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Flying steerage
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


January 14, 2006

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 overheads.

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 colleagues.

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 make.

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)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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