Just like that: Airline trade group halts proposed carry-on size limit

06/19/2015

Call it the power of the people or the power of perception but the proposal made by an airline industry trade group to shrink the acceptable size limit of carry-on luggage has been beaten down. The pressure to rethink came from multiple directions and one large continent.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) which represents over 250 airlines around the world had issued guidelines earlier in June regarding the recommended size of carry-on luggage that airlines should accept. The new overall dimensions (55 x 35 x 20 cm or 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches) were 20 percent smaller than the maximum allowed by the strictest airlines. With the angst of late boarding passengers rising over the lack of overhead space on increasingly full flights, IATA hoped that the new standards would let airlines accommodate just about every passenger's hand luggage and speed up the boarding process. The trade group went as far as establishing a recognizable mark, or logo, that would visually indicate to airline workers that the smaller hand luggage would be "Cabin OK." After a week of feedback from airlines, passengers, and even politicians, IATA has hit the brakes on the proposal.

Passengers, ever so skeptical, worried that the new carry-on sizes would cost them one way or another. Either they would have to purchase new luggage or pay to check bags that no longer qualify. It was another stick for flyers to beat the airlines with for what many feel is their nickel-and-dime approach to service. Despite a vote of confidence from some airlines around the world willing to implement the new standards, airlines in North America pushed back. Airlines for America (A4A) which represents U.S. carriers, rejected the idea of smaller carry-on size limits. In a press release, A4A president and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said: "A4A and its members reject the recent carry-on size initiative put forth by IATA because it is unnecessary and flies in the face of the actions the U.S. carriers are taking to invest in the customer experience -- roughly $1.2 billion a month -- including larger overhead bins." Politicians voiced their opinions as well. U.S. Senator John Thune who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee added: "If adopted by airlines, this standard would have prevented Americans from using many carry-on bags currently in use."

IATA has not completely abandoned the idea of recommending smaller carry-on sizes. The Association issued its own press release announcing a reassessment of the program and calling for more collaboration among industry stakeholders to address the issue of carry-on luggage. For now, passengers could breathe a little easier knowing that they won't have to rush to buy new luggage. But don't expect this rollback to be the end of the argument. The facts remain that airlines are flying full and passengers don't like paying for checked luggage. Bigger bins might not help much if airlines add more seats to a cabin or fail to monitor what passengers bring aboard. When all this shakes out, it will all come down to airlines being consistent with their policies and passengers being smart and considerate about what they pack and how they stow their belongings. If this continues to be a problem, then we should expect the subject of carry-on size reduction to rise again.