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Announced at the gate of a recent American Airlines flight:
“This flight is full and our computers tell us that there were not enough bags checked at the counter. If you are in Groups 2 and 3, this means you will be required to check your bags.”
Ever since airlines started charging for checked bags, there’s been a quiet war brewing between air carriers and passengers over overhead bin space. It’s true that a third party needs to step in to set up some sort of meaningful regulation. But new dimensions proposed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) last week need to go further.
At the root of the problem lies the simple broken equation of aircraft versus luggage size. Pick any current domestic flight today and you’ll find that the last dozen passengers or so end up running out of overhead bin space and checking their bags. To mitigate the confusion of last-second checked bags and longer boarding times, airlines and staff aggressively encourage passengers to check their bags at the gate, often to the point of absurdity.
The solution, by IATA’s suggestion, is to reduce the size of cabin bags and make more overall space, but the dimensions it proposes are almost identical to the current standards enforced by the legacy American airlines — only ½” smaller in length, width and height.
Instead, realistic calculations need to be made based on the current volume of passengers bringing bags onboard and the size of the overhead bins.
After that, the right incentive needs to be made to passengers to not bring their luggage onboard. Right now, most passengers can pack any bag they want, slip through security and make it to the gate before anyone verifies the size. Instead, baggage should be properly sized outside of security and fees should be charged for oversize bags at the gate. Only then will passengers understand the gravity of too much luggage.
Boeing and Airbus can help too. Though it’s fair to respect that different aircraft come with different overhead bins, new designs like Boeing’s “space bins” can help more luggage fit into increasingly tighter spaces.
The final part of the solution requires intelligent and stern enforcement. Right now, airlines and staff tend to blindly enforce the same baggage rules irrespective of aircraft or boarding zone. Better communication between aircraft and gate staff as well as a solid respect for overhead bin space could alleviate many of the speed bumps in the boarding process.
The good news is that reform is already on the way. Airlines like Delta are looking into new ways of loading bags while baggage sizers are starting to pop up outside of security. IATA is on the right path with setting up new guidelines for luggage sizing. With some better adoption and better enforcement, tomorrow’s overhead bin woes should hopefully be minimal.