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Airline Baggage Etiquette 101


Airline Carry-on Bag EtiquetteNinety-nine percent of the time I travel with just a carry-on. It’s convenient, saves me money and time on both ends of my trip (checking in and skipping baggage claim). But one of my biggest travel pet peeves is when people don’t know the rules to carrying-on, namely the in-flight etiquette. So, I’m breaking it down for you so you can avoid those evil glances from your fellow seatmates on your next flight. Here’s the ultimate guide to carry-on etiquette…

1. Keep Your Bag Close

When you first board the plane, keep your bag close to you. Whether you’ve got a backpack, a roller, or a duffle, the worst thing you can do to those passengers that are already seated is bash them across the head or knees or roll over their toes.

2. Park it Nearby

Truth: No one likes when you stow your carry-on in the front of the plane when you’re seated all the way in the back. It’s unfair to those who (ahem, responsibly) planned ahead and picked seats up front. Your bin selection causes a chain reaction of people needing to place their bags further and further away from their seat. In the end, everyone is delayed at the end of the flight.

3. Know the Limits

There are size measurements for carry-on luggage for a reason. But, without fail, there’s always some poor shmuck on my flight that tries to push the limits, just in case the rules of gravity don’t apply to him. While I’m all for trying to get something for free, this benefits no one: Upon realizing your giant bag doesn’t actually fit in the minuscule overhead bin, you have to disrupt the entire boarding process by going against traffic in the already narrow aisle (read: it is not meant to be a two-way street) to check your bag.

4. Be a Good Samaritan

If you’re an able-bodied human being and some little old lady – or anyone, for that matter – looks like they’re having trouble lifting their bag into the overhead bin, lend a helping hand! Don’t just watch and think to yourself, ‘Hm, they look like they’re struggling…’

5. Leave it Alone

Don’t move someone else’s bag. This should go without saying, but I’ve seen my bag moved multiple times without any attempt to find its rightful owner. Which brings me to my other point: Don’t ask to move someone else’s bag. It’s there for a reason. I also cringe when people place their large roll bag on top of smaller items (my backpack) – effectively breaking anything in it of value (my laptop).

6. Unload Beforehand

Don’t be ‘that guy’ who gets up 10 times on a 30 minute flight because he keeps forgetting to take something out from his bag in the overhead compartment. Somehow, this person always ends up sitting by the window and disrupting everyone around them. So, in an effort to streamline things, just plan what you want to keep under your seat and make sure it’s in your smaller bag before you board.

7. Keep Your Coat

Airline travel during winter can be tumultuous for many reasons; there are cancellations, delays, and the weather can change things at a moment’s notice. And then there’s the state of the overhead bins during cold weather spells. Sure, I’m going to be traveling with a big puffy coat, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to shove it above my seat – those bins are already small, but to occupy that space with something that compresses when I sit down on it, seems wrong. Leave all that space in the overhead bins for luggage and bigger items, folks.

8. Remember Spatial Reasoning

You remember Geometry class, right? Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but just remember this: If your bag can fit in lengthwise (wheels in first), you’ll be leaving a lot more space for other items than if you put your bag in horizontally. By stowing it sideways, you’re asking for someone to move your bag (#5) or place their smaller belongings in the bins to occupy the otherwise unusable space (#7).

9. Don’t Rely on the Flight Attendants

I think people forget why flight attendants are on planes. Above all, a flight attendant’s job is to keep everyone safe. They’re not our personal servants. In other words, don’t expect them to help you lift your bag into the overhead bin. Sure, they may step in to help if you’re having trouble or are holding everyone up, but they have plenty of other things to do before takeoff.

10. Don’t Crowd the Aisle

Unless you can get your bag up in a second or two, don’t just stand in the aisle with your luggage waiting for someone to take pity on you (see #4). Step out of the aisle, into your seat, and wait for a break in the line of people boarding. Not only will this save everyone time, it will also cut down on the number of angry passengers looking to get to their seats.

Did we forget any etiquette rules? Tell us what annoys you when people don’t know how to properly carry-on.


  • Gina says:

    These are really great tips. Far too often, people have no concept of what to do with their carry on luggage.

  • Sonya says:

    In #3 Know Limits – there probably should also be a mention that not all planes and overheads are created equal, smaller planes equal more luggage needing to be checked at the gate, sometimes on to the final destination instead of picking up from the next gate. Just because your luggage says it’s airplane sized doesn’t mean it will fit in the overhead everytime.

    You touch on this, but don’t really say it out right – I would say most of the time on smaller planes, especially during the cooler months the flight crew will include in their announcements prior to and during boarding something that should be a rule for every full or almost full flight everytime: Your smaller piece at your feet, your larger piece in the overhead unless it doesn’t fit (then it should have been checked at the gate), leave as much room as possible for in the overhead for the rest of the passengers, if there’s room after everybody has boarded and put their stuff in the overhead then you can consider moving your smaller bag up top sans anything you want/need during the flight.

    In response to your #5: Don’t be angry if you didn’t put your bag in the overhead in the most efficient way for everyone involved. Keep an eye on where you put your property – odds are someone will have a better place for it, especially if it’s a smaller piece and one of the last spots for a larger piece to get stuffed into sans your bag in a smaller hole across the aisle. If you don’t want it moved say something, they should make an honest effort trying to locate you but won’t be able to unless you are paying attention or your seat neighbor remembered it was your bag, be ready to help provide a better solution if you’re so concerned about it being located further away from you.

  • Mabel says:

    I always take a backpack on board as a personal item, and if I’m traveling carry-on only, my carry-on is a squishy duffel. The duffel will mush in the overhead (nothing I care about gets packed in it). I’ve never had an issue except on smaller planes, where I have had to check the duffel, and the backpack always fits under the seat (and is easier to carry through the airport). Works really well. :)

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