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)