Skift Take

It was all with the best of intentions.

The new Cabin OK baggage proposal, introduced by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) during its Annual General Meeting in Miami, has ballooned from a modest proposal on the optimization of overhead bin space into a muddle of passenger dismay and confusion, then escalated to turbulence in a tea cozy.

In the most recent escalation, Sen. Charles Schumer blew the whistle on the industry, demanding that airlines scrap the proposal immediately, before it gets out of hand.

“Enough already!” Schemer told the Associated Press. “They charge a fee for peanuts, for leg room, for just about anything.” The senator was also concerned over the well-being of the luggage industry as a result of this proposal, saying: “Luggage companies have made carry-on bags and now, all of a sudden, millions of them won’t fit.”

For its part, IATA attributes all of this hullabaloo to basic misunderstandings by the press covering the story. To set the record straight it issued a second press release, addressing the common misconceptions.

To help you better understand the facts behind the most controversial luggage decision to date, Skift has prepared a handy FAQ, below.

Q: Does my bag have to match the Cabin OK size guide of 55 x 35 x 20 cm (or 21.5” x 13.5” x 7.5”)?

A: No! First, these dimensions proposed by IATA are “OPTIMUM” not a “Maximum” baggage dimensions. Second, it was only a proposal and not a mandate. It was only a suggestion to airlines of a way to fit more bags on overhead bins. Some airlines have already opted out. As IATA says: “Passengers will be able to continue to use carry-on baggage that is larger than the Cabin OK size provided it is within airline maximum size limits.”

Q: Does my carry-on bag now have to be ‘X’% smaller than it was before?

A: Just in case we weren’t clear before: Nope! Don’t worry about this. It was only a proposal. It was never mandatory. If your bag fits your airline’s published maximum carry-on baggage allowance then it’s fine. Move on. Nothing to see here. IATA clarifies: “There are no plans to set an industry standard.”

Q: But I could never fit my extra pair of brogues and back-up trousers in a bag that size!

A: Your trousers (and extra pair of brogues) are safe. IATA’s optimum was never a maximum. IATA never meant that these proposed dimensions would become be largest carry-on baggage size allowed. It was just an idea. Only a suggestion. Never mind, really. Just check your airline website for its carry-on maximum dimensions before you fly. And, do you really need those two pairs of golf shoes? Who are we kidding here?

Q: So who came up with these numbers..and more importantly..why??

A: IATA. Which is an airline association of 260 members, but not all the airlines. IATA facilitates industry policies and dialogue but members decide what they do independently.  The association proposed the “optimum” dimensions based on calculations made with airlines and aircraft manufacturers which would “allow all passengers on board a typical jet aircraft of 120 seats or more to be able to carry-on one piece of baggage in the normally available storage space (storage bins and below seats).” It was only an idea though. Just a modest proposal. No one had to do it.

Q: Is this just another way for airlines to force me to check my luggage so they can charge me for it?

A: IATA emphatically says: NO! “Cabin OK is not a revenue generating scheme for the airlines,” the association sates. Specifically: “For the vast majority of airlines, the current practice when all baggage complying with maximum size limits cannot fit into the cabin storage is to check this baggage in the aircraft hold free of charge. The Cabin OK initiative will not change this practice.”

We suggested that airlines could make money from merchandising, and IATA doesn’t address that possibility, but it doesn’t matter. That possibility would only cost folks who bought the bags because they wanted to. Just to be clear, airlines won’t charge customers for traveling with bags that don’t have the “Cabin OK” seal. It’s important to repeat that airlines don’t have to participate in the Cabin OK program. It’s completely optional. It was only an IATA proposal. Some airline have already said they don’t want any part of it.

Q: Do I have to go out and buy new luggage now?

A: No! You didn’t have to before, and you won’t have to now. These dimensions are just “optimum” measures which IATA came up with, which might make it easier to find space for your bag in the bin or underneath the seat. As a sidetone, the writer’s own standard carry-on bag is even smaller than the published Cabin OK dimensions, but the writer is an oddball European. You can feel free to travel with a bag size you’re comfortable with–the bag you’ve gotten to know so well over the years. If that carry-on bag meets the airline’s published maximum carry-on size (on the airline’s website) you’re good to go.

Q: Are you sure I don’t need a new carry-on bag?

A: Yes. We’re positive. However, if you feel you’d like to splurge on what may turn out to be a highly-collectible, limited-edition ‘Cabin-OK’ bag, TUMI and others are all over that. Get ‘em while they’re hot.


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Tags: american airlines, iata

Photo credit: These men posing with a bag that fits the proposed Cabin OK dimensions are not part of a plot to get you to buy new luggage. Iata / Flickr

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