Can You Move Another Passenger's Bag in the Overhead Bin? A Travel Expert Says...

A tiny bag is taking up a huge space. What to do?

No one likes checking bags on a flight. So, if you can manage your bag as a carry-on, it’s a real treat. No standing at the luggage carousel post-flight, tired, searching for your bag. Around and around they go. You could have been miles from the airport by now.

But what if you’re one of the last to board the flight and there’s no more room for your bag? (Or so the flight attendants are saying.) When you look in the overhead bins, you can easily spot what can be moved where in order to make space for your bag. Can you start fussing around up there and moving people’s stuff in order to fit your own?

Jet Set spoke to Bobbie Laurie, former flight attendant and current host of travel and lifestyle show The Jet Set (no relation!), on overhead bin rules, and what flies in the friendly skies (and what doesn't) when it comes to handling other’s people’s bags.

Laurie says it’s totally OK to touch someone else's bag in an overhead bin if they are needlessly taking up a ridiculous amount of space.

“Sure its appropriate,” he says. “During the boarding process many people are short sighted and don't take into account that other people around them need a space to place their bags. So they will place their bag in sideways, taking up a lot of space and not leave room for the folks behind them. Passengers can take it upon themselves to re-position bags to help make room for their own. Sometimes passengers even ask ‘who's bag is this?’ before moving it, making the owner aware that their bag is being touched and repositioned. Though usually that is met with ‘be careful it's fragile!’ even though it probably isn't. Further, a lot of people place smaller bags in the overheads. They can easily be stacked and placed in front of one another to create more space (although, they should be removed from the bin and placed under the seat in front of them).”

What if you’re looking for space for your bag and spot a tiny bag in a big space — where your own carry-on would fit perfectly?

“This happens a lot,” Laurie says. “Personally, I would hold up the tiny bag and ask who owns it. Then ask if it could fit under their seat, or tell them I was moving to space with other tiny bags to make room for my larger bag. I'm not afraid of asking and calling out folks who don't listen to the announcements being made. Almost every airline (only one doesn't) charges for checked bags now so everyone is bringing bags on board. We need to be considerate of each other, their want and desire to save money — just like us — and practice proper jet-iquette!”

Laurie also explains whether passengers are actually assigned a designated overhead space or, is the whole thing a free-for-all?

“It is 100 percent a free for all,” he explains. “There is no assigned space in overhead bins. There isn't a designated space above your seat for you, there isn't a numbered section or cubby... it's open, free real estate. There are some airlines which reserve space in first class, but usually those folks pre-board anyway and don't have any issues finding space. Further, that space will always be offered and used by the flight crew before checking a bag if bin space in the main cabin runs out. But in the main cabin, there is nothing reserved. Again, it's all about realizing that we have to be polite and considerate.”

We’ve all likely had words with a fellow passenger on a flight before over seats reclining too far back, or someone’s loud headphones, but what about when they flat-out refuse to move a small bag from a spot where a big bag will fit?

As a passenger, after I asked who owned it, and if the owner declined, if it was the only spot left I would get the crew involved,” Laurie advises. “They can't help with loading the bag into the bin, but they do have the ability to fix this situation with asking the passenger the place the bag under their seat or moving bags around in the bin at their discretion. If I started to move the passenger’s bag and it caused an issue, then I'd skip right ahead to calling the flight crew. If it causes a bigger issue, I'd let the crew check my bag. I try to be that considerate traveler and not create a headache for those around me or the crew. Also.. I'm not afraid of placing my bag in front of a smaller one, or placing a smaller one on-top of mine. The overhead is one big jigsaw puzzle or game of Tetris. You have to move things around and make it all work.”

He adds that it should be noted that nowadays some classes of airline tickets don’t allow certain passengers to utilize the overheads. The tickets are called "basic" and passengers need to sit in a middle seat, board last, and cannot use the bins. So it may be worth it to just jump straight to calling a crew member — maybe the smaller bag shouldn't even be there to begin with.

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