When to wait for people to put their suitcase into the overhead bin

a black bag in a drawerLast week I flew to the west coast and back for a series of customer meetings. The flights were generally good, on time, with a few open seats. Although coming home one flight was delayed into Phoenix and I had to run to catch my connection. I never would have made it if I’d had to gate check! Just one more reason to take the smallest suitcase you need.

Anyway, while the flights themselves were fine I noticed some things that bothered me. I don’t know if it’s all of the summer travelers or what, but it seemed like on every flight I saw people trying to push past passengers who were putting their suitcase into the overhead bin. These passengers weren’t taking excessive amounts of time, but nonetheless people behind them were shoving past to get to their seat. One lady got hit in the leg by a suitcase and almost fell in my lap.

If someone is simply sliding their suitcase into the overhead bin, give them a second before going past. If they step into the row so that you have room to pass, great! If they are taking a long time maybe say something like, “Excuse me! Do you mind if I sneak past you?” But don’t shove them to the side with your shoulder bag.

On the flip side, if at all possible, please step into the row while putting up your bag. This is especially true if you need a little extra time to arrange your belongings.

There’s another scenario to consider as well. A couple of years ago I did a poll about waiting for people who have to go past their seat to find space in the overhead bin. Now, while I’ve seen plenty of flights with overhead bins stuffed to the brim, this was surprisingly not much of an issue on this particular trip. But because it will surely come up on trips you take, here are my thoughts.

Typically when the person in front of me has to go further back than their row to find a spot for their suitcase I wait at their seat and see how far they go. If they only go a row or two back, I think it’s polite to just wait (especially if they haven’t passed my row). If you don’t wait for them at their seat you’ll still have  to wait while they put their bag up, and then they will have to swim upstream to get back to their seat which takes extra time. If it looks like they are going farther than a few rows, or at least past your row, I think it’s okay to go ahead and sit down. Unless, of course, you have to follow them to the back so you can put up your bag as well. In the poll, about half of people agreed with me that they tend to wait for someone only going a few rows but perhaps not if they’re going all the way to the back of the plane.

In a nutshell, it goes both ways! It’s nice to give someone a few moments to put their suitcase up, and also to try to be as quick as possible when you’re putting your bag up.

Readers, do you wait for people putting their suitcase into the overhead bin? What if they have to go past their seat to find a space?


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  1. Nothing drives me mad than passengers who are blocking the aisle getting things out of their bag(s) before putting things above. Yes, I agree that one can wait the 5 seconds it takes to shove a bag above but it seems like most passengers don’t do that and fumble with putting things in and out of their bags before getting into their seats. This is not just the less experienced traveler. The worst folks are in first class. I always move out of the aisle if I need to do anything with my briefcase (always my only carry-on). Come on people, show some consideration for your fellow travelers?

  2. good article , but common courtesy seems to be lacking on the traveling public lately

  3. Since I mostly fly Southwest up & down California, there isn’t assigned seating so no waiting ‘to go back to their seat’. I do wait in aisle for co-flyers putting stuff in overhead (but inpatient if they get too fussy doing it).
    More stressful though is impatient & rude people behind me in aisle, glad my small TimBuk2 backpack/purse keeps their body off me.

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