Well-prepared travelers can avoid carry-on problems when boarding

Posted Oct. 10, 2012


Jaira Rivera was gripping her bag restlessly, not understanding why it was about to be taken off the plane.  She had no liquids or harmful items.  Her bag fit the mock overhead-bin sizer at the gate.  She just happened to be the last passenger to board the plane and there was no room for it to be stowed.

Like Rivera, many passengers face numerous issues with carry-on luggage.  Just a couple of years ago passengers did not use carry-on bags as their sole piece of luggage.  It was after airlines started to charge for checked bags in 2008 that many passengers decided to condense their luggage and opt for carry-ons, leading to the overwhelming amount of bags on aircraft today.

American Airlines was the first airline to charge passengers with a fee of $25 for the first checked bag and $30 for the second bag. Other airlines soon followed. Delta Airlines, U.S. Airways, United, and Virgin America also charge the $25 fee.  However, some airlines still do not charge; Jet Blue and Southwest do not have any fees for the first bag.

Some passengers are not subject to paying these fees.  Passengers who fly business class are exempt from paying, while others avoid the paying through the perks of their frequent flyer mileage clubs. International travelers are also exempt from paying for two bags.

So who is left paying for their luggage?

The economy passengers are— hence the circus act of stuffing luggage into bins, and watching passengers imitate Gaylord Focker in the movie “Meet the Parents” with his “Kung-Foo grip,” relentlessly trying to keep his luggage on board.

Tina Lovelace, a flight attendant for American Airlines, has been with the company for 18 years and has encountered many issues on board due to carry-on luggage.

“Oh I’ve seen plenty of fits,” said Lovelace.  “If they throw enough of them and get disruptive we’ll throw them off, too. We don’t mean to be mean. It’s just that people don’t want to pay and honestly I don’t think they should.”

One reason for these fits of anger is that many people refrain from checking the size requirements for their bags prior to flying.  Each airline has information on its website listing specific size requirements, and it is important specifically check with the airline you are flying with because they can vary.

The standard size for a carry-on suitcase is 22-inches, although some airlines allow for a 24-incher. The weight measurements are where it gets tricky.  Some airlines allow for bags up to 50 pounds such as Jet Blue, while others allow a bag of a measly 16 pounds, such as Virgin America. Often, it simply depends on the type of aircraft being flown and the size of its overhead bins.

But, if you are a passenger that adheres to these requirements, you may still have to check your bag out of sheer bad timing, like Rivera. This is due to the lack of overhead bin space on sold-out flights and it usually happens to those passengers who board last.

Rivera was traveling from Miami to Lima, Peru, via Spirit Airlines.  She was quickly approached by a flight attendant who grabbed her suitcase and took it off the plane.

“It was horrible,” said Rivera.  “They were over capacity and there was nothing I could do.  I ended up having to wait two hours at Customs to retrieve it, all because I boarded the plane last.”

Having your bag taken off board is not just an issue that plagues passengers.  Flight attendants are also subject to checking their bags if the plane is overbooked.

“It’s called life.  If you’re the last one to board, it’s the same with us,” said Lovelace.

Although this situation may be unavoidable, choosing a bag wisely can alleviate the risk of having your bag checked.  Popular carry-on bags are ones that fit in the overhead bins— they are below 22 inches, and have multiple pockets and organizational features.  It may be smarter and beneficial to buy a new suitcase in order to fit the size requirements.

Many luggage companies carry a wide variety of luggage that fits the size requirements, and salespeople in luggage stores are very knowledgeable about which bags fit the in the overhead bins and which ones don’t.  Department stores and local luggage stores can be extremely helpful to frequent prior to traveling.

One company in particular, Tumi, is the No. 1 luggage brand at Nordstrom and one of the most best known and widely used brands.  Tumi has a 15-year warranty and the luggage is made out of FXT ballistic nylon fabric, the same material used for police belts.

“Tumi is what I always recommend,” said Giuseppe Villella, a salesperson for Men’s Furnishings at Nordstrom at the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables.  “The material is virtually indestructible.  I own a Tumi myself.”

Tumi caters to the current airline luggage measurements by offering three sizes for carry-ons— the 21 inch, 22 inch, and 24 inch.  Most customers opt for the 22 inch and it retails for $645.  Although the price is steep, many customers argue that it’s worth it.

Gabrielle Esteves and Alexander Esteves are Tumi customers and have bought their luggage from Tumi ever since they started traveling.

“We do a lot of traveling back and forth from the United States to Brazil and nothing holds up like a Tumi,” said Alexander Esteves.

Another top contender to choose from is Rimowa.  The carry-on size suitcase that it offers has four wheels and is made with 100 percent polycarbonate material. Travelers like this piece of luggage because it is extremely lightweight and the outer material is strong.  It also has tons of front compartments to fit laptops, tablets, smartphones— each perfectly in its own little spot.

Because it is a luxurious German piece of luggage, the bag also has a steep price of $295, but it is less expensive that the Tumi.

The best thing about a Rimowa and the features that sets it apart from all other luggage brands, is the Transportation Security Administration-approved lock on the side of the bag.  While most suitcases just have zippers that converge, the lock actually locks in the zippers so it cannot be opened without a key.

The bag comes in many different colors, which satisfies the fashionable customer and even has a new limited addition color called Pearl Rose, which was released in conjunction with the new Audi.

Lastly, a less expensive option than the two brands is the Samsonite bag, which retails for $160 and has numerous small compartments.

Riana Specht, a flight attendant for InselAir International Latin America, has used a Samsonite for two and half years.

“I really like the bag because it expands,” said Specht.  “I have two of them.”


If you are preparing for a flight and are not sure of the size or weight requirements, go on the airline’s website that you are flying with and search for the baggage information.  All airline websites have the information easily accessible and, if you cannot find it, make sure to type “baggage” in the site’s search box.

Another way to search the information is by simply typing “luggage size requirements” in your search engine.  Tons of websites pop up, with all of the information for each airline condensed in one simple chart.

Lastly, if you are still unsure if your bag will fit, take out the measuring tape.  Measure the length, width, and height, and compare with the charts that you found.  Just make sure that you do not overstuff the compartments so that it will not fit in the overhead-bin sizer.

Besides your suitcase, you are allowed one smaller personal item, such as another small bag.  Just make sure you do not have more than that, or else you will have to check your bag.

Happy Traveling!

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