Airline trade group’s plan for smaller carry-ons bags on hold


A Southwest Airline passenger hoists his luggage while looking for a storage spot in the overhead bins. A proposal to shrink the standard carry-on bags has been put on hold, following criticism by lawmakers and travelers.

(Chris Sweda / MCT)

The airline trade group that proposed a smaller standard size for carry-on bags has put the idea on hold, following harsh criticism and suspicion from lawmakers and travelers.

The International Air Transport Assn. proposed the new standards last week to ensure that carry-on bags are small enough to give all passengers space in the overhead bins. The group also sought to reduce confusion caused by size standards that vary by airline. 

The trade group proposed reducing 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.

But criticism and suspicion over the idea came swiftly. It included a bill proposal by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) to prevent airlines from adopting the bag standard.


On Wednesday, Airlines for America, the trade group for U.S. carriers, announced that no U.S. airlines are supporting the voluntary plan to shrink the standard size of carry-on bags.

Airlines for America President Nicholas E. Calio called the proposal by its sister organization unnecessary, saying the idea “flies in the face of the actions the U.S. carriers are taking to invest in the customer experience — roughly $1.2 billion a month — including larger overhead bins.”

Some critics of the idea said they suspected that the proposal is a way for airlines to squeeze more money from travelers, either by adding a fee for carry-on bags or by forcing fliers to put more belongings into checked bags.

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.


IATA, the Geneva-based group that proposed the smaller bag standard, said in a statement Wednesday that it was reassessing the idea, dubbed “Cabin OK.”

“This is clearly an issue that is close to the hearts of travelers,” said Tom Windmuller, senior vice president of airport, passenger, cargo and security for IATA. “We need to get it right. Today we are pausing the rollout and launching a comprehensive reassessment of the “Cabin OK” program with plans to further engage program participants, the rest of our members and other key stakeholders.”

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

Get our weekly California Inc. newsletter