Don’t Worry, You Don’t have to Buy a Smaller Carry-on Bag

We’ve been hearing from folks who saw media reports about “a new guideline that recommends shrinking carry-on bags,” as the AP put it. It has been suggested that as a result, we’ll all have to go out and buy smaller carry-ons. FareCompare travel analyst and CEO Rick Seaney’s eloquent yet succinct response? “Baloney.”

Smaller Carry-on Bags: Not Mandatory

The guideline is the brainchild of the International Air Transport Association, a trade organization of airlines better known as IATA which is headquartered in Montreal (executive offices in Geneva).

What is the guideline or recommendation?

The guideline suggests passengers use smaller or “optimal” sized carry-ons with dimensions of 21.5 inches tall x 13.5 inches wide x 7.5 inches deep.

Is this is smaller than the U.S. standard?

It’s smaller than what most U.S. airlines allow, yes, but there is no standard size. Some examples of what different airlines allow:

  • Alaska: 24 x 17 x 10 inches
  • United: 22 x 14 x 9 inches
  • Spirit: 22 x 18 x 10 inches

Will U.S. airlines have to agree to this guideline?

No. It is a recommendation only and not binding even for the handful of international airlines that reportedly have agreed to incorporate this guideline. As the AP points out, “details of how the guideline will be implemented are murky.”

Why are  smaller carry-ons being proposed?

Supposedly to free up room in overhead storage bins, which can get crowded. An unstated reason may have to do with fees; a smaller carry-on might prompt more travelers to check a large bag for a fee but this is sheer speculation.

Why wouldn’t U.S. airlines go along with a guideline recommending smaller bags?

We’ll let Rick Seaney do the honors: “An airline’s lifeblood is its high-paying business travelers,” said Seaney, “Why would any carrier want to anger its most lucrative customers who always use carry-ons by forcing them to buy new ones?” They wouldn’t, of course, and Seaney added, “Besides the trend is toward bigger bins with more space for bags.” A good example is the Boeing 787 or Dreamliner.

Do you have to buy a smaller carry-on? No. If this changes, we’ll let you know.

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Updated: June 11, 2015