The company is engineering its bins to be a better fit for a standard 9 x 14 x 22-inch roll-aboard bag. That's a change from the past. Designers used to focus on maximizing cubic inches. That produced impressive-sounding space that would be quoted in Boeing's sales materials. But it wasn't necessarily a good fit for actual carry-on luggage, says Kent Craver, Boeing's cabin expert.
"We never used to talk about how many bags would fit. We talked about volume," he says.
In designing bins on its new 787, Boeing dispatched workers to Costco and other stores to buy roll-aboard bags to make sure they would fit. The 787-8 holds 10 percent more carry-on bags than the larger 777, even though the volume inside the bins is about the same.
For passengers, "volume doesn't really matter. It's whether or not my bag fits," Craver says. And that's the number Boeing now shows in its sales materials.
The extra space also makes it more likely that bags will end up close to the passenger who brought them.
"They don't want it 20 rows behind them or 20 rows in front of them, because that causes a lot of anxiety," Craver says.
Bigger bins help. So would passengers who follow the rules about carry-on sizes.
Passengers with bigger-than-allowed bags might take bin space from others. It can be tough for airlines to enforce the rules with passengers who print their own boarding pass at home. That's because the first time an airline worker sees them is at the gate.
United is trying to be stricter about carry-on sizes. It has been running an experiment at a few airports, where agents are told to look out for bags that are too big or passengers who bring too many. Oversized bags are checked at the gate. As a result, there's more room to stow carry-ons. United declined to identify the airports.
American is also trying to be tougher about carry-on sizes. At every gate, it has installed new size-checking boxes with three hard sides. Bags either slide in or they don't. The old checkers had no walls, so it was easier to fudge. Airline spokesman Tim Smith says the new boxes act as an arbiter when customers deny that their carry-on is too bulky. American will check a bag for free at the gate if it's too big.
Emily Quinnell, who studies social work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had to check some small bags at the gate on a recent flight between Minneapolis and Denver. There was no room in the bins. She says airlines should have known that charging for luggage would cause passengers to push the limits of what they can bring on board.
"I'm not going to pay for it," she says. "I'm a student."
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