

Just keep traveling light enough to stow under the seat in front of you, and you'll always be fine. You could also wait until the last minute to board, and if there's no room to store your bag, the flight attendant will gate check the bag. This is annoying to other passengers and the flight crew, though.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:15 PM on August 5, 2008

I avoid checking bags like the plague. That said, I fly Southwest most frequently, and they do not charge for checked baggage, so YMMV. I agree with everyone saying that unless you board last, you will likely be able to stow your bags in the cabin. As long as your carry on bags are actually carry on size, you should be fine.
posted by kenbennedy at 2:22 PM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: mdonley's keys to baggage nirvana:

1) if flying economy, book a seat in the rear of economy; you will (depending on the airline) board first and have your pick of the bins
2) store your bag with the longer dimension facing the aisle so it is easier to remove upon landing
3) book flights where gate checking is highly likely: this often happens when flying on smaller prop planes and regional jets (Bombardier Q300s and 400s and Embraer 135s, 145s, or 190s are some examples)
4) work that "1 carry-on plus 1 personal item" rule by packing some light, small clothes in your "personal item"; I use something similar to these, and with rolling, can fit a hell of a lot in there
5) if truly stuck, ask a flight attendant if it's possible to gate check your bag while still at the gate and the door is open, instead of walking around the plane for three minutes opening all the closed bins looking for space
6) pack only enough to last a few days, then hit up a drop-it-off-pick-it-up-later laundry place midway through your trip

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I came home to California from Europe for 12 days with only a shoulder bag; the key is those packing cube things, as their dimensions remain pretty much the same regardless of how much you pack in them.
posted by mdonley at 2:27 PM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Not that I would ever do this, and it makes you kind of an asshole, but you can always stow your bag in the first open bin you see as you walk towards the back of the plane, lessening your chances of finding no room as the flight gets fuller.
posted by tristeza at 2:37 PM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: I have been pleasantly surprised by how few problems I've seen thus far. I've probably flown 5 or 6 round trips since they implemented the charges. I always carry a roll-aboard plus a large laptop bag. The latter fits under the seat, but I would be in trouble if I couldn't find space for the former in the overhead compartment. I usually get to board early (one of the few remaining perks of frequent flyer status), so I'm not usually too worried about space for myself.

What has surprised me, however, is that there doesn't seem to be an increase in the number of people standing in the aisle looking for overhead space as we should be pulling away from the gate. Maybe the gate agents are intercepting them before they board? If that is what's happening, I can't imagine that they would charge someone for gate checking a bag that otherwise qualifies as a carry-on.

To answer your ultimate question: no, I do not think you will be buying yourself less aggravation by paying $15. If you are accustomed to flying with a carry-on, you should go ahead and do that. Checking bags is a risk at worst and a delay at best. Save the $15 (or spend it on the drinks that they now charge for). In fact, I don't get charged for checking my bags (a new "perk"), and I still wouldn't do it.
posted by lionelhutz5 at 2:49 PM on August 5, 2008

FedEx / DHL stuff ahead to the hotel- or to wherever you're staying.
posted by Zambrano at 3:05 PM on August 5, 2008

I flew American last week from LR to San Diego and despite seats being full, the overhead bins were not. YMMV.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:16 PM on August 5, 2008

Not that I would ever do this, and it makes you kind of an asshole, but you can always stow your bag in the first open bin you see as you walk towards the back of the plane, lessening your chances of finding no room as the flight gets fuller.

Please don't do this. If there is room at the front it's more likely there will be room at the back. Making people at the front store their stuff at the back only inconveniences everyone during takeoff and landing.
posted by grouse at 3:24 PM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: I wouldn't check the bag. I fly 100k+ miles annually on American, and I never check a bag unless forced to. The hassle at baggage claim isn't worth it.

Since AA has implemented the fee, I haven't noticed much difference with the amount of baggage people bring onboard. There's more arguing at the ticket counter, though. The ticket and gate agents have been a little more eagle-eyed about size restrictions; I've seen a handful of gate agents ask people to put their bag into the measuring thing lately, and a few people have had to gate-check their larger item.

The overhead bins on most AA aircraft (with the exception of the smaller American Eagle regional jets) will fit a standard 21" rolling carry-on suitcase with no problem. Avoid the expandable ones that get fatter when you stuff 'em.

If you are not at least Gold status in AA's frequent flyer program, make sure you seat yourself near the rear of the plane, as they board groups from the rear forward. SEA-ORD on AA is about half McDonnell-Douglas Super 80 aircraft and the others are either 737s or 757s. On AA's Super 80 aircraft, the overhead bins on the left side of the plane as you are walking down the aisle towards your seat will fit a rolling suitcase wheels-first (the DEF side - you can put the bag in with the top handle facing out towards the aisle, so more bags fit in the bin). Most of their 757s and some 737s have bins that will fit rolling bags like this too, but the Super 80 is the only one where the overhead bins on one side of the aircraft are a different size than the other. Therefore, if you are on a Super 80 (which you can tell on the online seatmap if the plane is in a 2-3 configuration - 2 seats on one side and 3 on the other), choose a seat on the DEF (3-seat) side.

In short - don't check, choose a seat strategically so you can board early, try to put your bag in wheels-first, and sit back and watch the less-prepared try to jam their oversized crap into the bin.
posted by bedhead at 3:31 PM on August 5, 2008

I get priority seating on AA and United and have flown both recently. Frequent flyers get first choice on the bins and their behaviors have not changed - carry-ons, but ones that will fit reasonably in the bin. BTW, the checked baggage fee is waived for these customers. We could check baggage for free, and I'd bet that 75% of us don't unless we absolutely must.

For the general coach customer, the bin situation is tougher. However, it seems only slightly worse than it generally is during the summer months with vacationers trying to carry-on huge bags, giant sombreros and piñatas. (I fly out of San Diego, change sombreros and piñatas to whatever tourists buy in your town.)

The announcements seem more frequent and the bins are full, but you're very likely to get a spot for your stuff. You're also likely to have a bit of a ground delay while we play a baggage tetris game find a spot for everything.
posted by 26.2 at 4:01 PM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: I fly very frequently and have status on United and I'd say that air travel this summer has been a complete and absolute misery.

It's hard to tell if the bag fees have had an impact, but I suspect they have, particularly among budget-minded infrequent travelers. But, at least on UAL, the most notable thing has been that flights are absolutely packed 100% and every flight I've taken in the past 3 months has had people who board middle/late in the process having to gate check their bag. With flights completely full there is zero slack in the system as well, so hitches and delays have a compounding effect.

I won't bore with the details, but I recently spent nearly 20 hours unable to get from SF to NYC and this despite having high status and business class seats. I gave up.

If you only need one bag and it's a carryon, then carry it on. Worst case it'll get gate checked and you'll still get your bag faster than if you checked it in ('cause the other part of packed planes, reduced airline staff is that dealing with anything at the counter is a hassle.
posted by donovan at 4:11 PM on August 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the great info and advice! It's reassuring to hear that airlines staff appear to be at least trying to control what people are hauling aboard. (There's no question I get overly irritated and stressed by this whole issue, to the point of arm-waving rants, but honestly, the incompetence and selfishness people display in managing their carry-ons seems at times like a case study in The Tragedy of the Commons, or: Why Homo Sapiens Is Doomed.) (And don't worry, grouse, I have no intention of further eroding the commons myself.) I guess I'll pack as small a bag as possible, board as early as I can, and hope for the best. Thanks again!
posted by Kat Allison at 4:51 PM on August 5, 2008

mdonley: 2) store your bag with the longer dimension facing the aisle so it is easier to remove upon landing

Please don't do this. If your bag fits into the overhead with its longest dimension oriented front/back -- e.g., a roll-aboard with its wheels back and handle forward -- then please, please put it in this way, since that leaves more room for others to also be able to stow their own luggage. Not doing so when you can just makes you an inconsiderate knob to your fellow passengers, and leaves you no right to fuss if your bag doesn't fit as a result of others behaving poorly.
posted by delfuego at 7:02 PM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

delfuego, I think you and the comment you are quoting are saying the same thing. I can't stand when people put their long bag in lengthwise either and it's not always clueless infrequent travelers who do this.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:48 PM on August 5, 2008

I don't think it is -- "the longer dimension facing the aisle" means putting it, lengthwise, parallel to the aisle -- but if it is, so be it. In any event, everyone, don't be the dick who takes up more room than you have to just because it makes some part of your deplaning process easier for you.
posted by delfuego at 8:44 AM on August 6, 2008

Not to derail, but when someone puts their bag in the overhead with "the longer dimension facing the aisle", leaving not enough room for my own bag, I just turn the offending bag 90 degrees. Is there some no-touching other people's bag rule I am unaware of? Give me a break!

To answer the original question, I flew on 4 flights this past weekend, and didn't really notice an increase in carry-on luggage volume. There was room in every overhead bin. For two of the flights, they had the mandatory gate check thing though (small prop planes to TLH) which, in some ways, is more convenient than both checking and storing overhead.
posted by Jemstar at 9:10 AM on August 6, 2008

delfuego: I totally meant to write what you wrote, but wrote it in a totally confusing way. I meant to say "the shorter dimension facing the aisle." Well spotted!

Travelers: listen to delfuego!
posted by mdonley at 2:40 PM on August 6, 2008

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