MINNEAPOLIS — Fliers can stop sharpening their elbows. Overhead bins are getting bigger.
Packed planes and a high volume of carry-ons are forcing airlines to expand the space above passenger’s heads. United and Delta are the latest airlines to replace or upgrade bins so they hold more luggage. And engineers at Boeing are designing jet interiors with today’s bulkier luggage in mind.
Because of fees on checked bags, more passengers are bringing carry-ons, which are growing in size. And with planes more crowded than ever, bins fill up before everyone has reached their seat.
Travelers fight physics and one another to shove one more bag overhead. Or they’re forced to check luggage at the gate.
The percentage of passengers bringing bags on board has hovered around 87 percent in recent years, United Continental says.
And “the size of the carry-on has increased … They are stretching the limits of their bags,” says Scott O’Leary, managing director of customer solutions at United Continental Holdings Inc.
Expanding bins is a smart way for airlines to set themselves apart, says Henry Harteveldt, who leads airline and travel analysis at Atmosphere Research Group, a market research firm. “Especially if they cater to the business traveler, they’re hoping it will give them a small but noticeable competitive advantage.”
Airlines expanding their bins include:
United: The airline is replacing bin doors on 152 planes starting in April. The new doors curve out more than the old ones. That allows passengers to slide bags into the compartment wheels-first instead of sideways. The renovated bins will be on all of United’s Airbus A320s, one of the main jets the airline uses for domestic flying. The planes will hold 106 typical roll-on bags, up from 64. The bins are also getting more rugged latches because latches on overstuffed bins are more likely to break.
American Airlines: The airline’s new 737s will hold 48 more bags than the planes they are replacing, although they have 24 more seats, too. That means more people and luggage. American’s older 737s are also getting new baggage-bin doors that curve out more.
Delta Air Lines: Passengers on international routes like Atlanta-Paris or Minneapolis-Amsterdam are starting to see new bins on the airline’s 767 jets. The compartments hold 26 more bags than the bins they are replacing.
US Airways Group Inc.: In 2008, it enlarged bins on its 757s, a mid-sized plane flown on routes including Phoenix to Hawaii and Charlotte, N.C., to Dublin. Like United, the change allowed fliers to slide bags in wheels-first instead of sideways.