Time for a New Suitcase: Airlines Want to Make Your Carry-On Bag Even Smaller

Out with the old.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

It sometimes seems like airlines aren’t in the business of flying, but of making your flight as miserable as possible. To wit, the International Air Transport Association is out with a new proposal that recommends making your already-small carry-on bag even smaller. The optimal size for a carry-on, according to IATA, is 21.5 inches in height, 13.5 inches in width, and 7.5 inches in depth. That’s shorter and narrower than the 22-by-14-by-9–inch maximum currently allowed on many airlines.

Yet fear not, airline travelers, for IATA senior vice president Tom Windmuller assures you that these recommendations are designed “to make things easier for everybody, first and foremost for the passenger.” How’s that? Well, several big bag manufacturers—including Tumi, Delsey, and Samsonite—are “all interested in this” and will be “coming on board in the near future,” Windmuller explains in an online Q&A. Wait, you say. Bag manufacturers are on board with an airlines initiative that could force a huge number of the world’s travelers to buy brand new carry-ons? No, no. That couldn’t possibly be right.

On the airlines’ side of things, Windmuller says that 30 to 40 have expressed interest, and about a dozen—including Emirates and Lufthansa—have already said they’d accept the smaller size limits. IATA says its new guidelines should help airlines avoid the awkward problem of having more bags on a flight than they can actually accommodate, which in turn would reduce the time spent moving the extra bags off the plane and into the hold, thus generally mollifying irritated customers. That said, in the short term you’d think there would be a lot more angry passengers if most airlines suddenly compelled people to purchase new approved carry-on luggage.

Are these new baggage developments frustrating? Yes. Are they surprising? Not at all. Airlines are generally thought to be getting worse. Plane seats, like carry-ons, have steadily dwindled in size as companies try to stuff more passengers onto each flight. Once-free amenities like a checked bag or seat selection now cost extra. Last year, airline quality ratings declined across the board. Of course carry-ons are getting smaller, too. At least the air industry is consistent.