Recently, a friend of mine was telling me that he got sent back to the gate from the TSA line because his checked bag was deemed too big. He had used this particular bag for years without issue, but according to American Airlines, there were new FAA rules they had to comply with. He ended up having to go back to the front of the airport, check his carry-on bag, then back to TSA screening which almost caused him to miss his flight.
It appears that all of the major airlines have recently updated their carry on bag rules as of March 2014. Carry-on luggage that used to pass without an issue could get you rejected and sent back to the check-in line.
If you have a 21 or 22 inch carry-on piece of luggage that you have been using for years, you might want to invest in something a little smaller to save you a headache.
Are there new carry on luggage restrictions being enforced?
More and more airlines appear to be enforcing a 14 inch maximum width for all carry-on bags. If they do not get you at the check-in counter, they may get you at the TSA line. No, the TSA is not the culprit.
The airlines appear to be hiring contractors to check bags that once they get to the TSA screening checkpoints.
So if you are used to brushing up against the size limit and breathe a sigh of relief after you get passed the check-in counter without issues, not so fast. You could be holding your breathe once again before you head to the gate and it could cause you to miss your flight.
That is because if you are selected to place your bag in the “baggage size tester” and it does not fit, you will have to march back to the counter and stand in line again to check that bag. Not only will it cost you some time, but it will probably cost you some money depending on how many other bags you have checked already.
Here is the problem.
The “rule change” is so recent that carry-on manufacturers have not had time to update their product lines so your options are few. If you look around online or in stores, you are likely to have a problem finding a new bag that meets the “new code”.
When pressed about the change, the airlines say they are complying with new FAA regulations that state carry-on bag dimensions can be no longer that 14 inches in width and 9 inches in depth.
Previously, you could have a carry-on bag that was up to 22 inches on any side without the total combined height, width and depth exceeding 45 inches. And let’s face it, they really didn’t enforce that very often unless something looked egregious.
Many times I have packed my 22 inch spinner full and probably exceeded the weight limit a time or two, but I never had an issue. In fact, the agent working the check-in counter never asked to see it. carry on baggage size
Is this Really a New FAA Rule?
I doubt it. In fact, a search of the subject reveals that the FAA website on baggage limits has not been updated since April 2013 and it still lists the carry-on limit as 45 total linear inches.
Also, a quick check of other airlines suggests that they are still allowing a looser definition of a proper carry-on bag.
It seems that the major airlines such as Delta and American are enforcing these new limits, albeit it randomly and arbitrarily if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, trying to curtail some of the frenzy that goes on during the boarding process.
Everyone hates boarding, including the flight crew where they spend a lot of time hunting space for various carry-on bags when the flight is packed. There are endless news stories on the web about flyers frustrated with apparent arbitrary luggage rules that depend on the airline or even the person who happens to be checking you when you first arrive.
However, as I said, you may encounter a new player at the TSA line so you are not home free if you make it past check-in.
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How Did We Get Here?
This is a problem that the airlines brought upon themselves. When they started charging for checked bags, even one checked bags, it caused people to cram everything they needed into a carry-on to avoid additional charges, which caused a melee at the gate when the plane starts to board, and inside the plane when everyone is getting to their seats.
In an attempt to solve that feeding frenzy, the airlines are coming up with new ways to dip into our pockets by offering “preferred boarding” for an additional cost of course. And these new rules appear to be a way to deter carry-on baggage, and make us pay for checking bags.
Solution to the Carry-on Bag Crisis
The obvious solution for the airlines is to simply bump fares up $10-15 per flight and get rid of all of the nonsense checked bag fees. That would cause fewer people to be compelled to carry-on their luggage which would result in less bottle necks during the boarding process. Most importantly, it would allow the airlines to stop nitpicking over an inch or two on a bag size.
However, that is easier said than done because of market forces and competition. Every time an airline tries to raise fares on any of their routes, if the other airlines don’t follow suit, then they get crushed on bookings for several days or weeks until they relent and match the other pricing.
Then if they appear to be raising them in unison, it can draw the attention of Federal government and trigger a possibly pricing collusion investigation.
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Carry-On Bag Tips
So what is a traveler to believe now? Should you comply with these much stricter rules or simply chance it with your old bag? As I said, enforcement appears to be airline specific and the FAA excuse does not appear to be accurate.
If you are the type of person that does not like the stress of travel or uncertainty, it might be time to update your carry-on bag.
You need a bag that is less that 21 X 14 X 9 to be safe. And remember, it has to stay 14 inches in depth after you pack it just to be safe.
However, as of right now, there are not a lot of options aside from much smaller bags that the legal limit.
One option you may want to consider is skipping the traditional carry-on roller bag, and opting for a small duffle bag or even a large back pack.
I have used backpacks exclusively for my carry-on before, cramming my 17 inch notebook in it along with an assortment of clothing. They are great because even if they appear big, they are pliable and can be pushed into virtually any space, including those annoying carry-on bag testers at the check-in counter or TSA line.
The downside is that you have to lug them around on your back through trains and terminals but I have found that this works for me. There are backpacks of this type that have wheels and a handle that extends upward so you can pull it.
I usually take the backpack along with a carry-on spinner, but I will probably be investing in a smaller one to comply with these apparent arbitrary new rules.
I wish flying was not such a pain. I remember the days when you could go to any airport and hang out, even going through security to the gates to watch planes take-off.
Those days ended over a decade ago and now we are subjected to intrusive searches as well as annoying rules set down by airlines to try to get as much money out of us as possible with airline baggage fees.
To be fair, market forces have not been allowed to work in the airline industry. The fare for Chicago to New York or Atlanta to New York is roughly the same as it was 20 years ago, yet fuel and labor costs have tripled. So they have to look for other sources of revenue.
Unfortunately, between arbitrary airline enforcement and phantom FAA excuses, the average traveler is caught in the middle with a lot of uncertainty. Carry on baggage size has never really been enforced, but things may have changed recently.
My advice it to travel with less “stuff” and try to comply with the newer carry on luggage rules, even if they are not being forced by all airlines. It is probably going to cost you some money because you will need to update your carry-on spinner, however, rather than doing that, I will probably just stick with my gigantic laptop backpack and see how that works for the time being. These things have a way of sorting themselves out and I am interesting in observing the system next month when I travel internationally to Brazil.
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