Courtesy Becky Lai
Courtesy Becky Lai

Carry-on bags are shrinking.

An international organization has announced a new set of carry-on guidelines, and they’re smaller than what most U.S. carriers currently allow. It’s unclear if airlines like Delta or American will jump onboard with the new guidelines (which are optional), but several international carriers — Air China, Azul, Emirates, and Lufthansa, among others — already plan to adopt them.

This news will probably have a lot of people grumbling. But in reality this is good news. Here’s why:

1. Smaller bags ultimately mean more space for everyone.


The real luggage-related problem in air travel right now is that people are bringing too much stuff. That was the underlying point in this post on why you shouldn’t check bags, but it translates over into carry-on luggage as well. Ultimately, bringing huge carry-ons is no better than checking luggage, and it’s even more inconsiderate to other travelers.

Smaller carry-ons mean fewer opportunities to try to sneak over-sized bags onto the plane. And if all bags are smaller, everyone is more likely to get at least some overhead bin space.

2. Faster boarding and take off.

Two luggage-related things slow down boarding and take off. First, travelers trying to find overhead bin space clog up the boarding process. This problem becomes worse as a plane fills up and, inevitably, you have people walking up and down the aisle even as a line of passengers tries to find their seats.

Second, once the overhead bin space fills, flight attendants are forced to gate check bags. If these two impediments can be eliminated, airlines could begin to speed up planes’ turnaround time. And that’s a win for everyone.

3. Everyone will have a better idea of what to expect.

Right now everyone flying major carriers in the U.S. generally expects that there will be some bin space.

The problem is that the overhead bins are not actually large enough for the luggage of everyone on a flight. The supply falls short of both demand and expectations.

For example, I was recently on a flight where, because I was among the last to board, there was no overhead bin space and I had to gate-check my bag. It was a hassle for me, for the flight attendants, and for everyone around me.

These new rules should better align our expectations for carry-on space with what’s actually available. And while that’s a pain before a trip begins, having accurate expectations should allow travelers to plan, pack, and if needed check bags more efficiently.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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