Could Carry-On Bag Limits Soon Decrease?

Filed Under: Travel

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting has taken place in Miami for the past several days, and as usual, quite a bit came out of it. A lot of what’s discussed is higher level stuff about the direction the industry is headed, though it looks like carry-ons have also been addressed.

Long story short, IATA wants to “optimize” the accommodation of carry-on bags by standardizing (and in many cases decreasing) their maximum size. Their argument is that this new standard carry-on size would allow everyone on planes with at least 120 seats to have room for their bags.


Here’s the IATA press release, entitled “Airlines to Address Carry-On Bag Dilemma:”

Miami – The International Air Transport Association (IATA), announced a new initiative to optimize the accommodation of carry-on bags given differing carry-on bag sizes and airline policies.

Working with airline members of IATA and aircraft manufacturers, an optimum size guideline for carry-on bags has been agreed that will make the best use of cabin storage space. A size of 55 x 35 x 20 cm (or 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches) means that theoretically everyone should have a chance to store their carry-on bags on board aircraft of 120 seats or larger.

An “IATA Cabin OK” logo to signify to airline staff that a bag meets the agreed size guidelines has been developed. A number of major international airlines have signaled their interest to join the initiative and will soon be introducing the guidelines into their operations.

“The development of an agreed optimal cabin bag size will bring common sense and order to the problem of differing sizes for carry-on bags. We know the current situation can be frustrating for passengers. This work will help to iron out inconsistencies and lead to an improved passenger experience,” said Tom Windmuller, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security.

IATA is working with baggage tracking solutions provider Okoban to manage the approval process of bag manufacturers. Each bag meeting the dimensions of the specifications will carry a special joint label featuring IATA and Okoban as well as a unique identification code that signals to airline staff that the bag complies with the optimum size guidelines.

Several major baggage manufacturers have developed products in line with the optimum size guidelines, and it is expected bags carrying the identifying label will start to reach retail shops later this year. Recognition of the IATA Cabin OK logo is expected to grow with time as more airlines opt-in to this IATA initiative.

The first thing worth noting here is that adopting this policy would by no means be compulsory for member airlines. It’s suggested as a way to (theoretically) make their operations run more smoothly, and while many airlines follow most IATA suggestions, not all will.

IATA is proposing carry-ons to be limited to 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches. How does this compare to some US airlines?

  • American, Delta, and United limit carry-ons to 22 x 14 x 9 inches
  • Alaska limits carry-ons to 24 x 17 x 10 inches, which is as far as I know the most generous carry-on policy of any airline


Bottom line

Personally I don’t view this as some evil plan by IATA to extract more revenue out of passengers (though they’d have an incentive to do that as well). Instead I suspect they’re genuinely trying to find a solution to what’s a real problem for airlines. The carry-on bag situation for many airlines can impact on-time departure performance, which can cost airlines millions of dollars.

Of course I’d argue the problem with the current carry-on “situation” — at least in the US — isn’t the limit as such, but rather the lack of enforcement.

So we’ll see whether airlines adopt the new IATA standard. I doubt it’ll happen overnight, and I suspect it will mostly just happen for airlines which already have less generous carry-on policies.

How do you feel about IATA’s suggestion to shrink carry-on bags?

  1. airlines created this problem… if they allowed at least one free checked bag, there would be way fewer carry-ons.

  2. 7.5 inches, less than the width of an ipad mini, is just ridiculous. No way I’d buy luggage to meet new restrictions when the problem is from passengers who flout carryon rules with overstuffed bags that need a battering ram to get them into the overheads, as well as jerks who refuse to put their backpacks beneath the seats.

  3. Dropping the allowable “depth” from 9″ or 10″ to only 7.5″ seems like the most egregious aspect of the proposal. That’s a 25% reduction for AS travelers.

    But perhaps, it should be looked at as the reduction is allowable “volume”:

    –For AA, UA, and DL, the IATA standard would reduce the allowable volume by ~21%.

    — For AS, the allowable volume would drop by almost 46% (!!!)

    Would a bag no longer of allowed to be expandable in order to get the “IATA Cabin OK” logo?

    Standardization is helpful, maybe even good, but NOT at the proposed numerical values.

  4. Call me crazy, but if I’m paying top dollar for a premium seat I don’t want some size queen measuring my package! If this only applies to low rev fares, fine. Also, while I have no problem paying for checked bags (regardless of the cabin)….. isn’t the real problem here the typically ABYSMAL baggage carousel delivery times (regardless of ‘colorful’ premium tags, etc)? US airlines are an embarrassment in this regard.

  5. Uhmm… perhaps they could make larger luggage bins??? Most recently – flew LAX-IAH on AA’s regional jet and even in “first”, had a very hard time fitting a carry-on in an overhead bin even though it wasn’t very large. It feels like you need to be a master Tetris player to make everything fit nowadays.

  6. The 7.5″ dimension is baffling. Since most bins fit bags wheels out or in, the depth of the bag (9″ vs. 7.5″) doesn’t change anything, it just leaves more space on top of the bag, but not enough to fit a second bag on top. If they want to fit more, they should reduce the width of the bags, so more could fit side by side. It’s almost like someone calculated the volume of all the bins divided by 120 and came up with the side of a theoretical bag. There are obvious problems with this approach.

  7. (from another Tom)

    There’s quite a bit that’s odd here.

    First, the rules only apply to aircraft with over 120 seats, and yet the 7-1/2 inch dimension is clearly calculated to allow bags to fit into smaller regional jets. (The limiting dimension is height, which I’ve measured at 8 inches or so; for 737-sized jets, as noted above, some hot-shot out there has obviously gone nuts with dividing the available total linear inches of bin space by the number of passengers.)

    Second, I think the 13-1/2 inch dimension is clearly calculated to allow bags to fit into the bins sideways, i.e., with that side running from bottom to top. (I’ve measured “normal” 737 bins at 14 inches or so, but they’re not quite as high towards the back and, honestly, some bins seem closer to 12 inches high to me.)

    Third, I think the 21-1/2 inch dimension is clearly calculated to allow bags to fit into the bins “wheels out” or “wheels in.” (I’ve measured “normal” 737 bins at 22 inches or so deep.)

    The rub here is the combination of enforcement and the absurdity of 7-1/2 inches.

    Clear? Not to me at all!

  8. @ Tom — Agreed. My guess with the 120 seat point is that they’re simply saying that some smaller planes have smaller bins, and only planes with 120+ seats consistently have large enough bins for this system to work. Does seem like a rather arbitrary number, though.

  9. If they just enforced the carry on size limit they currently have, they would force a favorable percentage of bags to be gate checked. Its more miss than hit with gate agents or ticketing agents checking carry on bag sizes. Airlines should just include a 1 checked bag in their price.

  10. So now my currently-compliant 20x14x8 suitcase would now be disallowed by 0.5″ in the width and depth dimensions? That’d be so ridiculous. I have half a mind to just somehow buy one of those “joint labels” and put it on my bag >:(

  11. For those who are wondering about the 7.5 inch depth,if you look at the picture above of the overhead compartment, you will see why they are suggesting it. They want the bags put in standing on the side, not flat.

  12. Some of this is just as baffling as International carriers who limit carry-ons to 15 pounds. Never understood being asked to transfer 2 lbs of magazines from wifes bag to mine.

  13. Just another example of ‘Big Baggage’ lobbying their way to force everyone to buy new carry-ons… When will it end? We need term limits, Bernie sanders and crystal Pepsi.

  14. Well since i always check my baggage, and in market for a carry on to change that habit and for minimality reasons. What size is the ideal for a normal carry on that can be in use for non saavy traveler regardless of these new regulation. I fly mainly ethiopian & emirates.

  15. Alaska is going the reverse route and has ordered new planes with 50% more carry-on space.

    It’s probably going to take someone getting killed by an enormous carry on before the government requires a free checked bag like sane countries.

  16. The IATA has published a standard carry on size for many many years. Most luggage manufacturers produce an IATA compliant carry on.

    The problem is that many airlines set their own limits thus making the whole concept of a “standard” a bit of a joke.

    So what is really happening here is that having seen their existing “standard” get ignored by the airlines, the IATA is lowering their “standard” in the hope that they can gain some credibility back and get the airlines to adopt it.

  17. The whole question of luggage keeps getting more and more ridiculous…If I should fly several European low cost planes, it costs $$$$ to sit, to have luggage, to eat…..BA is now charging 25 Euros for a seat reservation…..and now this? It is just another way to increase the costs of a consumer that that has the least ability to pay for it….i.e. people who don’t have a certain credit card, or who arn’t elite in any thing…Just increase the price and give people back their life….and not nickel and dime me every time I turn around. This year for the first time when I travel within Europe, I am taking trains….despite the train strikes and work slow downs….it is faster and more comfortable….and I wish the American carriers would quit loosing my luggage….and it is rare that I carry more than a carry on these days, but the last two flights, it was necessary to check luggage….yes, for me it is free, but not when some one looses it…and while I am on the subject of luggage….on my last flight someone had bedbugs in/on the luggage…..and I ended up with the results….Won’t mention the carrier, but it was on an ATL/SEA flight….on a major carrier….Oh well, if the Plaza can have them, I guess a plane can too….but I sure wasn’t expecting it….

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