Carrying on

Carry-on bags are not an issue that you would think might preoccupy
Congress, but next month the Senate Commerce Committee plans to wade
into the question of how many bags passengers should be allowed to lug
on board airplanes.

The committee chairman, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and the flight
attendants frame the question in terms of security: By restricting
passengers to one carry-on bag, the screeners will have fewer bags to
examine and thus more time to scrutinize the ones they do examine.

But there’s another aspect to carry-ons. Some passengers abuse the
privilege by hauling aboard too many bags or bags that are too large,
taking up all the space in the overhead compartments and making other
passengers wait while they wrestle their baggage in an out of the

Stevens suggested as much when he was quoted as
saying, “Some of those bags are occupying more space in a plane than I
do,” although in fairness the senator is more compact than most of his

Stevens may be bucking a trend here because,
anecdotally speaking, it seems more and more passengers are reluctant
to check their bags, either because of the extra wait or the fear that
they’ll be lost or stolen.

The airlines are reluctant to be too
stringent about carry-ons for fear of angering the passengers. Some of
the worst offenders, business travelers, are their best customers. And
if passengers are limited to one carry-on bag, how do you then classify
briefcases, large purses and laptops?

A passenger loaded down
like a Third World refugee may be an annoyance but hardly a matter for
federal regulation. Enforcing what passengers can bring aboard may be
uncomfortable for the airlines but the decision really is theirs to

Who knows? For every passenger angered about being forced
to check a body-sized duffle bag at plane side, another dozen might be
gladdened at not having to fidget in the aisles waiting. And the
airlines could make a bargain with their customers: Limit yourself to
one carry-on and we’ll restore the peanuts.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)