Travel etiquette tip: Don’t count on flight attendant to put your bag up

We’ve all seen it happen. A passenger lumbers down the aisle with enormous carry-on in tow. When they get to their seat (or where Victorinox werks 20there is overhead space) they pause, grab the handle, and heave the bag to get it up into the bin. Maybe it gets part of the way in, and if they just push hard enough it will surely fit. Sometimes it just takes a slightly different angle, or to shift a few inches. But often those of us below can tell that bag will never fit. Or maybe it’s someone on the petite side, who can’t lift their bag high enough to fit into the bin. They stand on their toes and reach for all they’re worth, but it won’t quite get there.

Either way, I have seen countless individuals try and fail to get their carry-on into the overhead bin. Sometimes a kind neighbor will help with that extra push needed. But if not, what do they do next? Call for the flight attendant. If they’re lucky, the flight attendant will help them maneuver it in. It’s not actually part of their job though. In fact, I’ve heard of insurance denying claims from injuries flight attendants have gotten from helping passengers with their bags, for this very reason.

My rule of thumb is this: if you can’t lift your bag, don’t carry it on. When I was pregnant, eventually I couldn’t lift my heavy bag. As much as it sucked, I went ahead and started checking it. It may not be especially fair to shorter people, I know. But you can’t always count on a kind neighbor or a flight attendant to help. Whether you pack fewer items, a smaller bag that fits under the seat in front of you, or check your bag, make sure you are rollaboard self sufficient.

Readers, do you agree? Or should people expect those around them to help?


  1. I do agree, but I struggle with this myself. I’m short (5’3″) and our company has a policy that we have to carry on. However, they also provide us with HUGE laptops to carry with us. These are the big, heavy 15″ versions with huge hard drives (required to run our software). I can’t carry the laptop in a shoulder bag, so I often put it in my roller bag. Which works just fine, until I have to lift it up into the overhead bin. I’m usually the one trying to heave it up over my head to get it in there. I agree, it’s not ideal, but I’m not sure what other alternatives I have given the tools/policy of my company.

  2. I’ve seen the best and worst of manners in flying. Some people go out of their way to the point you really believe in a common kindness, and others make you question if you are of the same species LOL In the end I’d agree the failsafe is depend only on yourself for getting your stuff into the overhead. But in the same light, if you’re kind-hearted, help others when you can. Unless I need dress clothes/suit, I’ve managed to get everything comfortably in a backpack for my trips, but I know I’m the odd man out, there. But i do often wonder when I see the heavy bags just WHAT is so heavy and needed so badly. I always do 2 rounds of packing… first I layout what I think I’ll need to bring, then I force myself to cut at least 1/3 of that out. Be kind and help folks where you can.

  3. I don’t,

    I figure what if I hurt my back. Is someone going to carry my bags and me around while I’m on holidays.

  4. My carry on is rarely heavy since I truly have to carry it (I have an eBags backpack). But I’m 5’3″. I’d have trouble getting a pillow into some of these overhead bins. And while sometimes a tall stranger helps me – with only one hand, I’d say 85% of the time I do it myself, but with an extraordinary amount of effort.

  5. Hmm, is 1″ such a big difference? I’m 5’4″ and I generally have no trouble getting my roller bag into an overhead. I do feel for Jill with the mammoth laptop, though. I have one too from my company, and also cannot fit it into a shoulder bag. For example, it absolutely does not fit into the Lo & Sons bag that everyone raves about. So, I pack a roller bag for the overhead and a wonderful Tumi backpack that fits the laptop, fits under the seat, and saves my shoulder/back. I tuck a small flat purse into the backpack that I can use separately once I get to my destination.
    But back to the question at hand – I think it is wrong wrong wrong to pack in such a way as to require/expect help from anyone. I suppose the exception would be if one had a physical situation (permanent or temporary), but for everyone else, assume you are on your own!

  6. I agree, 100x. Let’s break down the word “Carry on”. It means you carry (not wheel) it on. If you can’t carry or lift it, then check the bag. Chances are it will be waiting for you at the carousel by the time you make it to baggage claim.

    I’m a man and a gentleman, but I have my limits when it comes to others who are knowingly rude and uncaring toward their fellow travelers. Anyone can make up excuses to not check their bags but I have yet to see a valid reason for trying to cram an overstuffed, too-heavy piece of luggage overhead, then to expect similar help when leaving the plane.

  7. I’m 5 feet tall and sometimes hop on seats to get my bag up. I do take my shoes off first and throw a baggie/something on the seat if I’m not sitting in the aisle. It also helps if the seat has a curved bar under it which I’ve also seen shorter FA’s use as a step. My bag’s weight has been reduced over the years but short of wearing higher shoes/heels or booking planes with better lowered bins, it is mostly an issue of height and lifting the weight above my head.

    @Jill – You might want to get a packing cube/bag/laptop sleeve with strap and dump your heavies into it. Remove it before lifting your carry-on.

  8. I’m 5’4″ also, and have no trouble lifting any of my rollerboards into the overhead, no matter if they are the lightweight kind or old-fashioned and overstuffed. I don’t want someone else to help me (though I’ve definitely had people offer). I agree with the author that I consider it really rude to carry on a bag that requires someone else to help you, and so I’d like to prove that I am not one of those people and perfectly capable of lifting it on my own.

    @Jill: my old company gave me a similar laptop. You’re right that it’s not really feasible to put it into a shoulder bag, but I was able to do just fine putting it into a laptop backpack (so the weight was distributed evenly), which then goes neatly under the seat in front of me.

  9. I’m a woman and I’m strongly of the belief that if you can’t lift it, don’t pack it.

    Jill, I think your company should suck it up and pay for you to check your bag (do they really want a workplace injury claim from you because you hurt yourself lugging/lifting the thing – surely the cost of this would be far more than the checked baggage fees), or you could remove your lappy from the bag so that you can lift it up, or follow the backpack advice above.

    The same applies to my checked bag, when I travel with one. If I’m not able to carry it up a set of stairs without dying, it’s too heavy and something needs to go. And I find about 14kg is the weight limit for that, which actually isn’t that much, compared to what I see some people collecting off the carousels. Sometimes I wonder if they are emigrating, which is the only reason they would need such large, heavy bags, surely?

  10. I think there is a general rule here for men and women. If you are really straining to deal with your luggage, you need to lighten up. I was heedless in this way until I really hurt my back and realized that this was probably avoidable. I try to help people struggling with your luggage, but there can be situations where no one will help and you will end up hurting yourself. Not a good start to a trip!

  11. I’m a petite female, 5’1 and I absolutely do not take a carry on because I can’t lift it to place into the overhead bin. While others have suggested to me that most people would help, I can’t rely on the kindness of others to assist. I check my carry on and take a roller laptop/overnight bag. This I can get into the overhead bin by first lifting and resting on top of my head, then another lift gets it into the overhead bin. While many kind and taller passengers do offer to help, I decline their help and they get a chuckle with my technique.

  12. i think its utterly ridiculous FA’s dont assist! the airlines CREATED this problem. if FA’s are just there for the safety of passengers, then why do they offer food/drinks? thats not in the SAFETY dept. im 5’3 take a lightly packed carryon (2 shoes, 2 pants a dress, 2 shirts, pj’s & carry my toiletries in a smaller bag i put under the seats & lifting even 25 lbs in a cramped area i have to heave the carry in above my head and slide it in. i have a bad rotator cuff but i guess everyone assumes because im not on crutches or arm sling im fine. we pay more than ever for travel yet receive even less assistance etc. ridiculous! fa’s used to to help – help which afterall is “assisting” and insuring the safety of the passenger. this used to be part of the job! the airlines just dont want to cover the work comp (some airlines are self insd for wc, others pay wc premiums) laboror jobs today still require lifting, etc so why not FA’s? if ya dont like the aspects of the job, leave or just dont work in a job you cant do. can you imagine a constructiom worker saying they cant do some aspects of building or doing repairs to your home because its a safety issue to operate a skill saw??

  13. Yes, helping- and I stress helping- with carry-ons is part of a flight attendant’s job, but once upon a time, “carry-on” referred to a small bag of personal items, the rest having been checked as baggage- not to a heavy suitcase. We were happy to help with that.

    At my airline, we’re instructed to test a bag’s weight, and if a bag is too heavy to be lifted safely, it gets checked. It’s just mean to expect us to lift overweight bags, and to hate on us if we adhere to a policy that’s for everyone’s safety.

    Yes, I’m a flight attendant. A 5’1″ flight attendant who gets asked all the time, by other women, to lift their suitcases overhead because “it’s heavy”, “I’m short”, or, my favorite , “I don’t want to hurt myself”!

    Roadwarriorette, I am coming to this a bit late, but thank you for speaking up for us fa’s!

    nastu1 if I observe you using your technique on my flights, your drink is on me!

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