Carry-on Etiquette Roundup

Last week, we talked about etiquette for planes. One could reasonably argue that etiquette for carry-on suitcases should fit under that umbrella. And it probably does. But this is such an important part of thoughtful travel that I felt it deserved its own post. Here are some guidelines for how to share that overhead bin space, nicely.

  • Know your airline’s guidelines. All major airlines have the size and weight restrictions for carry-ons on their website. If your bag is too big, they may make you check it. Also, there are slightly different size requirements for international carriers vs. American carriers, so make sure your bag works for your continent as well.
  • Make sure you can lift your bag. You may not be able to depend on having people around you that can help, and some flight attendants are prohibited from helping customers put bags up.
  • Put your suitcase on the correct side of the airplane, facing the correct way. Listen to what the flight attendants tell you to do, and do it. If one side of the plane is made to hold rollaboards, please put your suitcase there. That way there is room for everyone’s stuff.
  • Only put your large bag in the overhead. Put your purse or briefcase under the seat in front of you, until you know for sure there will be room. Also, don’t put your jacket in a bin unless it’s going on top of or in front of your bag. Again, we’re trying to make room for everyone.
  • Put your bag in the bin as close to your seat as possible. If you are sitting in row 25, and there is no room over 25 and there is room over 23, that’s one thing. But if you’re sitting in row 25 and you put your bag over row 8, the people in row 8 won’t have room.
  • Don’t make it your plan to gate check.  If you bring a normal sized carry-on that you are happy to bring on the plane or gate-check, that is one thing. But please don’t bring an oversized bag on the plane, expecting they will make you gate-check it. If you are bringing too much stuff, check your bag. If you don’t want to pay the fee, bring less stuff. Don’t slow everyone else down because you’re trying to save $20.
  • When getting your bag out of the overhead bins, please, please be careful. I have seen people get hit in the head, and come close to getting hit myself, by rogue rollaboards.

Readers, what are your favorite etiquette tips for carry-ons?


  1. I have a few from last week.

    1. When the gate agent lets you know that the flight is full and they’ll be checking bags at the gate they usually ask first for volunteers. No one volunteered. Then they said they’d run out of space around Zone 4 and then definitely Zone 5. So they asked Zone 5 people to start checking their bags before boarding. Still, no one checked their bags. In fact, one woman threw a fit. About two people into Zone 4, they started checking bags, slowing down the boarding process and everyone was so complainy and mean.

    2. I had already checked my bag when I got to the airport because I was bringing home a bottle of wine. But I still had a larger work bag to put under the seat in front of me. When I got to my seat, the woman next to me warned me that she was borrowing some of the space in front of me and hoped I didn’t mind. Well, I didn’t even have a choice because they ran out of space in the overheads but I certainly wasn’t thrilled as I could have slid my feet around my one bag. But she was putting two down there.

    3. When we got off the plane, multiple people were pulling two bags out of the overhead!

  2. Bravo! And Well Said. A note for the airlines – PLEASE enforce the one-bag + personal item rule. If you have bags of duty-free, they SHOULD take the place of your carry-on. Happy Flying!

  3. The solution is simple. On completely full, single aisle flights the airlines should restrict non-Elite flyers to 1 carry on bag.

    You really let the woman next to you steal the space for your feet? Why? She was very wrong.

  4. I would like to see this:
    1) In order to use the overhead bin, you need to go to the check in desk OR gate agent and get a “bin approved” tag for your bag. You only get ONE. You only get it after sliding your carry on into the sizer and ensuring that it actually conforms to sizing standards.
    2) You are allowed to put your bag in the bin only if it has the “bin approved” tag. Everything else goes under the seat. To make it easy for the FA, they will regest that the “bin approved” tag is showing on the bag.
    3) The FAs can perform a quick scan as they walk the aisle. Anything without the tag gets pulled and gate checked.

    This will ensure that:
    a) All bags in the bin are approved carry on size (ensuring more room for those that obey the rules)
    b) People can’t take up more space with 2 bags (or more)

    This won’t take care of the people that put bags at the front of the plane, but it will take care of the people that claim they travel with a carry on but actually have an expanded carry on stuffed to the gills.

    Maybe I’m feeling cranky, but I’m really getting sick and tired of worrying if there will be space for my bag, when I make a point to have an undersize bag.

  5. I hate to open this can of worms but… One of my pet peeves is when people complain to me because I put m small computer backpack in the overhead. I always check my big bags but still need a little room for my meager carry on. I guess my point is don’t be rude to others because your too cheap to check a bag.

  6. I completely agree DaninSTL. I check my luggage so I think I should be allowed some overhead space for a smaller sized bag. Why is a larger suitcase allowed to bully my small bag from the overhead?

    I like Cindy H’s idea with the ‘bin approved’ tag but what’s to keep ppl from stocking up and reusing tags?

  7. Modifying my idea-
    I want a bin approved sticker generated by the computer that has today’s date on it. They could alter the colors across the days. Much harder to scam.

    And DaninSTL – you falsely assume we don’t check bags b/c we are “cheap”. Please know that most frequent flyers were going carry on years prior to baggage fees. It saves hours of time (coming and going), and maintains control of the luggage (no theft, no lost bags). A true light traveler can easily live out of a STANDARD (not expanded) carry on for as long as needed.

    I have no intention ever checking my one carry on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.