Is it ever okay to put your laptop bag in the overhead bin?

a grey backpack with a black strapLast week I wrote about how to share the overhead bin space. One of my suggestions was to not put two bags up, which is a fairly standard guideline that most airlines have. After that post, I got an email response that seemed to go even further:

I hate it when people put laptop bags in the overhead. Those people are so selfish! Just because someone checked their rollaboard doesn’t mean they get to put their laptop bag up there. Don’t flight attendants ask people to put those smaller bags under the seat in front of them?

Generally, the instruction passengers are given is to put one bag–their larger bag–into the overhead, and the smaller bag under the seat in front of them. So the reader is correct on that count. However, what if you don’t have a larger bag? Do you still have the right to put your small bag in the overhead?

My view is yes, you do. If the only bag you have is a smaller bag you have the perfect right to put that bag in the overhead. Some people travel only with one small bag. Others, frequently tall people, check their rollaboard so they can put their personal item above and have extra leg room. When I was pregnant I would check my suitcase and put my purse in the overhead, since I couldn’t bend over to get things out of it.

I understand where the reader is coming from, but I disagree. It’s not selfish to put your personal item in the overhead if you don’t have a full-size suitcase.

Of course, if you disagree let me know!

Readers, what do you think? Can passengers put a laptop bag in the overhead bin if they don’t have a rollaboard?


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  1. Of course it is. I only bring one small bag and put it up there since i’m tall. It’s not my problem if someone else can’t store the body-bag they brought on board.

  2. I disagree. First in general I don’t want my laptop bag up there being jostled around by others ramming in their overpacked roller bags.

    Second, of course if physically you need to keep the underneath space open then by all means do it, but just because you can put one bag up there doesn’t mean you have to. I think claiming a spot for yourself when it could be put to better use by someone else for no other reason than you can do it…is the definition of selfish.

  3. Laptop bag in the overhead is perfectly fine with me. I’m 6’5″ and need to put my size 14s somewhere. Additionally, with airlines monetizing everything (overhead space included), passengers should utilize the space as they see fit. First on-board, first served.

  4. It’s not a matter of whether someone should put it up there . . . it’s how they put it up there. It’s usually easy to put a laptop bag on top of another bag or standing upright between to bags as opposed to in a manner that takes up far more space than needed. It’s really a matter of common sense and common courtesy.

  5. I have long legs for being 6′ tall. So that under seat space is very useful if I’m on a longer flight. I will absolutely put my single laptop bag up there if I check my “carry-on”; I believe every customer gets “one bag” up top, and I don’t care what other customers decide is *my* bag of choice to put there. Seems like they’d be happy that I put a smaller than normal bag up there instead of a carry-on.

    Now here’s a “sin” I will commit. I almost always choose aisle seats; if the plane has finished boarding and there’s still room above me I will add my laptop bag there even if I have put one bag up already. If the space is going empty I see no reason to follow the guideline just for it’s own sake. It’s not stopping anybody else from using the space (everyone has already put bags up), so why not use it for myself? I’ll either put it up as the FA is closing the bins or ask them to open it so I can put it in. No FA has had a problem with that request yet.

  6. Another long legged human that thinks it’s perfectly fine to put laptop bag in overhead. Not selfish to want to be comfortable for several hours. My pet peeve as a family of four is when I buy the whole row near front and all space is taken in vicinity by time I arrive. Not often but does happen.

  7. Carriers should encourage people to check bags by making it free and improve the handling at airports…

    Had a flight (A320) where I lost paid extra legroom space because my laptop bag had to come down out of the overhead to go under my seat so somebody else’s rollaboard could go up and it pretty much defeated the purpose of buying extra legroom. (I did get a refund for this instance from the carrier)

    On the other hand I can be the last one on the plane on a nearly full domestic narrowbody (B737-800) flight in Japan and still come across *empty* overhead bins.

  8. My laptop backpack goes up top while my big bag gets checked. I don’t have room under my seat for legs and a bag, getting my backpack in the overhead is the entire reason I check my other bag. It’s selfish when people try to save the checked baggage fee at the expense of my legs.

  9. Everyone gets to put one bag in the overhead bins until they are full. I am short, under 5’2″, and now that coach seats in all planes are so close together, even I want the space in front of me open for me to stretch out in. If I have paid to check a bag, then it is not at all selfish to put my personal item in the overhead bin. I figure I’ve paid for it and am not taking up very much space, which actually makes me even more entitled to it than someone bringing their big carry on bag for free.

  10. I would actually appreciate it if there were stricter and clearer guidelines to ensure that people travel light. I was recently on a flight from Canada to London Heathrow with my partner. We were travelling carry on with a case and small personal item each. Some people sitting near us (couples, one with a young adult kid) seemed to be using a whole bin for each person. I didn’t like to just start moving other people’s bags, but even when we politely and loudly asked if they would rearrange their bags to get more into the bin they ignored us and wouldn’t make eye contact. Eventually one person stood up and sheepishly rearranged their stuff to create some space. There would have been enough room if these people had stacked their bags and coats, rather than laying them all out side by side. And also it would have helped if they hadn’t been trying to store two or three personal items, plus duty free, in addition to their cases! Interestingly, the departure lounge at the gate for this flight was also pretty grim – overcrowded, poor customer service, dirty toilets, big queues for food. I wonder if a hostile or chaotic experience in the lounge creates a more territorial, inconsiderate atmosphere on the flight between passengers? On this particular flight, I really think that some of those passengers should have been challenged about the number of bags they were travelling with.

  11. I think its perfectly fine to put both your carry on and your laptop bag (in my case a backpack) in the overhead bin. It’s one the great advantages of having status and being able to board earlier than most. Besides I am 6’1″. I need the legroom. Having a backpack under the seat in front of me makes for an uncomfortable flight.

    The way I figure it, not everyone is going to bring two bags let alone put 2 up so it should even itself out.

  12. I think it is fine unless and until you see someone with a bag that cant go under the seat struggling to find a spot, then I’d say common courtesy is to make space. Obviously this would be a personal thing but I’d do it for someone and would hope someone would do it for me! It does drive me a little nutso when people put both up there.

  13. I agree that it is perfectly fine for us to put a laptop bag above. I rarely leave the laptop IN the bag then and will put in in the seatback during takeoff. BUT what really PEEVES me is getting to my seat and seeing NO MORE bin space even while there are NO PASSENGERS in my row or the one beside me. Passengers in the back of the plane think it is perfectly FINE to stuff their rollerbags farther up in the plane. WHY? I pay extra for extra legroom and to sit up front and board first. PLUS I check my bag. Don’t take my overhead bin space!

  14. Yes it is perfectly fine (personally, I’d rather have a few people share this space with their laptop bags that one who just shows up and takes all the space for 3 with his own big suitcase – you’re not alone on this row!)

  15. I put my rolling laptop bag in the overhead bin and my purse goes under the seat. Additionally, as a larger person, I have purchased 2 seats, so I should actually be able to place two bags in the overhead bin…but I don’t.

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