Some travelers are discovering that bags that once were acceptable
are now too big and must be checked.
The airlines say it is about space. Industry experts argue that the
carry-on crackdown is a ploy to get more revenue.
"Airlines have for years turned a blind eye to their own baggage
restrictions," says Tim Winship, editor of FrequentFlier.com, a
Among the three largest airlines - American Airlines, Delta Air
Lines and United Airlines - only United says it is taking a harder
line on the size of luggage destined for overhead bins.
Earlier this year, the airline let travelers know it was going to
enforce size limits, disqualifying any bag that exceeded the
following measurements: 22 inches in height, 14 inches in width, and
9 inches in depth.
"Customers with the right size bags were telling us that often times
there was no more room on the aircraft for their carry-on bags,"
United spokesman Charles Hobart said. "This is a response to
One problem for travelers is that a lot of bags sold as acceptable
carry-ons are 15 inches wide, in violation of the three largest
airlines' policies. They are, however, still permitted on the
largest of their rival carriers.
While the other airlines say they have not gotten tougher, they
acknowledge that during busy times they are more aggressive about
policing carry-on bag size. During vacation periods, for example,
they pay more attention to what passengers are trying to bring on
board, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said.
Airlines have tried to keep up with increased demand to bring bags
on board by getting larger bins on new planes. "All those bins get
bigger and bigger; yet it's never enough," said Robert Mann, an
airline analyst for R.W. Mann & Company Inc and a former airline
Airlines are trying to catch oversized bags as early as possible,
because it is easiest to charge passengers for checking a bag at the
counter, Mann said. If the bag has made it all the way to the gate,
time pressure often prevents airline workers from even trying to
collect a fee.
The three largest airlines share the same carry-on size limits,
which happen to be smaller than what is permitted on rival carriers.
Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines all allow
bigger carry-ons. But Spirit, which is known for low-base fares and
a raft of fees, charges as much as $100 for carry-ons.
[to top of second column]
When choosing a carry-on bag, consider avoiding one with wheels,
says Tim Leffel, editor of PracticalTravelGear.com. Wheels gobble up
room because they count in the measurement.
Travelers should also avoid over-stuffing their carry-ons, he says.
"Nothing should be put into an outside pocket of a 9-inch-wide
carry-on except flat things like magazines and papers," Leffel says.
Otherwise, the extra bulge will exceed regulations.
These are the maximum carry-on bag sizes permitted on America's
American: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
Delta: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
United: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
Southwest: 24 inches x 16 inches x 10 inches
JetBlue: 24 inches x 16 inches x 10 inches
(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his
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