Should Congress dictate carry-on bag sizes?

This may come under the “careful what you wish for” category. We have all grumbled under our breath (well sometimes, no-so-under-our-breath) about passengers carrying oversized luggage aboard plane as carry-on luggage. Rep. Lipinski (D-Ill.) is proposing a law mandating the maximum size of bags a passenger can carry on board.

Do you feel a federal law is necessary to standardize carry-on luggage rules?
Do you think TSA should be policing carry-on luggage size? Register your thoughts here on our poll.

A year ago, I predicted the coming overload of carry-on baggage because of the checked-baggage fees. I also predicted the increase in time needed to get through TSA security checkpoints because of the increase in hand luggage. All have come true. This new federal law is only going to make things worse at the TSA checkpoints and will do little to limit carry-on bag problems.

The airlines aren’t doing anything to help themselves, if this is such a big problem. Ticketing agents and airline representatives at check-in are mum as passengers get boarding passes. Airline customer service representatives rarely make passengers go back to check-in when they see travelers waiting in security lines. Gate agents, often take tickets and let passengers with oversized baggage stroll down the Jetway without a word.

Flight attendants, some of the most vocal for this new legislation, don’t stop passengers with oversized luggage and a few extra pieces of luggage from breezing through the plane door with garment bags, purses, computer bags slung over their shoulders while dragging a double rollerboard behind them.

Rep. Lipinski’s proposed legislation that would set a national standard for carry-on luggage and put the TSA in charge of enforcing the carry-on rules as bags go through the screening system. The standardized rule is unnecessary the TSA policing actions simply bad policy.

Getting TSA involved will add to the governments cost of operation by eventually requiring additional TSA staff to handle these additional duties. A template won’t work at the screening area, since the proposed rules maintain a limit of 50 inches on the total dimensions. No maximum height/width/length is proscribed. Undoubtable, the TSA lines will be delayed as officers make additional checks required under the legislation and as passengers complain, argue and repack bags to meet the regulations.

I don’t see anything good about this proposal. The airlines should enforce their own rules and TSA should stick with its focus on security.

Perhaps DOT could mandate a common carry-on size that all airlines can use to eliminate confusion, but passing a law to handle this kind of problem caused in a large part by the airlines’ own greed won’t solve the problem.

Remember: Take our poll about this issue.

  • Frank

    A template won’t work at the screening area, since the proposed rules maintain a limit of 50 inches on the total dimensions. No maximum height/width/length is proscribed.

    Actually, THIS WILL WORK. It worked in the past. Continental sued to have them removed. And, when they did that, they made BAGS a competitive issue instead of a “safety issue”.
    The TEMPLATES went up and passengers quickly complied. It either fit or you went to the check-in counter. And, anyone who wants to cheat on the FEDERALLY MANDATED regulation of “one bag and a personal item” (back then when the templates were operational, it was the two bag rule) no longer will have that option.
    The government LIMITS the number of bags bought into the cabin, now its time to enforce their SIZE.
    Flight attendants dont stop passengers with oversized luggage????
    Do you care to get screamed at, harassed and fear for your safety as you explain THE RULES and argue with a passenger at the front door as you physically take the bag and now you have to spend the next FOUR HOURS with that person? Secondly, the bag should of never made it down the jetway! And, those flight Attendants who enforce the rules are the ones considered RUDE, UNHELPFUL, NASTY and BITTER.
    Could you people who oppose this legislation be the ones who abuse the RULES?
    Furthermore, the larger the bags being bought onboard result in INJURIES. I personally know F/A’s who have been injured by LARGE BAGS. One F/A broke his hand as he saw someone struggling with her bag and was about to DROP iT on someone’s head.
    There’s a perception that F/A’s are supposed to LIFT THOSE HEAVY/LARGE bags into the overheads. Sorry, the HEALTH OF MY BACK is too important to me. Passengers huff and buff when I say, “I’ll lift one side.” Interesting how they packed it, dragged it to the car, through the airport, to the gate and now, become helpless. F/A’s SHOULDNT and many DONT lift “LARGE/HEAVY” Bags!


  • OTC

    Perhaps our elected officials should spend time focusing on more important problems than carry-on size, airlines are private businesses and should be able to set any limit they desire.

  • Matthew in NYC

    As someone who scrupulously follows the baggage rules on my ticket, I get aggitated by
    people who don’t and bring excessive amounts of luggage and expect to be able to carry it aboard the aircraft or check it for free. If the airlines would consistently enforce their rules, this wouldn’t be an issue, people would know what to expect. But airlines don’t consistently enforce their rules and so people get annoyed when they can’t bring their four carryons aboard for the return flight when they were allowed aboard on the outbound. It gets worse when you have a ticket involving multiple airlines where one enforces rules and another does not, or they have different rules and the passenger is not alerted to that fact. I wish that the international aviation industry would settle on standard baggage rules and enforce them consistently.

  • Jay Clip

    The government does NOTHING efficient, inexpensively, or well. Keep the government OUT of the size-wise business. If Passenger Smith is boarding an ERJ-145 regional jet, his laptop bag is going to be a tight fit. And if Passenger Jones is boarding a Boeing 777 heavy, his rollerbag, laptop bag, and coat will fit in the overhead just fine. PLEASE – leave airplanes to the AIRLINES. Keep TSA at the checkpoint.

  • Frank

    OTC August 31, 2009 at 11:59 am
    Perhaps our elected officials should spend time focusing on more important problems than carry-on size, airlines are private businesses and should be able to set any limit they desire

    BUT, SAFETY is a government issue:

    Couper, director of airport services for United, said United is concerned about the issue for three reasons. Too many carry-on bags leads to chaos in the aisles. The added time spent finding extra space for too many bags also delays flights. Finally, there is the safety issue.

    The AFA, a flight attendants union, estimated in 1996 that as many as 4,500 passengers and 3,600 flight attendants a year are injured by falling carry-on bags.
    Carry-on bags are one of the leading causes of on-the-job injury to flight attendants.

    AFA President Friend pointed out that flight attendants’ on the job safety is not protected by OSHA, but is dependent upon action from the FAA. “Your agency has failed to take responsibility for adequately protecting [flight attendants’] occupational safety and health,” she charged.

  • kelley

    What a silly notion, that creating this law will make the problem go away. If an employee doesn’t enforce the existing rules, how much more likely is it they would enforce it if it is a law? The application would be just as inconsistent and arbitrary as it is with the current airline rules. Pretty much like real life outside the airport.

  • nadabrainiac

    Frank, an oversize bag should never get as far as the jetway. While you seem to focus on the customer’s contribution to the problem, you seem to be overlooking the fact that your fellow employees are just as culpable. The bag should have never made it past the ticket counter. If using the kiosk, a screen could easily pop up, requiring the customer to physically check a box declaring their carry-on is within the displayed size limits, with an explanation about the consequences of lying. This really shouldn’t be something the flight attendent should be enforcing or explaining to customers. If your coworkers do their job better, your job will be easier. It’s a problem I don’t see on Ryanair – everything is consistently weighed and measured before you get a boarding pass. They treat overweight as overweight and oversize as oversize. You can take something out of your bag to lighten it, or they will be happy to lighten your wallet. Passengers arrive expecting the rules to be enforced, and all employees know that is their responsibility, to the passengers and their employer.

  • Laura Townsend Elion

    As much as I hate excessive government regulation, any carry-on limitations ought to address how much these bags can WEIGH!

    I’m tired of being hit in the head by some 50 pound bag by the jerk that can’t wait to get off the plane who pulls it down in a hurry, (hitting me, waiting patiently in my seat), as soon as the plane pulls into the gate.

  • http://[email protected] Deb

    I have been saying for years that the airlines should be charging for all carry-on bags; and not charging for checked bags. This would pretty much eliminate the waste of time every flight attendent spends looking for space on board to stow away someone’s ridiculously oversized bag on full flights. We would all be happier and the majority of the flights would take off on time! The airlines should have realized that by charging for checked bags it would push the public towards trying to carry-on everything and delay departures. This is common sense people, but sadly something the airlines just don’t seem to be able to grasp……

  • Lyngengr

    The government should mandate a specific size that ALL carryon bags must fit at the security checkpoints. Sort of like the templates at the gates a lot of the airlines have, which of course they never use. I’m in favor of a rigid metal rectangle that any questionable bag either fits into or gets checked. There would be plenty of bin space for everyone if this policy was followed.

  • Frank

    nadabrainiac September 1, 2009 at 11:21 am
    Frank, an oversize bag should never get as far as the jetway. While you seem to focus on the customer’s contribution to the problem, you seem to be overlooking the fact that your fellow employees are just as culpable.

    So, that YOU can travel on a dime, have YOU noticed how many airline employees there are at the gates? Two if your lucky. One pulling tickets and one at the podium, using the computer. Now, throw in wheelchairs, elderly, blind, non english speakers, and the poor agent is swarmed.
    Same with the aircraft. Your lucky if you see 4 Flight Attendants on a flight with a seating capacity of 200 passengers. First class is being served predeparture beverages. Catering may have showed up late and the aft attendant is verifying meals and galley items. Throw in a seating issue and everyones BUSY, BUSY, BUSY.

    The TEMPLATE being returned to the security area would PREVENT all these issues from getting to the gate area. It cant be argued into the aircraft, because it FITS OR IT DOES at the security area. I would rather see the issue being argued with a GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE then an airline employee. See who wins that argument.

    You’re comparing us with European travelers? Unfortunately, during the 80’s and 90’s, the flying public learned that “COMPLAINING” gained them extra miles, upgrades, free headsets, free drinks and the like. Now, that most carriers in the country are under great pressure to control costs, that era, thankfully is gone. But, the attempts at it still exist, and it exist with passengers who also think any RULES dont apply to them.



  • AirlineEmployee

    As an airline employee (check-in counter), we do try to enforce this at the ticket counter at time of check-in. We have a sizer and employees in place to spot the oversized, overstuffed bag(s). However, many passengers refuse to even put their bag in the sizer and start the argument / debate immediately. The usual line is as follows:…… “I’ve gone through a hundred airports with this bag”, …….. “this IS a carryon !!” (no matter what the size), “are you calling me a liar ?”,…….”I’m 1k, Premier, Global Services, a Million-mile flier”……..
    We’re sick of hearing it…….The sizer tells the whole story… either fits or you have to make it fit…….Don’t show me your other crap – three shopping bags full of $hit and expect me to turn a blind eye. Unfortunately a lot of these people get through checkpoints because they have the boarding pass printed in advance and somehow get by.

  • John

    Perhaps passengers need to stop being selfish jerks and follow common sense. It is rediculous that it would take an act of congress to get people to pack proper size carry-ons and check the rest. Those of us who follow the rules frequently have to gate check their bags because everyone else boards with too large or too many items and fill the overheads and get away with it.