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No More Carry-on Bags? Discuss!

There’s a really interesting bit of news floating around about the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA‘s (AFA-CWA) push for Congress to regulate carry-on size. As Ben Mutzabaugh at Today in the Sky puts it, “Fed up with airline fees for checked bags? You’re not alone. Many of the nation’s flight attendants say they feel your pain—literally. More than 80 percent of attendants claim that they’ve sustained injuries from helping to handle passengers’ carry-ons.”

According to the AFA-CWA, the bill before Congress would “create a concise, uniform and enforceable standard to limit the size and number of bags being brought into the aircraft cabin. The bill would civilize the aircraft cabin experience for all passengers and crew while reducing flight delays and missed flight connections, and most importantly, ensure the security and safety of the aircraft cabin.”

However, there are several problems with the proposed legislation. As it stands, most airlines use linear inches (the combined length, width, and height of a bag) to set their restrictions (see our guide for all the details), but the government has instead proposed a standard size (22 x 18 x 10 inches). This means lots of travelers could find themselves with bags that would meet the linear measurement but don’t meet the actual size restriction.

For me, the important word in all this is “enforceable.” Is it really practical to measure bags at check-in or prior to boarding, where lines are often long and sluggish enough as it is? What is the best way to measure bags? Have passengers drop them into a box and see if they fit? What if the bag doesn’t really fit, but the passenger can kind-of-sort-of wedge it in there? How should airlines deal with travelers who thought their bag would work as a carry-on but suddenly have to pay a fee?

Here’s an idea: Instead of regulating carry-ons, let’s try banning them altogether.

OK, not exactly “altogether.” Purses and personal items, like backpacks and baby bags, would still be allowed. After all, people need their books and medication and sandwiches. But those barely-carry-on-size roll-ons wouldn’t make it past the check-in desk, let alone onto the plane.

If you think about it, the idea has a certain utopian charm to it—boarding would be a breeze, at least, and everyone would be equally consigned to the baggage hall. With competition for overhead space removed, there could be order and calm the likes of which our modern air travel system has never seen.

Of course, the idea is also rife with potential chaos and misery. Something would have to be done about baggage fees (the airlines would have to waive fees for the first bag at least, right?), and the strain on airlines’ baggage systems would be immense and potentially disastrous.

All this serves to illustrate just how messy the baggage situation has become. There is no perfect solution, only imperfect ideas. But you folks are the traveling public, who deal with the baggage issue every time you travel. So what do you think is the best way to solve the carry-on problem? (And don’t say “eliminate bag fees,” because it just isn’t happening. Sorry!)

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