Should People Who Cannot Lift Their Luggage Not Travel?

“My mother once got on a flight a few weeks after an abdominal operation. She wouldn’t have flown at all except that my brother was seriously ill and she wanted to be with him. She had a small carry on that she could carry but her operation meant she couldn’t have lifted her arms above her shoulders so she couldn’t lift her bag into the overhead. She asked three people to help her. The first one blanked her, the second one demanded to know why she couldn’t do it herself (she didn’t reply because her hysterectomy is none of anyone else’s business) and the third one used a profanity. By this point it was causing a blockage in the aisle and the FA starting yelling down the plane at her. My mother was visibly upset when she got off the flight.”

Should People Who Cannot Lift Their Luggage Not Travel?

That experience was shared by FlyerTalk member roberino and poses an interesting conundrum: if a passenger is unable to lift their belongings either to or from the overhead storage compartments — due to medical issues, frailty, advanced age, or simply because he or she is short — should they even consider traveling at all?

That question has sparked a debate amongst members of FlyerTalk, as some of them feel that if they are unable to handle their belongings on their own, they probably should not even be traveling; while others believe that denying assistance to a fellow passenger in need is rude and inexcusable.

Some FlyerTalk members surmised that some passengers may actually expect passengers to assist them every time they travel; and that expectation can be off-putting to fellow passengers. No one should travel with the expectation that fellow passengers will be of assistance, as many people would consider that inconsiderate.

British Airways is one of the airlines which states the following as a requirement pertaining to the allowance of carrying luggage aboard the airplane: “You must be able to lift your bags into the overhead locker by yourself.”

The obvious solution is if the person is unable to lift his or her luggage, then he or she should check it — and they should also place their valuables, medications, and other important belongings in a bag which he or she is able to carry aboard the airplane — but they are most likely attempting to avoid paying for checking their bags because they do not want to spend the money…

…but of course, they will still have to find a way to haul their luggage to the origination airport and from the destination airport. Fortunately, myriad ways are available to them.


If you are not able to access the discussion on FlyerTalk, the reason is because a moderator moved the discussion from a public forum to a private forum — but that does not render the topic any less relevant.

If someone needs assistance with his or her belongings, I will usually be more than happy to offer it with a smile — as long as I am being treated civilly and with respect. In some obvious cases, I may even offer to assist before the person has a chance to ask. Blurting out a “Hey, get my bag for me!” will more than likely result in me ignoring that person — especially if the person acts like he or she is entitled and expects fellow passengers to jump at their commands.

The words “please” and “thank you” should be expressed genuinely — and not in a perfunctory manner — when someone offers assistance.

As I have espoused for years here at The Gate, being civil and respectful to other people will usually go far in ensuring that a pleasant travel experience will be enjoyed by as many people as possible, as there is usually no reason to be rude. This experience is no exception, in my opinion — to and from all individuals who are involved.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

21 thoughts on “Should People Who Cannot Lift Their Luggage Not Travel?”

  1. Scott says:

    As a retired flight attendant with 30 yrs of flying, I could tell who was truly unable to lift bags, and who was trying to play the “helpless I’m pretty card every time! I only helped the elderly, unaccompanied children. Even then I couldn’t fathom family sending their loved ones on a flight expecting others to lift bags for them once on board. If you know you or others can’t lift a bag, then check it if possible. Responsibility goes a long way. I always wanted to help those who truly(due to physical limitations) could not lift bags, but it is those who you know falsely claim they can’t lift bags that make f/a’s unwilling to help. At my airline we are told to not lift bags, but to say I can assist you in lifting your bag. They would look at me like I was unwilling because I would make them help me to lift their bag. Also keep in mind that we were not covered under medical if we lifted a bag that weighed 70 lbs and threw our back out. I’m not jaded, but over the years could spot someone who truly needed help, vs someone being a diva/needy.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you so much for providing excellent information from the perspective of a long-term member of the flight crew, Scott — especially with a reminder as to why you or other members of the flight crew should not lift the heavy belongings of passengers.

  2. Christian says:

    Between skycaps and curbside check-in, there really shouldn’t be any problem. It may cost a bit more, but that’s the most obvious solution. As to no one helping a (presumably) apparently infirm or elderly person on board, it’s possible of course, but I find it unlikely. If nothing else, someone would likely help just to speed things up for themselves.

  3. caveman says:

    I don’t see any reason not to help in such a situation. Once on a flight from AUH-LAX there was a very short old lady and I was more than happy to help her every time. In fact I have witnessed on many occasions people helping others in short US flights without any issues or concern.

    I fail to understand why would someone falsely claim they can’t lift bags, but I guess such people do exist. Any way I will always give benefit of doubt and gladly help the other person. Just my 2 cents.

  4. WR says:

    Of course people who can’t lift their luggage should be able to fly, aside from the obvious alternative of checking their bags. Those who should absolutely not fly are : 1) people so emotionally fragile as to not be able to travel without their pet, and 2) parents with a newborn who are traveling voluntarily. How narcissistic is it to put your need for leisure travel over the sanity of an entire plane full of people, as well as the health and wellbeing of your infant?

  5. Zack says:

    Too many times I see a healthy female carry on a bag bigger than she can lift, or want to lift, and then look around for a guy to help her with it. Unless it is a senior citizen, I don’t help them. Check your damn bag if you decided you need to carry your entire wardrobe with you.

  6. patty says:

    What about height? I am a very short female person and no matter what the weight of my carry on (I never go over 7kg!!) I simply can’t reach the overhead bin. I am able to push it up, but taking my bag down after landing is quite a challenge. If I am 5cm taller I wouldn’t need to ask anyone for assistance, but sadly with my height not even being 5 feet….. overhead compartments are tough for me. I would step on the seat sometimes but I get glares, or occasionally the person is still sitting down in the aisle seat while people are disembarking. It’s a real conundrum for me. If people do help, of course I thank them. I can’t believe there are people in the world who are so entitled.

  7. Robbo says:

    This sums up Americans, you are the rudest most selfish cunts on the face of the earth, any wonder the rest of the world hates your fucking guts, for fucks sake Yanks, whats the fuckin drama with helping an old lady, thats ok to brush her, but call someone a radical moslem or a homosexual or sweetheart ot snowflake and you go off your fucking faces you rude out of control cunts, the world is sick of it

    1. Doug says:

      There are wonderful psychiatric medications available now that may help your problems.

  8. Shawn says:

    @Robbo – calm down. If you hate someone’s guts based solely on where they’re from you’re the one with the issue.

    Back to the topic, I refuse to help anyone with their bag unless I perceive them to be handicapped or elderly (neither of which is too difficult). The reason is liability.

    My partner helped a child put their bag overheard a few years back. It was the end of boarding and most bins were already closed. A boy around 10 or so comes in board, my partner jumps up to help him opens the bin and a small bag put up half a$& falls down on the floor and you hear something break. Supposedly it was someone’s camera who proceeded to complain the whole flight. I’ve always told him not to help and that’s exactly why. You break their bag, you then become an asshole even though you were trying to help.

    If you can’t lift your bag check it. Absolutely you should fly but not expecting everyone to lug your bags around.

  9. DaninMCI says:

    This is a hot topic. 99% of people would help a frail person lift a bag. The problem is the healthly folks that roll on a huge bag that they could never ever lift. Just check it if you can’t handle it on your own.
    You don’t have to put medicine and valuables in a checked bag. That stuff can go in a smaller bag that could be managed better or put under the seat in front of you.
    A good example is the trip I’m leaving on today. I tore a calf muscle a few days ago and can barely walk. I usually roll on fairly heavy bag but I’m going to check it and board with just a small backpack with medicine, laptop etc. Why? Because I don’t want to be the guy standing in the aisle blocking the boarding process looking for help to move a bag I can’t handle in my current condition. Being courteous to others works both ways.

  10. Taz says:

    I had c-spine surgery back in February. I’m not allowed to lift over 20 pounds or lift anything above my head. I would carry on a backpack with my meds and other necessities. My suitcase would be checked. My theory is if I can’t lift it with my restrictions I’m not going to ask anyone else to lift it.

  11. A says:

    The headline is misleading. Of course they can and should travel. You can put your valuables in a small purse or backpack and take them with you. The lady with the operation who couldn’t lift her bag, and presumably looked like someone who normally could, was acting overly entitled by bringing her bag on the plane and not checking it if she was going to expect people to lift it for her but not give them the courtesy of telling them why she was treating others like servants who should do her bidding!

    Also, Robbo is a stupid loser who should be banned from making comments here.

  12. Rhea says:

    I am one of those really short people who can not reach my bag into the lockers. While many are very helpful and I appreciate their help. I feel like I can not do it myself and will gladly check my bag so as not to be burden to anyone.

  13. Check It says:

    If you can’t lift your luggage, then check your bag.

  14. Ed says:

    The headline of this article provokes unnecessary emotional responses by presenting an A or B situation: Fly to Don’t Fly. That’s not the case and I blame that on the author.

    As others have said, the choice is between checking the suitcase or asking for assistance. The woman and her relatives really didn’t think the situation through. I imagine her suffering began when she first wheeled the suitcase from the car through security and along the corridor to the gate. Stowing the suitcase in the overhead bin was only the last step in a long and traumatic experience. The whole thing could have been avoided if she had removed her valuables and meds and checked the suitcase at the counter.

  15. Mike White says:

    For people who wish to travel but have a problem in handling their bags, one solution would be to ship the bags via UPS to the destination. They will pick up the bags at your home and deliver them to your destination. This would work well for seniors visiting family. Sometimes by looking a little harder a solution can be found.

  16. Dean Chirieleison says:

    My motto is wherever and whenever possible, “be kind to others” regardless of how you may feel about the situation such as this,and therefore I would gladly lift their bag ,maybe someday the kindness will be returned to me, maybe not,but it makes me feel good to help someone when I can.

  17. Roy says:

    I ALWAYS help someone that I see having a difficult time lifting their luggage into the bin. Takes all of 5 seconds. All of the comments whingeing about why NOT to assist… instead of trying to justify your lameness, just say it outright, you don’t want to help out. Scott and his pick and choose criteria and the pilot chiming in… you guys are pathetic. You want to hide behind the airline policy of not lifting luggage that’s your prerogative… but in the end, it’s not the policy that’s guiding you in your behavior, it’s your unwillingness to provide assistance.

  18. DFD says:

    Funny, this happened to me last Sunday.

    A woman who had clearly pre-meditated asking someone to lift her bag basically ordered me to do it. I say it was clear that she premeditated it because she made no attempt to do so on her own, and had she known she couldn’t from a previous flight, didn’t check her bag anyhow. She intended to make someone into her damn porter.

    I say, if you cannot lift it, you shouldn’t travel with it. And if you MUST travel with it, then CHECK it.

    As a frequent flier I am getting sick and tired of people making their problems into mine. No, you cannot swap seats with me, no, I am not putting your luggage in the overhead bin. No, I am not watching your stuff at the gate while you run to the restroom.

    For the lady in question, and other like her, the following responses are warranted: “NO!!”

    Or lie : “No, I am sorry I have a back injury”

  19. Proudelitist says:

    There are other options…like checking the bag. I think it is rude to expect that others will help you…your fellow passengers are not your personal porters. I have no problem helping someone who is struggling..but on occasion I have been “ordered” to do it by people who didn’t even bother to try. They knew it was heavy and simply found someone they thought they could make into their personal servant.

    This is one of those issues that gets worse with frequency, like seat swap requests. If you only fly once or twice a year, it seems like a small thing to put yourself out for a fellow passenger. But if you are on that plane twice a week, it gets old REALLY fast. You grow weary of people who don’t know how to travel, who don’t know how to get the seat they want, who don’t use basic common sense like making sure you can lift your own bags. Eventually, you begin to fight back, and you come off as rude to the amateur flyer who has absolutely no insight.

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