Overhead storage compartment bin
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Stealing Space in Overhead Storage Compartments Aboard Airplanes?

Is this really possible?

You board the aircraft while carrying a bag on with you. You arrive at your seat and store that bag into the overhead storage compartment above the row where you will sit. As you take your seat to relax — perhaps work on a crossword puzzle; place a call with your mobile telephone; or look outside the window to while away the time — the aisle starts to fill with a steady stream of passengers, which eventually slows down and stops as people wait for others to store their belongings in the overhead storage compartments, which are quickly becoming full…

Stealing Space in Overhead Storage Compartments Aboard Airplanes?

Overhead storage bin
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

…and then comes the inevitable fight for space in the overhead storage bins, which can vary in size significantly from one airplane to another. Sometimes the dispute is as simple as moving a bag from one overhead compartment to another. Sometimes cooperation regarding the rearrangement of space in the overhead bin will satisfy all parties involved. Sometimes requiring the bag to be checked can be another simple resolution…

…but no fewer than two discussions were posted earlier this month on FlyerTalk which pertain to the “stealing” of space in the overhead storage compartment.

Having just boarded a CRJ-700 airplane operated by United Express and having been assigned to seat 2A, FlyerTalk member davie355 saw only one space left in the overhead storage compartment above seats 1C and 1D — so davie355 stowed the bag in that spot and sat down.

“The passenger in seat 1A began to stare me down” is what davie355 posted. “I noticed she had a bag in her hand, ‘waiting’ for the spot which I had just taken. She must have boarded well before me. I would guess she needed to grab something from her bag before stowing it. While I sympathize with her plight as I’ve been in her exact situation, I had understood overhead space to be first-come, first-serve within the same class of service.”

What should have davie355 said or done?

“What I ended up saying or doing was nothing”, davie355 continued. “After intensely staring at me, 1A asked a flight attendant what to do about her bag. The flight attendant squeezed her bag right beside mine in the 1CD overhead and closed it.”

American Airlines domestic first class
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Meanwhile, a similar incident occurred aboard an Airbus A320 airplane which was operated by British Airways.

FlyerTalk member HFHFFlyer witnessed a “rather unseemly spat” pertaining to what British people call the overhead locker prior to its departure from London Heathrow Airport: “A gentleman seated in 1D boarded and went to put his case in the locker above his seat. He was the first Row 1 passenger on board and I could see from row 4 that his chosen locker must’ve been full (probably with crew bags) as he then shut the locker and turned around and put his case in the opposite locker above 1 A and C.”

A woman boarded the airplane a few minutes later and opened the overhead storage compartment above 1C, which apparently was her assigned seat. She turned to the male passenger who was seated in seat 1D, jabbed him in the shoulder, and said rather aggressively “is this YOUR bag?”

“Yes”, he replied.

“Well, you need to move it. This is the bag space for my seat”.

As the male passenger was about to move his bag, a member of the flight crew walked up and said to the woman, “Madam, there are no allocated lockers. You can put your bag back there.”

Who was right in this scenario — and who was wrong?

Overhead storage bin Etihad Airways
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The debate over space in the overhead storage bin is certainly not new on FlyerTalk or to frequent fliers in general. One of the earliest discussions pertaining to the “selfish use of overhead bins” was launched back in 1999 — slightly greater than 22 years ago. Even then, the overhead storage bin space conundrum was not a new issue — FlyerTalk itself just happened to be new, as it was barely a year old at that time…

…and since then, there have been many discussions about the use of space in the overhead bins.

Let’s face it: there is only so much space in the passenger cabin on a commercial airplane. The use of it has been exacerbated by the implementation of fees for checked baggage — remember when there was an uproar over when American Airlines started to charge $15.00 for the first bag checked in 2008? — and increasingly crowded airplanes due to consolidation in the commercial aviation industry and the reduction of capacity due to fewer flights and smaller airplanes.

Nobody wants to check luggage. It could get damaged, lost or stolen. You have to wait at the baggage carousel for what seems like an eternity for your baggage to finally arrive while you stand and stare at that same bag circling the carousel with no owner to be found. How does that always seem to happen?…

…and with the implementation of fees for checked baggage, you now have to pay for the privilege of enjoying that experience first-hand?

No thanks, say many passengers who are going to do everything they can to avoid checking their luggage by attempting to stuff it into an overhead bin.

Final Boarding Call

American Airlines domestic first class
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The answers to the war over space in the overhead storage bins is similar to that of similar wars over reclining seats and window shades: common courtesy, respect and patience with fellow passengers. As I have repeatedly posted in past articles here at The Gate, politeness and respect to others go a long way in keeping as many people happy as possible — including yourself. Compromise and patience are key — and the debate of the window shades is no exception. Equitable compromises have the potential to mitigate this and other controversies pertaining to travel; but with the way human nature sometimes seems to occur — being sneaky as one of the many flaws — complete elimination of this issue is virtually impossible…

…so what exactly are the rules of etiquette — as well as ethics — which you follow pertaining to the use of space in the overhead bins? Is there any time where you can claim that the space in a particular overhead bin is “yours” — especially when someone else “steals” it? How do you ensure that you secure the overhead bin space you want to use once aboard the aircraft? What are your gripes concerning the war over space in the overhead bins?

Other articles at The Gate which pertain to overhead storage compartments include:

All photographs ©2015, ©2016, ©2018, and ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

  1. At first, I thought this article was about real theft. I once had some playing cards stolen. I now am careful not to place valuables in the side zipper. I also use a tiny lock which can be pried off but assume that many passengers won’t do that.

    As far as space for bags, I have always been able to fit a bag despite the FA insisting that the space is full. Sometimes, I have to cave in to the dictators at the door but if I get stopped midway in the aisle, my track record of finding space is 100%. That is because people don’t pack the overhead space tightly. There is always space if one rearranges things a little, like rotating something 90 degrees.

    It is theoretically possible that all the bins will be packed tight but unlikely.

    I also keep important stuff in a plastic bag in the carry on so if forced to check it in, I can pull out a bag of important stuff. Some of it is not that critical.

  2. One might carry a canvas shopping bag or a hotel plastic laundry bag inside their carry on luggage and carry nearly all what a rollaboard bag can carry if they have to check the bag.

    Also, in the above comment, I snap the lock mainly on red eyes, not on daytime flights.

  3. First come, first to stow! When you buy a ticket, you don’t necessarily buy an overhead storage space. I understand flyers believe the overhead space above their seat belongs to them but that’s not realistic. Most single aisle aircraft will only accommodate First Class and those seated in boarding 1-4 and a few of 5 depending on the boarding process used. I worked as a gate agent before retiring, overhead space has always been an issue with full flights. This dictator was not going to get reprimanded for a delayed departure over bags, so if I had a full flight, yep, that bag beginning in boarding 4-5 was flagged for checking!

  4. It’s first come first serve and class of service specific. I one time had an older couple remove my large backpack from the overhead in first class and put their bag in there (they were in economy) … I almost lost it. She told me to put my back pack under my seat otherwise she had to check her carry on (I checked my bag and my backpack was the carryon). Not my problem, don’t touch my stuff. If you didn’t check your bag and bought basic economy, that’s on you.

    It was on AA OGG – PHX. It was the first time I used the term “ok boomer”. I almost pushed her out of the way, took her bag out and threw it on the floor. Looking back I’m shocked we weren’t kicked off. I wasn’t having it at all – these old people were the most entitled people ever. Even after we landed, they ended up hurling insults at me. Honestly, I’ve experienced the worst/most entitled people on AA. It’s the new Spirit.

    So yes, first come first serve. Stick to your class of service. It’s very basic.

  5. I was in first class and recently had to check my carry-on because people had placed hats and other small items in the overhead, when there was unused storage space on the other side of the aisle, specifically for small items like this! The flight attendant could easily have asked someone to move these items so that we could all have used the shared space that was available. It wasn’t even my fault that I was late boarding, it was because I was the only person making a connection for an international flight and they needed to check my paperwork for the third time in an hour before boarding. As a result, my carry-on had to be checked all the way to London, where I then had to wait nearly half an hour for it to arrive.

  6. The body font size seems a bit small for comfortable reading. It looks to be Dosis 11 point. Perhaps you’ll consider upping to 12 point.

    “Usability and typography expert Oliver Reichenstein of Information Architects points out [that] 16 pixels is the font size that browsers were intended to display by default—and it is not big. 16px text on an average screen looks about the same size as 12-point text in print. That’s the default size for most magazines, as well as all word processors, because it’s the size people find most comfortable to read. Many people—especially those over 40—find it very difficult to read smaller text. As Reichenstein observes:

    There is no reason for squeezing so much information onto the screen. It’s just a stupid collective mistake that dates back to a time when screens were really, really small … At first, you’ll be shocked how big the default text is. But after a day, you won’t want to see anything smaller than 100% font-size for the main text. It looks big at first, but once you use it you quickly realize why all browser makers chose this as the default text size.”

    1. Thank you for the feedback, dayone. I always appreciate it.

      Dosis is indeed the typeface which is used for the text; but it is already currently set to 16 point for computers and 15 point for both tablets and phones.

      I am more than happy to increase the size if it improves readability…

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