In-flight Baggage Scrum: Here's How to Win

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It is war in the aisles, don't think it's not, as today's flyers scramble for overhead bin space to stash their carry-on luggage.

Baltimore public relations consultant Jean Miskimon knows. She had even ponied up $40 for "an upgrade seat" but when she attempted to board, she was told, no more room for bags. "They stopped taking them two people in front of me," she said. So she had to gate check her bag - and then "deal with baggage claim at O"Hare!"

That is becoming a fact of life as more of us scramble to duck checked baggage fees, typically around $25 apiece. Matters get worse as temperatures dip, because winter coats take up lots of overhead bin space. So if you thought it was bad in July, wait until December (and don't even think about the Xmas crush when people are stashing gift-wrapped presents in the bins too).

Thus the pointed question: are there ways to win at this scrum, and let's not even mention flying business or first class, where yes, overhead bin space is plentiful. And don't tell a frustrated traveler that if he had elite status on the airline, he would get to board first, when overhead bins are empty. None of that is useful, because if we had elite status, or flew first class, we wouldn't be grumbling at all, would we now?

Yet there are proven ways to win out, to just about always succeed in stashing one's bag in the plane's cabin. How?

Here's a sampling of strategies - ranging from polite to downright rude - that work for the rest of us:

Get airline credit cards, suggested Jonathan Weber, founder of Pennsylvania-based web development company Marathon Studios. "I have a couple," he said. These branded Visa or Mastercard cards cost money - typically near $100 per year - but they deliver perks including priority boarding when there still is plenty of room in the overhead compartments. They also usually throw in double mileage deals, perhaps free passes to the airline's private club, and other goodies. For many flyers, this is their lifeline to civility in an ever more cantankerous aviation world.

Fly Southwest Airlines, said travel blogger Eric Rosenberg. That's because, unlike its competitors in the US, this airline allows two checked bags free of charge and an upshot is a lot less stuffing of belongings into the overhead compartments.

Christine Leigh Hannon, who runs the Art of Strength website, shared her secret for just about always winning the scrum: "To avoid hassle, pack a soft duffle bag that you can stuff under the seat in front of you. This is what I do and I have surprised many gate agents and flight attendants by my ability to fit a seemingly large duffle in a small space."

Another plus of a soft duffle: if there is even a siiver of overhead bin space remaining, it often can somehow be jammed into it, and that is why this carry-on beats a hardsided bag every trip.

See an opening, grab it, is the advice from Scott Grimmer, founder of travel website Milevalue. He elaborated: "Put your bag in the first bin you see upon entering instead of waiting to get to your seat. I think this is bad behavior, but if you're only out for yourself...."

You're seated in 36C, but at row 12 there is ample daylight to slide in your bag, don't hesitate. Just take the space, don't dawdle.

 

By the time you get to 36, the overheads may have filled and you don't want to be the dork whose bag is gatechecked deep inside the airplane.

You didn't follow any of our advice and now you are faced with boarding in Zone 5 and you know there won't be enough space for the remaining passengers' bags. Rosenberg offered sharp elbow advice for exactly this situation: "To win the war for space, you sometimes have to hover around the line to get on the plane to be the first on when your boarding group is called. Don't worry about being rude, you'll never see any of these people again. Be assertive and get to the front of the line when your group is called. First on means you get first pick on overhead bin space."

Ugly? It ain't pretty, but, hey, neither is standing around baggage claim at JFK or LAX waiting for a bag you never wanted to check in the first place.

--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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