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Airline Group Grounds Carry-On Baggage Proposal

The Cabin OK initiative sought to recommend an optimal size for carry-on luggage.

By University Alliance on August 10, 2015
Concerns Leave Carry-On Baggage Initiative in Holding Pattern

The International Air Transport Association has temporarily grounded Cabin OK, a campaign that sought to recommend an optimal carry-on bag size, after complaints about ever-shrinking luggage space on airlines.

By establishing an industry-wide standard, the airline group hoped travelers would have greater assurance that their carry-ons wouldn’t have to be checked if overhead bins were full.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced the Cabin OK initiative in early June 2015. The voluntary program was aimed at identifying a bag size that would allow all travelers in aircraft of 120 seats or larger to store their carry-on bags inside the cabin.

The IATA recommended an optimal carry-on size of 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches, smaller than the guideline of 22 x 14 x 9 inches currently in use by many airlines.

Under the Cabin OK program, carry-on baggage within the recommended dimensions would be given priority to remain in the cabin when storage capacity was exceeded. Bags could carry a Cabin OK logo to signal to airline staff that the carry-on was compliant with the optimum size guidelines.

Individual airlines would determine how baggage priority would be implemented and would also continue to establish their own maximum sizes for carry-on bags.

But within about a week of unveiling the initiative, the IATA announced it was pausing the Cabin OK program in the face of concerns on a variety of fronts.

Among the complaints was an editorial in USA Today, the national newspaper that caters to business travelers. The editorial said airlines spurred demand for in-cabin baggage space by instituting checked-bag fees but have not uniformly enforced their own guidelines, creating consumer confusion.

Criticism also came from Capitol Hill, where U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey issued a statement saying the IATA proposal would lead to more travelers paying checked-bag fees.

Airline passenger traffic in the United States hit a record high in 2014, with 848 million travelers on domestic and international flights, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT).

More travelers, of course, means more baggage.

In 2014, passengers carried 443 million checked bags and a whopping 1.7 billion carry-ons, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported.

And more baggage means more money for airlines.

Baggage fees generated in excess of $3.5 billion for U.S.-based airlines in 2014, federal DOT statistics show.

The IATA, which represents about 260 airlines comprising 83% of global air traffic, said it would temporarily halt the Cabin OK initiative in order to consult further with stakeholders.

“This is clearly an issue that is close to the heart of travelers,” Tom Windmuller, the association’s senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security, said in a statement. “We need to get it right.”

Category: 2015 Headlines