Why is there never room for my carry-on? Answers to your bag questions | Cruising Altitude

There’s a reason when something complicated is happening in your life, it’s called baggage. 

Baggage weighs you down, it makes navigating stuff more difficult, and it’s often in the way. That’s not just the case with your emotions, though. The same logic applies to the luggage you travel with, too.

Getting on a plane with baggage, whether you’re checking it or carrying it with you, makes the whole travel experience a little more complicated. That’s why so many people strategize about packing well in advance and why I’m writing this column about what you need to know about checking versus carrying on your bags.

From info about why things are the way they are to strategies for securing overhead bin space, here’s what you need to know about luggage when you travel.

Why do I need to weigh my luggage?

Like most things in air travel, weighing your bags comes down to safety. Sure, the airline may extract some extra cash from you if your luggage weighs more than it’s supposed to, but that’s not really the goal of the scale.https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/usat/sf-q1a2z330306dc3.min.html

Part of the reason for the weigh-in, according to Robert W. Mann, Jr., president of the aviation consultancy R.W. Mann and Company, Inc., is to make sure the aircraft is properly balanced, which is especially important on smaller planes.

Another reason, he added, is for the safety of the ramp agents.

“When a bag gets over 70 pounds, it can really be an injury on duty problem for whoever is handling it,” Mann said. “From the standpoint of the person lifting it, they really have to be prepared that it’s heavy.”

Is it better to check a bag or carry-on?

Most frequent flyers will say that it’s better to stick to carry-on bags whenever possible.

“I only travel with a carry-on. I never check luggage. I just returned from a 15-day trip to India. There were seven flights involved, and I never would have a checked in luggage,” Lainie Schreiber, head designer at Latico Leathers told me. “You don’t want them to take your luggage … and put it underneath and get lost.” 

A minority of travelers I’ve met prefer checking the bulk of their luggage, though, saying it frees them up as they navigate the terminal.

Luggage is stressful when you fly, no matter where you put it.

Why is there never space for carry-ons?

I personally try to travel with a carry-on whenever possible, but that can be stressful on its own. It means I spend the few minutes immediately before getting on the plane sweating it out, wondering about this exact question.

According to Mann, this is just a function of human nature.

“Since the 1970s, and since before the first big bin was put on a 747, we have never been able to install enough overhead storage to satisfy all customers in all cases,” he told me. “It’s a classic induced demand problem. The more capacity you create, the more demand that creates.”

I’ve seen it for myself. Over the years, airlines have added bigger, ostensibly more space-efficient bins, but they always seem to be full by the time the boarding door closes.

“The irony of this whole situation is as big as you make the overhead bins, they’re never going to be big enough,” Mann said. “We put far more seats on airplanes than we have increased the overall volume of bins.”

Should I wait to check my carry-on at the gate? Is there an extra cost?

This depends on the airline you’re flying with. Some carriers, like Spirit and Frontier will charge you more to check your bag at the gate, up to $99 on both airlines for some flights. 

Many other airlines like American and Delta, however, will let you gate-check your carry-on bags for free if they expect the overhead bins will fill up during boarding. United will also let you check your carry-on for free, unless you’re flying on a basic economy ticket, which does not include carry-on baggage for most flights. 

It’s really a matter of personal preference, though Mann pointed out it’s often more efficient to check your bag at the gate than at the counter if you can because it’s more likely to be returned to you planeside, rather than coming out at baggage claim.

How can I make sure I get a spot for my carry-on?

This is the part that takes the most strategizing, but also that passengers typically have the least control over. The best way to guarantee overhead bin space is to have frequent flyer status with an airline, use the airline’s credit card or pay for priority boarding. 

The sooner you get on the plane, the more likely you’ll be to have bin access. That’s a big part of the reason I’m ignoring my own advice and taking a random flight this weekend to clinch status for next year. 

Schreiber said it’s also a good idea to pack light. The smaller your carry-on, the more likely you’ll be able to squeeze it into crowded bins.

“My tip is always to pack less and always to stick with basics with accessories,” she said. “Always sticking with a certain color palette. I like either gray, white and black or I like browns and creams and whites. I pick one or the other.” 

Last week’s Cruising Altitude:Finding last minute flight deals tailored to your budget

Do all airlines charge for carry-ons?

No, but they should. 

People already want to carry their bags on, and all the bin negotiations can slow down boarding. (I’ve also written about how to expedite the boarding process.) Rather than charging us for checked bags, I think carriers should charge for carry-on, and let us check our first bags for free. It might incentivize some travelers to ditch the carry-on, freeing up more bin space and making boarding smoother.

But for now, the only airlines that charge for carry-ons are ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier. 

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