Bin there, stuffed that: Air­lines to boost over­head carry-on room

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY JOSHUA FREED

MIN­NEAPO­LIS | Fliers can stop sharp­en­ing their el­bows. Over­head bins are get­ting big­ger.

Packed planes and a high vol­ume of carry-ons are forc­ing air­lines to ex­pand the space above pas­sen­gers’ heads. United and Delta are the lat­est air­lines to re­place or up­grade bins so they hold more lug­gage. And engineers at Boe­ing are de­sign­ing jet in­te­ri­ors with to­day’s bulkier lug­gage in mind.

It’s a chance to pla­cate pas­sen­gers who feel like they’re thrown into a roller derby ev­ery time they board a plane. Be­cause of fees on checked bags, more pas­sen­gers are bring­ing carry-ons, which are grow­ing in size. And with planes more crowded than ever, bins fill up be­fore ev­ery­one has reached their seat. Trav­el­ers fight physics and one an­other to shove one more bag over­head.

The re­sult: up­set trav­el­ers, har­ried flight at­ten­dants and de­lays.

The per­cent­age of pas­sen­gers bring­ing bags on board has hov­ered around 87 per­cent in re­cent years, United Con­ti­nen­tal said. And “the size of the carry-on has in­creased. . . . They are stretch­ing the lim­its of their bags,” said Scott O’leary, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of cus­tomer so­lu­tions at United Con­ti­nen­tal Hold­ings Inc.

Ex­pand­ing bins is a smart way for air­lines to set them­selves apart, said Henry Harteveldt, who leads air­line and travel anal­y­sis at At­mos­phere Re­search Group, a mar­ket re­search firm. “Es­pe­cially if they cater to the busi­ness trav­eler, they’re hop­ing it will give them a small but no­tice­able com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage.”

Busi­ness trav­el­ers, for ex­am­ple, avoid an air­line that doesn’t have room for their carry-ons.

At first blush, it might seem like air­lines risk giv­ing away fees if more peo­ple can fit carry-ons on board. But they’re not risk­ing much as it turns out.

Air­lines of­ten waive bag fees when lug­gage can’t fit over­head and must be checked at the gate. And busi­ness trav­el­ers, who gen­er­ate most of the in­dus­try’s rev­enue, are of­ten ex­empt from bag­gage fees any­way.

Air­lines ex­pand­ing their bins in­clude:

United: The air­line is re­plac­ing bin doors on 152 planes start­ing in April. The new doors curve out more than the old ones. That al­lows pas­sen­gers to slide bags into the com­part­ment wheels-first in­stead of side­ways. The ren­o­vated bins will be on all of United’s Air­bus A320s, one of the main jets the air­line uses for do­mes­tic fly­ing. The planes will hold 106 typ­i­cal roll-on bags, up from 64. The bins are also get­ting more rugged latches be­cause latches on over­stuffed bins are more likely to break.

Pas­sen­gers on United’s A320s have had to check their bags at a higher rate than trav­el­ers on other planes be­cause there wasn’t enough room. “That’s a real sore point,” Mr. O’leary said.

Amer­i­can Air­lines:

Delta Air Lines: Pas­sen­gers on in­ter­na­tional routes such as At­lantaParis or Min­neapo­lis-am­s­ter­dam are start­ing to see new bins on the air­line’s 767 jets. The com­part­ments hold 26 more bags than the bins they are re­plac­ing — an in­crease of 23 per­cent.

Emily Quin­nell, who stud­ies so­cial work at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sinMadi­son, had to check some small bags at the gate on a re­cent flight be­tween Min­neapo­lis and Den­ver. There was no room in the bins. She said air­lines should have known that charg­ing for lug­gage would cause pas­sen­gers to push the lim­its of what they can bring on board.

“I’m not go­ing to pay for it,” she said. “I’m a stu­dent.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

United and Delta have be­come the lat­est air­lines to re­place or up­grade over­head bins so they hold more lug­gage. The per­cent­age of pas­sen­gers bring­ing bags on planes has hov­ered around 87 per­cent in re­cent years.

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