Carry-On Bags

by Karen Zhang

Today, when you are about to board an American airliner, it may not be news to you that you have to prepare for two possibilities: one, the overhead bin above your seat is full and you have to stow your carry-on bag elsewhere. (Good luck if you can find room on the plane.) Two, the overhead bin is too small to fit your presumably within-the-size-limit carry-on luggage. You have tried many ways—horizontally, vertically, on the side, upside down, punching and squooshing—and even a flight attendant comes to assist you, but in vain. Your bag does not budge.

On my recent trip to and from China, I experienced and witnessed the same quandaries on a United flight. Since I am not disabled or a mother with babies, I have no advantage to board early. In fact, I boarded pretty late for my herd-class seat.

Compared to the Asian airliners, the overhead bins on the American planes are relatively higher. Perhaps the North Americans are really taller. So I can barely reach the latch on the overhead bin, let alone lifting up my 30-pound backpack. One time, I had to excuse myself for taking off my shoes and standing on the aisle seat. I then awkwardly lifted my backpack and pushed it into the overhead bin. But the other time I did not have such luck. Not only was my overhead bin partly full but my backpack had an awkward shape—bulky at the bottom and light at the top. Thank goodness a tall male passenger seating across from my seat offered me a helping hand. We saw a possible space in the compartment above him. So he delicately tucked my backpack from top to bottom and it worked. I was so thankful that I almost wanted to give him a big hug for my gratitude. But I noticed a long line of passengers waiting in the aisle. After I was seated, I saw a few more passengers having trouble stowing their carry-on bags. Sometimes it was not because a passenger had an oversized carry-on bag. It was because an early-bird passenger who had scattered all his belongings in the overhead bin. The compartment was far from fully used. That can really drive me mad. But you can’t do much about it except looking for new empty space for your carry-on luggage.

All in all, I think the frustration of traveling by air in America appears greater than that in China. I can check at least two pieces of luggage free on a Chinese airline. But the U.S. airlines charge for checked bags. The Chinese airlines themselves encourage passengers to check bags for safety concerns. But American airlines seem to have gone a bit far to make profits.

Before I might become a victim of a fallen piece of oversized carry-on luggage over my head, and before I waste so much time and energy on figuring out how to economically pack my suitcase so that to avoid paying extra baggage fees, it may be better-off for me to choose a non-American airline to travel next time.

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