Mentioning the words “airline” and “luggage” in the same sentence is one of the fastest ways to start an argument.
Maybe it’s enough to dredge up suppressed memories of your last flight, when an inconsiderate passenger stole the bin space above your seat with an overstuffed Rollaboard. Maybe you’re thinking of United Airlines, which recently announced it would crack down on oversize carry-on items.
Then again, perhaps Frontier Airlines, which said last week that it would start charging $25 for carry-on bags on certain fares, comes to mind.
Yes, the overhead bins are way too small. And yes, airlines want to check your bags because it speeds up boarding, and they earn billions in luggage fees.
But there’s a lot more to the luggage conflict.
We seem to have lost our way when it comes to airline baggage. True, U.S. airline passengers often have zero manners in the luggage department, particularly when it comes to their carry-on items. But air travelers have good reason for their lack of civility, and fixing the problem will require a concerted effort by travelers, airlines and agents.
Let me be the first to admit that my luggage etiquette is sometimes lacking. On a Southwest Airlines flight from Denver to Salt Lake City recently, I thoughtlessly shoved my son’s backpack over someone else’s seat as I boarded (I’m sorry). Going through customs at JFK a few weeks ago, my Delsey bag inadvertently rolled over another passenger’s feet (I’m really sorry about that one).
The former faux pas is one of Patrick Smith’s pet peeves, especially when the bag is stored in the first available luggage bin.
“That causes the forward bins to quickly fill, meaning that passengers seated toward the front are forced to travel backward down the aisle to stow their belongings,” says Smith, author of Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel. Result: The already tedious boarding and deplaning process becomes even more time-consuming.
Susan Foster, author of the book Smart Packing For Today’s Traveler, says rolling over someone else’s feet is a problem — for kids. “Very small children with cute little rolling suitcases are a danger to all who cross their paths,” she says. “They are simply too young to know how to control the bag and to understand they should watch where it is going.”
What makes us lose our minds over luggage? Airline passengers used to schlep everything but the kitchen sink on board, fearing their checked bags would get lost. But less luggage is being lost by domestic airlines. Last year, the Transportation Department reported that 3.22 bags were lost or misplaced per 1,000 passenger enplanements, about half as many as in 2007. Then again, passengers have been more reluctant to check their luggage since most airlines stopped including the first checked suitcase in their ticket prices a few years ago.
“This shift has led to limited space for carry-ons and a slowed-down boarding process as passengers attempt to avoid bag fees,” concluded a recent report on airline complaints by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.