Smaller carry-on bag proposal draws ire from lawmakers

Congressman Steve Cohen proposes bill to prevent airlines from shrinking carry-on bag sizes

A proposal by an airline trade group to create a smaller standard size for carry-on bags has drawn the ire of lawmakers who say the move is meant to squeeze more money out of air travelers.

"Consumers are tired of being squeezed -- physically and fiscally -- by airlines, and this proposal is a step too far," said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who introduced a bill Monday to prevent airlines from adopting the smaller size proposed by the International Air Transport Assn.

The trade group floated the idea for a carry-on standard that is roughly 21% smaller than the limit imposed by most major U.S. carriers. The reason, according to the group, is to ensure that everyone on a plane has enough room in the overhead bins for luggage.

So far, only a handful of foreign carriers have agreed to adopt the standard, but trade group leaders say they hope it will be adopted by all major carriers.

Airline critics say travelers are packing more in carry-on bags to avoid paying for the checked-bag fees that many carriers began adopting in 2008. Last year, the fees generated $3.5 billion for the nation's 15 biggest carriers. A few carriers, including Spirit Airlines, charge passengers for carry-on bags.

Sen.  Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sent a letter Tuesday, co-signed by five other senators, to 10 major U.S. airlines, urging them not to adopt the smaller carry-on size.

But if airlines do adopt the new size, Menendez and his colleagues asked the airlines to eliminate the checked-baggage fees.

"If your airline intends to reduce the size of carry-on bags allowed in the cabin, we expect that you will mitigate any additional costs to customers by allowing them to check their luggage without charge," Menendez said.

The letter was signed by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.). The airlines have yet to respond.

The trade group proposal would reduce the size of the standard carry-on to 21.5-by-13.5-by-7.5 inches. The nation's biggest carriers, including Delta, United and American Airlines, now impose a maximum size of 22-by-14-by-9 inches.

International Air Transport Assn. officials said the bag standards are only a guideline. 

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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