The Truth About Carry-On Luggage

by Nancy Bestor

On a recent trip from Medford, Oregon to Chicago, Bob and I made the conscious decision to pack light and carry our bags on all our flights. We didn’t want to pay what would amount to $50 each to check our bags on United both ways, and neither did we want to wait in Chicago or Medford for our bags to come down the carousel (is it just me, or does it take wayyyy longer for checked bags to come out at the small Medford Airport than it does at other airports?). We had the right sized liquid bottles, packed into our one-quart ziploc bags, we had legal carry on sized suitcases, we did not have knives, meat cleavers, ice picks or baseball bats. In other words, we did everything right to be able to carry on our bags.

A small pinprick of worry entered my mind when boarding our plane from San Francisco to Chicago. It seems every overhead bin was “already full.” All the bins around our row were closed, apparently full with other travelers’ bags. We asked a flight attendant for help in finding a spot and he said “you’re just going to have to put that under your seat.” It was a 22” rollaboard suitcase. HELLO! There was no way that sucker was fitting under the seat. We took the initiative and starting opening bins around us, even though some of fellow travelers gave us the death stare. Lo and behold, a bin very near our row was not even close to HALF full, let alone all the way full. We were easily able to put our rollaboards in that bin. Why some travelers are unwilling to share overhead bin space is beyond me. Do they think I am going to break their valuables, or worse, steal their valuables? Or perhaps did their kindergarten teacher just not teach them the fine art of sharing?

So we carried our bags on the way to Chicago, and were able to walk off the plane at O’Hare and bypass the baggage carousel entirely. The way home, however, was a different story. We got in line to board our flight from Chicago to Denver when they called our row, but alas, even though only half the people had boarded, the bins were full. The flight attendants would not even let us try and find our own overhead space. They checked our bags at the plane’s door, and sadly we had to wait at the Medford airport for what always seems like an eternity for the bags to come off the carousel. We didn’t have to pay the checked bag fee, which is some consolation, but more and more people are definitely carrying on their bags, making it hard for everyone to find space in the overhead bin.

Coincidentally, upon returning from Chicago I read in an Associated Press article that due to increased checked-baggage fees, the subsequent increase in carry-on baggage volume at TSA security checkpoints is costing taxpayers $260 million a year. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked at a Senate Committee Hearing recently if airlines shouldn’t be picking up some of these costs, instead of taxpayers. Seems like a good idea to me. The AP went on to report that the airline industry posted its first moneymaking year since 2007, and the government estimates that the country’s eight largest airlines are likely to earn more than $5 billion this year and $5.6 billion in 2012 in part due to rising fees. The truth is, if airlines end up paying for the increased TSA security due to their new fees for checked baggage, airlines will probably just start charging for carry-on bags. The truth hurts.