Common Sense Ideas About Carry-on Baggage Rules

In the U.S. we proudly define our country and ourselves as being guided by the Rule of Law. No king or dictator determines what is legal or illegal in America. As Thomas Paine so eloquently put it:

in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.

This is all well and good, but what about cases where the law doesn’t say anything? How do we as Americans act when we are guided only by rules, rather than actual laws?

Like, for example, rules regarding carry-on baggage.

On a recent flight traveler11223 observed a not uncommon travel scenario – one I’m sure many of you have witnessed as well:

The gate attendants … stopped the man in front of me and had him try his bag in the sizer. No way it was close to meeting the limits. The attendant politely informed him it would need to be gate checked and asked him to leave it at the bottom of the jetway. He carried it on the plane and abruptly stopped in first class to attempt to cram it in the bins there. (He was a coach passenger)

As soon as traveler11223 finishes typing this story other travelers begin commenting on the carry-on baggage process and begin proposing their preferred solutions.

They have no problem in Europe with enforcing them. It’s simple really – “comply or don’t fly”. What more do they need to say or do ~Alanrow

the lack of enforcement is very common on US airlines and I’m guessing that none of the carriers want to be the first to strictly enforce their published limits in fear of driving customers to their competitors ~TomC97

I say the passengers get to re-enact the “calm down!” scene from Airplane! on anyone who tries to board wtih a ginormous carry-on. ~kitap

Ok, ok … kitap’s idea, while brilliant, might not be practical.

Still, this discussion is getting to the heart of what makes the Rule of Law work so much better than the Rule of Rules – the very real threat of enforcement, or lack thereof.

Which is why, when rules rule the day, highly structured processes must be put in place to facilitate the enforcement of said rules. And as a former ramp agent, GOPBI has some strong, thoughtful and long-considered opinions on this matter:

This is one of the reasons why I prefer the “sterile gate” method of boarding.. Airports like SIN and BKK use it.

It essentially means you proceed to your departure gate and when you arrive at your gate, your BP is scanned, passport checked *and* carry-ons sized up.. If there is an issue – too many pieces, over-sized, overweight, etc. – the issue is resolved right there at the podium before you even get into the holding area. Your gate area is totally self-contained, and once inside, you cannot go back out – you really are classified boarded in the carriers system.

From an operational basis, the further up-line you address bag issues, the better it is.. The last place, the least ideal place to be discussing bag issues, or finding out there is not enough room, is on the plane.. that is the least-best place.. anything before that is better.

GOPBI goes on in some detail to explain his rationale for his preferred process, his insights into why the problem continues to exist (labor/work division rules between ground staff unions and flight crew unions), and his proposed and detailed solution.

His thesis might be fairly called, “Carry-on Common Sense” – and it’s well worth a read, along with the full discussion.

Read the thread in its entirety: The challenges of enforcing carrying rules

Oh, and just for fun, enjoy this SNL skit – particularly around the 1:15 mark.

Photo Credit: frankieleon via Compfight cc


  1. Then there is the LY system. I travelled Business from Tel Aviv to FRA. I complied and had no issue. Before landing there was a hubhub to help a VIP near me. She had at least 3 roll ons.they were stacked in the lav to be ready for deplaning.
    Whenever my wife travels on LY they try to take her carry on despite the fact that it meet all rules. Then, once onboard there are people with scads of carryons, some oversized.
    LY, what gives?

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