Congress Tries to Regulate Carry-On Size

Baggage, Government Regulation

Regardless of whether or not you’re a believer in big government, can we all agree that the government’s latest effort to regulate carry-on size should be outside their jurisdiction? Somehow I doubt we’ll all agree here, but at least now you know where I stand.

H.R. 2870 has been introduced in the House in order to limit carry-on bag dimensions to no more than 22 inches by 18 inches by 10 inches for a total of 50 inches. It would also make the TSA reinstall those obnoxious bag sizers on the security machines. Is this really necessary? I think not.

The legacy carriers have already standardized themselves at 45 linear inches total. Some airlines, like United and US Airways get more specific and say it can be no more than 22x14x9, but that’s still 45 inches.

The low cost carriers, however, are all over the map. Frontier allows 24×15.5×9.5 which comes out to 49 inches. Southwest, Virgin America, and JetBlue’s Embraer 190s are all locked in at 24x16x10 for a total of 50 inches. AirTran allows 55 inches total, and JetBlue’s A320s are the most generous with a 26x18x12 maximum for a total of 56 inches.

So let’s review exactly what this policy would do. It would let the legacies and Frontier continue to keep their policies of allowing less than 50 inches. Even though Southwest and others have a 50 inch maximum, they would have to reduce the length and increase the width by a couple inches to fit the new rules. And AirTran and JetBlue on their A320s would be forced to be more restrictive than they currently allow.

So what do we have? More restrictive rules to piss off customers and still no actual conformity to make things easier. There are also no weight limits involved, so anyone who argues that it’s a safety issue (I’m looking at you, AFA), seems somewhat disingenuous. The feds need to stay out of this one.

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39 comments on “Congress Tries to Regulate Carry-On Size

  1. Carry-on has always been a size to fit under the seat in front of you. But we all know that’s the last place people try and put something. They should just say it must fit under the seat and have a sizer box the size it must be. No one likes seeing people come on the plane with items bigger then the human carrying the item. Have you ever seen someone get on board in Reno or Las Vegas carrying one of those large stuffed animals they won at Circus Circus.

    I was just thinking the other day just wait until the airlines think about how much weight (and fuel) they could save from a plane by removing the over head bins. Go back to the original passenger airplane days where there was only a net or ‘shelf’ to hold hats and coats. Anything else went into the cargo area or under the seat. Wouldn’t that just freak people out.

    Maybe for extra money they should make people pay to take carry on and make cargo area bags free. I think they would make more money that way then the new current way of doing it. It might be worth the extra time on the ground to load/unload and put back the ramp crews needed.

  2. While I don’t think congress should be getting involved with this, I do think that the airlines have been very lenient on what they let on. On rare occasion do I see a FA require someone to check a bag, but on almost every flight I notice someone carrying oversized or multiple bags.

    Years ago I quit using the carry-on roll away bag and switched to an even smaller soft sided duffel. I can force it into a much smaller space in an overhead. Still I’m often finding no overhead space if I’m one of the last passengers on board. Enforce the rules already in place and this should never happen.

  3. I’m betting the bill will die a quick death on the floor:

    1) Luggage manufacturers (not much of a lobby, I’m sure) will not want to regulate the size of their offerings.

    2) Despite our grousing, seat dimensions the world over are very different meaning dimensions from one airline to the next will be different.

    3) The rate with which baggage is lost today will doubtless increase exponentially if 100% of rollerboard-type carry-ons were checked for every flight.

    4) Delays at the gate while the agents do battle with passengers who refuse to part with their belongings will surely increase.

    5) This could be a disguised money-grab by forcing more bags to be checked and the fees that go with them.

    6) Airlines, again, won’t discipline themselves to follow the rule. Light flights will get a pass, not to mention the fights at TSA about what fits and what doesn’t (I’ve witnessed some serious brawls over the sizers).

    My vote is leave big government out of this one.

  4. The biggest problem is the storage areas are completely inconsistent between airplanes, and in the case of underseat storage between seats. There is no rational reason to pass a law regulating this.

    Congress should stay out of this one..

  5. No baseball players to hassle about taking drugs this week, I guess.

    This doesn’t make any sense. Shouldn’t it be up to an independent, commercial enterprise to set their own rules regarding how they wish to carry out their business, as long as they are adhering to all staff and passenger safety regulations?

    Reading the flight attendants support and their reasons for support, the bill doesn’t actually seem to address any of their issues. They are concerned about having to resolve disputes, which will still happen when plane loads of people have carry on bags, and they will still be injured by trying to lift heavy bags.


  6. Let’s see; We have internline ticketing, bag tracing and frequent flyer partnerships. How hard is it to standardize carry-on size for this industry? I guess it’s always been the goal to one-up the other guy but it creates those nightmares we’ve all seen. Heck, I’ve been as guilty as anybody. I once got a LARGE duffle bag as carry-on to/from Hawaii non-revving. I hide half of it between my legs so it didn’t look as big. You should have seen the grins I got from FA’s when I asked them to find a place for it…

    I think Dennis Miller says it best: “I get stuck behind a wizard who wants to beat the system by gaffer-taping a twine handle onto a refrigerator-freezer box and calling it “carry on,” wedging it into the overhead with hydraulic jacks. It’s like trying to get Pavarotti into a wet suit.”

    The industry should standardize, not Congress.

  7. As much as some people try to bring too much on a plane, what’s the point in creating a new LAW to mandate common sense? Seems like a waste of time for congress even to contemplate.

  8. Airlines do not enforce their policies.
    If they did, they would have pissed off customers and delayed flights as they gate checked a quarter of the luggage people bring on board.

    So, while I do not think Congress should be enforcing a size limit, I do think this is a great place for Congress to get involved for the good of the industry.

    Think about this. Everyone already hates the TSA. Pretty much. If they were the ones forcing your bags to go back to security, you’d hate them a bit more. But you already hate them, so it’s not like they care (plus, government salary, nearly impossible to fire or lay off, and retirement benefits… what do they have to be bitter about).

    What do the airlines get for this?
    1- faster load outs on planes as every bag will fit. Fewer stragglers wandering up and down the aisle in the fruitless search for overhead space for their 3 ton wheelie that could not have been half crammed into the guideline box.
    2- Hate directed elsewhere.
    3- More timely departures.

    If the industry could agree on a Standard (go with 47 linear inches), let the TSA enforce it.

  9. I just noticed the title of the bill “Securing Cabin Baggage Act.” What a joke…making us think that this has anything to do with safety. They even get the TSA involved, so it MUST be about safety…..or something….

  10. Of course, keep the government out of this. And TSA, to the extent they can do their jobs, should have little if anything with establising such rules.

    But, why can’t each airline get this straight by providing their customers with real, real information about the service their selling? A “one-size-fits-all” airline-established rule is nonsense to the extent it does not reflect the physical design/constraints of each aircraft. Don’t they think we customers actually “think” about the aircraft we may be on before we buyt a ticket? Some aircraft have more onboard baggage space than others. Just like seat sizes/pitch varies among various aircraft.

    The airlines seem stuck on the idea that “price” is the one, the only, “world without end” thing we use to decide on what to purchase. OK, but if they don’t give us anything else to base our decisions on, what do they expect we’re going to do. Onboard baggage availability is very important, as are seat sizes, food service, etc. Just tell us what they are and we’ll figure it out.

    The airlines’, in my opinion, utter negligence in defining/explaining their services to their paying customers is one major reason why so many of us think poorly of this industry.

  11. How about the argument that the TSA should be worried about 3 things and 3 things only: 1) making sure that the passenger matches the ticket and is indeed on an upcoming flight, 2) that the passenger is not carrying anything that would compromise security, and 3) that the passenger’s carry-on luggage does not contain anything that would compromise security.
    The 1 carry-on + 1 personal item rule & the 1 quart bag rule (to an extent) were about limiting the amount of stuff that the TSA had to screen. As long as the size of the carry-on does not impede the ability to x-ray it, then the TSA should not care and should not have to get involved with breaking out the tape measure or being the fashion police or verifying you are an elite flyer in the elite line or whatever else congress may want to have them do.

  12. Why dont they regulate something useful, like ontime operations or friendly service? Oh yea, more seat space too.

  13. I think the airlines should just ditch the overhead bins in favor of those pay lockers that they have in airports, theme parks, bus stations, etc. You know, the kind that spits out the key after you put the money in. Make them large enough to put a roller-bag in, but only put enough in that 50% of the pax can use them. That way, you’re either going to get the fee for the checked bags, or you’re going to be able to add a priority boarding fee and cash in on that and the locker revenue!

    Mr. O’Leary, if you take this idea, I expect to get a small percentage every month in royalties.

  14. Carry on Luggage is one of the biggest reasons for delay of flights and aggravations for customers and crew. Like most things in life, there should be a competency check if you bring a bag on-board. 10% of passengers do very well in boarding and storing bags. The remaining 90% should have nothing larger than a purse or lunch box. They cannot maneuver the bags nor get them into the overhead locker. As one comment said, they refuse to put them under a seat. These are the passengers who “block” up the aisle and delay everyone’s boarding process. In addition the overhead bins accomodate only about 3 roll-aboards for every 6 passengers (one overhead usually for 6 seats). If you have 100 passengers, then start checking the 101st bag and beyond. Gov’t regulations do not generally work, but have a good intent here. There are of course alternatives here, but what generally shows up in the cabin is just way too much!!

  15. If luggage delivery and security were better addressed, carry on would not be such the problem it is. Anyone who has traveled has experienced delayed luggage or damage. When luggage is delayed, the airline has no clue where they are or when they will arrive.

    And there have been many recent stories of theft by luggage handlers.

    Fix those problems and the carry on will self correct.

  16. There are literally thousands of bills introduced each Congress that are similar to this. Not in that they’re trying to limit carryon bags, but a small bill making one small change to law. This bill will never get out of the two committees it’s in, and even if it were, would need to find a champion in the Senate. I agree; the gov’t should stay out of regulating stuff like this. But if it is going to happen, it should occur through the rulemaking process at the Dept of Transportation.

    My theory? Congressman Lipinski was on a flight from Chicago that was full – came up to the gate at the last minute and had no room for his carry on. He looked around and saw a ton of bags that were over the size limit and said to himself, “I can fix this.”

    Mark my words…this bill will never even see the light of the committee rooms, let alone the House floor.

  17. OK. I just skimmed the act and noticed this:

    (2) CARRY-ON BAGGAGE RESTRICTIONS- Such regulations shall require that each passenger may bring only one carry-on bag and one personal item, the dimensions of each, when loaded, shall not exceed 56 centimeters in length by 45 centimeters in height by 25 centimeters in width (rounded to 22 inches by 18 inches (17.75) by 10 inches (9.85)).

    Why on earth do they enact a restriction in centimeters and then round it to inches? I understand the rest of the world uses the metric system, but we don’t, so why?

  18. While the idea of standardizing sounds good, I disagree that this is a bad idea. For one, this would add added complications for international travelers, so I think if anyone is going to do it, it should be an organization like IATA or ICAO.

    Plus, there is the problem of different airplanes being capable of handling different sizes of baggage. Taking the example of inter-island Hawaii flights, I could fit a much bigger bag on board a Hawaiian 717 or Mokulele E170 than I could on a Go CRJ, let alone a Mokulele or Pacific Wings Cessna 208.

  19. The last thing any sane person wants to do is to give TSA any form of mission creep.

    They are already badly out of control and giving them dimensional control over carry-on baggage just gives them one more way to threaten passengers with their “do you really want to fly today” mantra.

  20. Thomas,

    They’re matching the size regulation to the EU carry-on limits. It makes sense to do that when there’s an accepted standard already in place.

  21. Why would we all agree on this? Wouldn’t it be *nice* to have one, standard carry-on size so you wouldn’t have to worry about adjusting for different planes? Who cares if some planes could fit more? I’d rather just own one carry-on bag that was accepted everywhere.

    It’s easy to say, “The industry should standardize, not Congress,” but where’s the industry’s motivation to standardize? Having the same carry-on size requirements as every other airline is not going to give an airline any particular competitive advantage. The only way to get the airlines to all follow a standard size is to impose a regulation.

    You really come off as randomly opposed to Anything The Government Ever Does.

  22. A – I’m with you. I bring a soft-sided duffel that, if necessary, can fit under my seat. I prefer to put it up in the bin, and since it’s fairly narrow, I can usually find room. If not, well, I can always go under the seat.

    Nicholas/JK – True, the storage areas are different on every plane, as anyone who has flown a CRJ knows all too well. That’s certainly the reason that JetBlue has different limits on its two planes, though that’s not very customer-friendly. Of course, they could just lower the A320 limit down to the E 190 level, but that reduces the benefit.

    Greg – It’s not an easy decision for each airline, but I certainly agree that it should be up to them.

    Shannon G – The legacy carriers have standardized – I believe it was Continental who recently reduced their limit to match others. The low cost carriers just haven’t gotten there yet, and they may not since they are less restrictive and want to provide that extra benefit for their customers. Still, it should be their choice.

    BLR – If you saw Soul Plane (and only an insane person like me would have seen it simply because it had airplanes), then you’d notice they took your idea. They had pay lockers instead of overhead bins at the back of the plane. Awesome.

    Brad – I tend to agree that there are good intentions here – usually that’s how these things get started. But I still argue that it’s not the government’s place to police this. If an airline is concerned about on-time performance being impacted by carry-ons, they should be able to decide themselves how they want to regulate it.

    David – You are, of course, almost certainly correct on this one. But it’s still fun to poke holes at!

    Kit – Thanks for the additional info – I didn’t realize it was matching EU rules. Still doesn’t change my opinion, though.

    Ted – I absolutely do not oppose everything the government does, but this is ludicrous. Why should the government regulate the size of a carry on bag? It shouldn’t.

  23. Thomas, sometime in the 70’s the U.S,, Mexico and Canada officially adopted the metric system, although we haven’t embraced it to the extent our neighbors have, by law everything the federal government does is metric.

    It would prevent oversized and stuffed bags from getting to the gates and onto planes. Solve the problem at security!
    I dont consider it more restrictive, it requires everyone to conform to rules alot of travelers THINK they dont have to comply with.
    Furthermore, baggage size shouldnt be a competitive issue. Bringing it into the cabin of a aircraft makes it a safety issue.
    The GOVERNMENT finally got involved in 1987, limiting the NUMBER OF BAGS onboard. This ISSUE is no different. Why shouldnt there be an FAA rule establishing a ‘standard size” that applies to ALL AIRLINES!
    One rule that applies to every airline would cut down on injuries and eliminate the guesswork for passengers about what they can take on.”

  25. Let’s enforce sizers for people! Imagine, you get inline at security, then get to your security sizer/pod. Then you stay in this pod,,,even in a modified cargo area on the plane. Nobody would complain about space, since we’re all in our pods…

  26. This is a really bad idea. With all of the nasty bag fees, it shouldn’t be harder to carry on luggage. I’ve already written to my congress rep and said “vote no!” Everyone should do the same.

  27. I would accept Congress limiting the size of my carryon if I could limit the size of Congress’s spending bills!

  28. Exactly what part of Transportation SECURITY has the least bit to do with the size and shape of someone’s carry-on so long as it doesn’t contain a gun or a bomb?

    I have almost completely stopped flying after over 25 years of at least 30k annual miles because of the incredible hassle dealing with the TSA. “You can’t do this, you can’t do that”
    “Why?” ..
    “Because I said so, and if you dispute my authority, you can not fly at all.”
    “Show me where it says that.”
    “NO…It’s a secret (SSI) and you will follow my orders… OR ELSE.”

    Nowadays, if I can’t drive there in a reasonable amount of time, I just don’t go

  29. Folks,

    This bill basically says that US airlines MUST follow the years-old IATA size specifications for carry-on luggage. It isn’t creating a new size, and the reason to specify in centimeters is IATA specified in centimeters. If US specifies in inches, it would create a different size standard.

    I don’t know that I’d want the government involved in mandating the size of carry-ons. I do wish that the US FTC would require that if a luggage manufacturer claims a piece of luggage is “carry-on” or “roll-aboard” that the luggage (including handles, wheels, and everything else) met the IATA standard. Truth in Advertising would be nice.

    Cheers !

  30. If the government wants to limit carry-ons then they should make the airlines give back free checked bags.

  31. This is going to cost too much money for the TSA and for airlines. Yes, I get annoyed sometimes when people bring on larger carryons, but if there is room and it fits, go for it.

    Having fees for checked baggage and limiting the carryons will make for very unhappy fliers!


  32. I’m also a cranky flier, and one of the things that irritates me most are people trying to stuff maximum (or, even, oversize) bags into the limited overhead storage compartments without considering that this is a limited, shared space. I want those more strict adherence to restrictive limits that United and some other airlines use: 22″ x 14″ x 9″. If I have to carry more (like a longer trip or taking snorkel gear to Hawaii), I’ll bring a larger bag and check it.

    Yes, I also hate that we are being charged for even one checked bag in the hold these days, but I have been on too many flights where the storage compartments are so full of bloated bags that many fliers can not get their one smaller bag in anywhere.

  33. Would be nice if the suitcase manufacturers would actually make their bags 22x14x9.or slightly smaller. most are larger than that when you add in wheels, handles on top and sides. etc.

    also if the actual full dimensions were listed in their ads. now they are listed without wheels, etc.

  34. You all can say that the reason you do not want to check your bags is because you think the airline will loose them. Well, only 1 out of 1,000 bags is actually lost. The real reason that you do not want to check them is that you do not want to stop by baggage claim and God forbid wait 20 minutes. And it’s not because airlines charge now for bags either. You were all dragging your oversized luggage onboard way before the airlines started charging for bags. With low fares, I realize that there are a lot more people flying that perhaps were not able to fly growing up prior to deregulation….when flying was much more expensive. So, to help educate all of you, a carry-on bag should be small enough to fit under your seat. It should contain items that you may need while traveling that day. I.E. Medications, travel documents, magazines and a few sundrees. That’s it! In an evacuation, that oversized luggage may and probably will block all of your way out! I have been a Flight Attendant for 24 years.

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