As Fees Climb, Carry-On Bags Get Crammed Full

Several airlines are raising baggage fees. Most passengers on U.S Airways and American will pay at least $20 to check a bag on a domestic flight. That's a $5 increase. Several carriers also are beginning to charge for checked bags on some international flights. As fees for checked luggage go up, there are concerns that passengers are over-stuffing their carry-on bags.

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Several airlines this month announced a rise in baggage fees. Most passengers on U.S Airways and American will now pay at least 20 dollars to check in a bag on a domestic flight. That's up from 15. And for the first time, several carriers say they will charge for bags on some international flights. As fees go up for checked luggage, there's concern that passengers are over-stuffing their carry-on bags.

NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

HOCHBERG: The higher baggage fees worsen what's become a dilemma for some budget-minded travelers. Do you still check a bag two and pay a few extra dollars or do you choose the cheaper option and try to take everything on board in your carry-on bag?

As Ryan Carrington arrived this week at Reagan National Airport in Washington, he said it's a question he struggles with a lot.

Mr. RYAN CARRINGTON: I go between my home in Chicago and living in D.C. for grad school, so I try to check as little as possible, because I can avoid waiting for the bags and also I don't have to pay the fees that way. So checked one bag and then I tried to shove as many clothes as possible into a garment bag so I wouldn't have to pay the fee.

HOCHBERG: Carrington's garment bag was still manageable, even after he loaded a suit, a sweatshirt and an extra pair of shoes in it. But some people who work in the airline business say too many passengers take the practice of carry-on bag stuffing to the extreme.

Mr. STEVE SHEMS (Flight Attendant): That bag right behind you is my nightmare bag. It's a big red duffle bag with wheels.

HOCHBERG: Steve Shems(ph) is a veteran flight attendant and a spokesman for the union that represents 55,000 of his colleagues. He says the size and number of carry-ons has gotten out of hand. As he watched passengers at Reagan, he pointed out the red duffle is one kind of bag that can lead to problems.

Mr. SHEMS: That bag, although it will fit in the overhead bins, because it's not so deep, but it's so long. So he's actually going to get his bag up on board the aircraft and he's going to have to turn it sideways, so he's actually going to take some else's carry-on bag space.

HOCHBERG: Airlines do set size limits for bags and gate agents are supposed to keep passengers from taking oversized ones on board. But Shem says those rules aren't always enforced, and that forces flight attendants to be, in his words, the luggage police.

So the union is pushing for a federal law that would set one nationwide size limit. Illinois Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski is sponsoring the measure, which would prohibit passengers from getting past the security checkpoint if their carry-ons are bigger than a standard roll-aboard.

Representative DAN LIPINSKI (Democrat, Illinois): Everyone has seen people get on planes with bags that are just way too big, and it got worse when the airlines started charging for baggage. That has encouraged people to bring bigger bags on board the plane, which I don't blame people for doing that, but there has to be a limit.

HOCHBERG: Lipinski says he's heard a lot of support for his bill from flight attendants and frequent flyers, but Congress has yet to act on it and the airline industry is criticizing it as unnecessary.

Dave Castelveter is with the Air Transport Association, the industry's trade group.

Mr. DAVE CASTELVETER (Air Transport Association): We don't disagree that at times there's a bag coming on board that's much bigger than it's allowed. We need to continue to police that as an airline. We don't need government to get involved. There are far more important things happening in this country for Congress to address than whether a bag should be one size over another.

HOCHBERG: Castelveter says there's no evidence the new airline fees have led passengers to check fewer suitcases or pack bigger carry-ons, but clearly for some passengers baggage is emotional.

Congressman Lipinski says his luggage legislation has generated more attention this year than anything else he's working on, including issues that even he concedes are more important.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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