Slay the Excess Carry-On Baggage Monster

In 1997, flight attendant Linda Romano accused her airline superiors with “creating a monster” regarding carry-on bags. To wit, the airline was permitting more, larger and heavier items to be brought on board. The bags are a hazard when inadvertently dropped during loading or unloading into the overhead bin, and they are dangerous blunt-force instruments when hurled out of flimsy bins during in-flight turbulence or crash landings.

Here we are, 13 years later, and the situation is even worse. Worse for two reasons: more passengers are electing to bring bags aboard to avoid checked bag fees, and the so-called “sizer templates” are no longer in use. These templates defined the maximum dimension that carry-on bags could be; anything larger had to go in checked baggage.

Now, bags aren’t mandatorily consigned to checked baggage until the overhead bins are stuffed and the last few passengers to board aren’t able to find a bin with enough remaining room for their “wheelies” and other large bags.

A bill in Congress, ostensibly to bring the situation under control, is weak. H.R. 2870, the “Securing Cabin Baggage Act,” would create a universal size for carry-on bags, instead of allowing each airline to determine its own size limit. But the weakness is in three areas: (1) passengers are not restricted to one bag plus coats and purses, (2) the act is too generous at 22 x 18 x 10 inches in size (50 inches overall), and (3) the bill does not imposes a weight limit per bag.

Of these three shortcomings, (1) and (2) are the most glaring.

Passengers ought to be authorized one bag, period (with exceptions for mothers with infants, the handicapped, etc). And 50 inches overall (L x W x H) is entirely too generous. The size of the bag should not exceed 45 linear inches or, better yet, 39 linear inches as a maximum. Smaller bags would get at the burdensome weight problem and the hazard associated with hefting them into overhead bins (not to mention the risk posed by a heavy bag falling out of the bin onto the passenger seated below).

Airlines should be required to reinstall “sizer templates” at check-in, and these templates should also be installed at the security screening lines; any passenger who gets that far with a big bag should be required to go back to check-in.

The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) regulates the airlines for safety; the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulates the passengers for security. These bureaucracies are not doing their job. The result is a crush of baggage going into the cabin. It’s poorly screened because there is so much of it, increasing the possibility that a weapon or bomb gets aboard. And heavy bags in overhead bins secured by flimsy doors are a safety hazard; bin doors pop open during turbulence, bags fall out and injure passengers. During crash landings, spilled out overhead baggage impedes rapid evacuation.

Let’s face it, incidents involving carry-on bags range from disruption in the cabin, physical and verbal abuse of flight attendants, injuries to passengers, and impediments to speedy evacuations. Why, passengers have been observed trying to grab bags from overhead bins during actual emergency evacuations, when the overarching goal is to GET OUT NOW!

There ought to be a limit. One bag, 45 linear inches. Slay the monster.

The policy of relatively unrestricted carry-on articles isn’t prudent management at all – it’s anarchy. And it’s an anarchy that puts the security and safety of the flying public at risk.