Due to the introduction of no-frills flights and basic economy tickets, more and more passengers are cramming as much into their carry-ons as possible. As a result, flight attendants are noting more and more injuries from carry-on bags as the overstuffed bags become heavy and unwieldy—falling out of overhead bins and onto people’s heads. This commonly occurs during the mad shuffle to get off the plane. If you are a frequent flyer, you may have even seen an incident or a near-miss yourself.
In 2017, a passenger sued an airline saying that the airline had the responsibility to mitigate the possibility of passengers becoming injured in this manner and a US court agreed. While it may be a rare occurrence for passengers to accidentally cause injury to one another in such a way, flight attendants are painfully aware of the situation.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), the union that represents the profession in the US, has actually been trying to reverse the trend for decades. The union wants Congress and the FAA to establish carry-on guidelines that will help to ensure passenger and crew safety from unwieldy bags once and for all.
One issue is that the incidents where injuries from supersized bags have occurred is sparse or unreliable. A 1997 article by the Wall Street Journal reported over 4,000 injuries. A more recent survey of flight attendants in 2010 recounted several incidents but with little accuracy due to fears over being forced to take time off work if they reported the injuries to their airlines.
Although airlines typically regulate the number of bags, less attention is paid to size and weight of the bags, with flight attendants making the final call—often under the pressure of on-time takeoffs.
As one response to the survey noted, the airline policy of charging for bags has created a cycle of passengers continuing to bring overstuffed carry-on bags on-board—which typically results in a free checked bag, undoing the purpose of the bag charge policy that accompanies economy fares.