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Luggage Etiquette

Air travel is one of those occasions where few of us are rarely at our best.

Unless you’re a polished aviation pro like a pilot or a flight attendant, odds are you’re usually feeling rushed, nervous and perhaps irritated – and that’s even before getting to your boarding gate. If you have layovers, or worse, flight delays, you’re “slightly off your game” status may move into “downright confused and angry.”

One way we often publicly display this befuddlement is by breaking some of the unwritten rules of luggage, and possibly some of the written ones. Sometimes it’s deliberate, by hoping an exception will be allowed for our oversized bag. Sometimes it could be purely accidental, like banging our bag into someone else’s ankles.

Christoper Elliot, a USA Today columnist, recently called all travelers to task, including himself, to better manage their luggage before, during and after flights. This outlook adjustment could possibly lead to more room in overhead bins and under our seats, plus happier flight crews, which ultimately make us all happy.

There are several ways one’s luggage etiquette can improve.

Be open to checking

Yes, it hurts. But it’s worth it. According to Fare Compare, most U.S. and international carriers now charge a variety of fees, sometimes up to $50 for the first bag, sometimes for an extra bag, sometimes for oversized bags. This, in addition to the extra fees bundled with your typical ticket, can drive people to cram everything into a carry-on bag. Interestingly airlines have reported a significant decrease in revenue from checked bags, a 4 percent drop from 2012, so perhaps airlines may recognize this and change this model – maybe charge less or find other new revenue sources.

Travelers can also sometimes avoid the fee by asking at the boarding gate if their bag can be checked there rather than at check-in. Sometimes if all the overhead storage space is full, a flight crew may ask for “volunteers” to gate-check bags at no cost. In this case, since you’re also on board, it’s likely to get there when you get there.
Be considerate to other passengers.

Elliot said a common breach of etiquette he has observed is people in the front rows of planes filling the overhead bins right around them, resulting in all the passengers having to move their items a little further down the line and eventually the airline putting out a call for gate-check volunteers. Among his suggestions include packing less so it can fit underneath your seat or even shipping some items home so you don’t even have to worry about any luggage.

The same consideration can be observed in the terminal or luggage return areas, when there are many people jostling for the same space. Pay attention to where your suitcase is in connection with fellow travelers when you’re hauling it off of the carousel or stacking it next to the others.

If you have children who want to carry their own suitcases, or they need to for the sake of everyone’s backs and hands, let them start pulling outside of the terminal to avoid accidently running into the crowds.

AllEars, a travel site for Disney properties, suggest that children might be better off with two-wheeled pilot-style suitcases that can be pulled with one hand, rather than a bulkier larger square suitcase with four wheels.


Though it’s easy to shake our head when we see travelers who seem to be breaking the rules either on purpose or because they’re oblivious, be aware it may be us someday.

Until airlines change their bag charge policies or customers change their habits and begin checking in more, expect to see more people carrying their own baggage. That means being courteous and conscientious, maybe even packing lighter and smaller.

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