Are Carry-On Bags Getting Even Smaller? If You Didn't Think Flying Was Hard Enough, It Might Be Getting Worse

Before you pack for your summer vacation, it's always a good idea to check whether your carry-on will fit on the plane. If an airline trade group has its way, carry-on bags will be getting even smaller soon. On Tuesday, the International Air Transit Association unveiled new recommended guidelines that would reduce the size limits for airplane carry-on bags, the Associated Press reported. While no American carriers have indicated whether they'll adopt the new guidelines, several major international airlines have, including Air China, Avianca, Azul, Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Emirates, Lufthansa, and Qatar, the AP reported.

The IATA says the goal of the new guidelines, which airlines are not required to adhere to, is to reduce confusion and inconvenience for passengers by setting one standard, rather than the various different luggage rules that currently exist across airlines, said spokesman Chris Goater. The new "Cabin OK" guidelines suggest a maximum size of 21.5 inches tall, 13.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches deep.

"We know the current situation can be frustrating for passengers. This work will help to iron out inconsistencies and lead to an improved passenger experience," Tom Windmuller of the IATA said in a statement on the group's website.

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So, how much smaller would the new bag size be? According to the AP, the current maximum carry-on size allowed by American, Delta, and United is 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches. Part of the problem is that airlines don't always enforce those rules, meaning those who board a plane later are often left without any overhead space for their bags.

In a plane with 120 seats, under the new guidelines every passenger should be able to fit a bag into the overhead space, according to the IATA. "What we’re trying to do is take away that uncertainty from the 120th passenger in line – will I be able to bring my bag into the cabin?" IATA spokesman Perry Flint told The Washington Post.

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Another factor to consider: Many airlines charge a fee for all checked luggage, which can run between $25 and $50 per bag. Who among us has not tried to avoid that hefty price tag by cramming a carry-on of just-barely-allowed size into an overhead bin on a plane? It's sorta good for the airlines if your bag doesn't fit into the carry-on space, because then they can collect that checked-bag fee. According to Mashable, U.S. airlines made $3.5 billion on checked baggage fees last year alone.

How these new size guidelines might be implemented or enforced was not clear Tuesday, and with no American carriers on board so far, it's probably not time to buy a new set of luggage just yet. But it might not be a bad idea to get more efficient at packing those bags. Pretty soon, you might have less space to work with.

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