Who Owns the Overhead Bin Space

an empty shelf in an airplane
image- hub.united

With all of the news in the past month about knee defenders and the right to recline, it made me wonder about another sensitive topic- the overhead bin.

I have to admit that Kim and I check our luggage probably on 98% of our flights. For longer trips, especially when you’re traveling with a toddler, fitting all of a family of three’s things into a couple of carry-on bags just isn’t going to happen.

For shorter trips I’d love to stick to carry-on roller bags but we usually just check one bag for the three of us. This allows for one of us to roll the bag and the other to push Lucas in his stroller.

We don’t pay bag checking fees since all but a couple of our domestic flights over the past few years have been with Southwest, an airline that doesn’t charge a fee for up to 2 checked pieces of luggage.

I always bring aboard a backpack for my laptop, camera, toys for Lucas and a few other items. I’ll usually toss it into the overhead bin along with Lucas’ things, stacking it all together trying to take up as little  space as possible.

I always find it interesting when flight attendants make the announcement stating that you have to leave smaller bags by your feet and to please , save the overhead bin space for larger pieces of luggage.

This always makes me wonder why this is the case. If I choose to check my bag, why should I not be allowed a small bit of space for my backpack? I don’t think that I should have to lose precious space for my legs just so others can cram their larger pieces up top.

My thought is that one piece of luggage- bigger or smaller should be allowed in the overhead bin.

This leads me to our flight home from the Dominican Republic back in June with JetBlue.

The airline was very nice to allow my parents to board early along with us due to traveling with Lucas. We got settled in and set up the CARES Harness (review to come soon) for Lucas. I then stuck my backpack up top with Lucas’ small changing bag on top of my pack.

The flight was pretty full from what I recall and the flight attendants made an announcement again about keeping small bags under the seat in front of you etc…

Then one of the flight attendants started pulling out bags (mine included) and shoving them back in recklessly to try to fit another bag in.

I asked him not to shove my bag and he got very defensive. I was told “you pay for the seat, not the overhead bin space”.

The flight attendant disappeared and I figured that was the end of the situation.

About 5-7 minutes later I was approached by a member of the ground staff. He told me that he heard there wa a problem and told me that the flight attendants are the boss. It was kind of hard to understand him but Kim and I thought that he then apologized for the situation…

I then asked if everybody was allowed overhead bin space and was told yes. I asked another question- Why should I have to keep my bag by my feet while larger bags were allowed the space? The ground staff member said that he understood the issue but this was the rule.

This makes me kind of annoyed to think of the double standard when it comes to overhead bin space. Many airlines penalize you for checking a bag by charging a fee in the $25 (per bag) range. For those that bring large roll-a-board bags on, they get priority to the overhead bin!

On the other hand, I realize that there is only so much space. If everyone tries to use it, there clearly isn’t enough room. So who should get priority? Those that board earlier or those with big bags?

Can anyone explain the rational of this rule? Shouldn’t all passengers be allowed to benefit from the overhead bin?

11 thoughts on “Who Owns the Overhead Bin Space

  1. JRG- Agreed!

    DaninMCI- It sure is amazing how people are great at ignoring. The announcements bother me too. Up until baggage fees coming into play, I don’t ever recall seeing many roll aboard luggage on flights. Overhead bins were for just what you said.

    Mark- Interesting rationale and I see your point but don’t agree. Deep or not, a bag under the seat take space away. Oh, and the last time I decided to push my bag all of the way under the seat I got an awful sticky substance all over my backpack.

    Jennifer- I love your idea but sadly don’t ever see that happening. Barefeet people don’t really bother me, seat space hoggers and seat pullers do!

    VG- What you do seems totally fair to me. I am amazed at times by the size of some carry-ons which are allowed on the plane…

  2. I usually carry two smaller bags aboard and put them both in the overhead. Together they take up substantially less space than one roll aboard, and it easy to fit them in crannies where a roll aboard will never go. I am quite tall with oversize feet that really need space under the seat in front of me. On the other hand my wife usually won’t put anything overhead (except when in a bulkhead seat) as she is extremely small.

    Flight attendants should focus first on excess sized carryons and secondly on folks seating in deep coach who put their bags in the overhead in the front of the plane. They can be fairly skilled at rearranging things, but should be polite about it.

  3. This topic drives me nuts! I almost wish they would treat it like a locker, you are in seat 13a you put your 1 item in this 13a bin spot. IF you chose to take a roller bag, backpack and laptop bag those other two are at your feet. 1 bin spot per seat and stupid traveler cannot then take up the whole bin 3 of us need to share. So irritates me even worse than barefeet people or seat space hoggers!

  4. It amazes me how many people who fly on a regular basis miss the whole hand luggage storage concept.

    Large bags in the overhead and smaller bags in the “storage area under the seat in front of you”. That space down there is a lot deeper than you think and there is normally plenty of room to place your bag under the seat and then slide it forward leaving plenty of room for your feet and no risk of somebody getting in or out of the other seats in your row treading on your bag.

    It also means you can access your bag with ease at any time during the flight without disturbing fellow passengers

    So it’s not a case of “having” to place your bag under the seat because there are bigger bags in the overhead, it’s because the space under the seat is designed to accommodate small bags. This is where Boeing intended you to keep your bag.

    If more people did this, then there would be plenty of room for everybody but for now, people insist of putting coasts and small bags in the overheads which is really not where they belong

  5. I totally agree with you. I almost always check my big bag and only carry on my computer backpack. I prefer to have it in the overhead because I’m tall with long legs. Recently on a trip back from Miami on a. US flight in First (well what US calls F) my wife had her backpack in the overhead and this guy comes on near the end of boarding with several bags. He grabs her backpack with computers, iPads and many other fragile items. Starts trying to shove it into the flight crew equipment area overhead space real hard. The FA stopped him but didn’t seem to care about the backpack. We had to nearly yell at him to stop before he broke something. He was so rude and didn’t even care or say a word to us. All because he couldn’t check half his junk. I think each person on the plane should be allowed equal access to the overhead space. The announcements about smaller bags angers me actually since I’m not the one taking up tons of space. Overheads should be for carry on bags not big roller bags anyway.

  6. I always have my backpack, and no suitcase (checked or I didn’t bring one). And I always put it up top; I have NO obligation to the others who decided to lug a big bag on – first come, first served for the upper storage. I get my leg room and my backpack is up top.

  7. Segments- Great question. We do like for Lucas to stay in his seat as much as possible during a flight. However, besides take-off, landing and when the seatbelt sign is on, Lucas likes to stand at times, especially when going #2. Keeping him strapped in for a full flight isn’t a fight worth having.

  8. I can understand your position, and am sympathetic to those who very tall and really need the leg room. On the other hand, a toddler’s feet doesn’t even reach the floor. Why didn’t you put your backpack in Lucas’ foot space? Since he was using a CARES harness you should be able to easily reach under his seat during flight if you needed access.

  9. Jay- While I’m not a huge fan of JetBlue, they are definitely not a sh!t airline. I never had a flight attendant bother my things or speak rudely like this before or after this incident but this announcement is made during boarding all of the time…

    Captain- Thanks for the comment. I agree with you and like your thinking but I think it’s best to try not to engage the flight attendants in arguments. In the end they will win and you’ll be booted from the flight or maybe they’ll have you arrested. I wasn’t looking to extend my stay in the DR!

  10. I would have probably been booted from that flight after that comment by the FA. No way I would have sat quietly. My patience would have been tested to say the least. Really uncalled for comment by them. They should never talk to you like that.

  11. Never heard of this problem before…. stop flying shit airlines.. = problem solved… have you ever encountered this with another airline?

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