The politics of the overhead bins

overhead bins

The overhead bins on planes are the perfect metaphor for how people’s entitlement and greed ruin society. Or for my fellow millennials, why we can’t have nice things.

How overhead bins should work in theory

Airlines fuck customers in more ways than I have time to outline, but in one way, they’re equally fair to all flyers and that’s how much overhead space they’re allotted. On a standard 737 aircraft, with six seats per row, three on either side of the aisle, there is enough space for each passenger to put one carry-on bag in the overhead. That’s because the space is designed perfectly to fit roller boards, duffel bags, and large backpacks as long as they meet the size requirement. In fact, airlines often list stricter requirements than the overhead space can actually hold.

As long as everyone sticks to their own imaginary third of the overhead bin, the overhead bin will accommodate the carry-on luggage of every person in the row. Because even three bulky roller boards can fit snugly in the overhead space. But it never quite works out that way does it?

How overhead bins work in practice

One of the most annoying things airline passengers do is line up to board too early. Even if the incoming flight hasn’t landed, even if there’s no plane to board, inevitably some asshole will stand in front of the gate waiting to be the first one on the plane. And when that happens, people inevitably follow. Because that’s what people do. No one wants to be the last person on board, because if they are, they’re going to have to cram their roller board under the seat or gate check it. It’s because we all know that people have no sense of respect when it comes to overhead space.

The first people who board seem to think that overhead space is first come first serve. The sense of entitlement probably comes from the fact that they were standing in line for 45 minutes, something no one forced their dumb asses to do in the first place. But they put in the effort, so they think they have the right to claim every bit of overhead space they can get their hands on. Because God forbid they place their laptop bag under the seat.

So by the time everyone has boarded, the overhead bins are full of shopping bags, big fluffy jackets, purses, and handbags that should be under the seat. And those people who already have their Beats on when other passengers are trying to stuff their only tiny bag in the overhead space don’t give a fuck. They’re thinking that if you cared so much about getting overhead space, you should have gotten in line.

Can’t we all learn to share?

Probably not. People are savages.

Your plane ticket entitles you to two storage spaces on a flight: a third of the overhead bin and the space under the seat in front of you. If you brought a giant bag that had to be placed sideways, you’re infringing on the space that, in theory, belongs to someone else. If you want to be the change you want to see in the world, check that bag next time and leave some room for your fellow passengers to stow their stuff overhead.

What if you only brought one tiny laptop bag and a bulky jacket? Isn’t it your right to put it in the overhead bin if you wish? Technically yes. But as with everything in life, a little compassion goes a long way. Putting a purse under the seat in front of you isn’t going to make your flight any more uncomfortable. On the other hand, someone may have valuable items in the bag that your purse or jacket is forcing them to gate check. Because people put the most important things in their carry on bags – the stuff they can’t part with. Their travel documents, their prescription medications, their electronics, their fragile gnomes. So sure, you can use the overhead space for stuff that should be under the seat so there will be nothing at your feet. Or you can be compassionate and make some room so that everyone’s carry on can travel in the cabin.

So here’s a travel tip from me to you: Try not being a dick. It feels pretty good and it won’t cost you a thing.

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