Five ways to beat the competition to the overhead bin

There’s nothing so gauche as to stick your carry-on into an overhead bin far ahead of your seat, grab a book or magazine from it and walk 17 rows back to your seat. Because, whether you know it (or give a damn), one of the passengers sitting under your bag may not have a place to put his. Then, when the plane settles in at the gate, he’ll try to shove his way to the back of the plane (where he was forced to stow his stuff) while everyone else is moving the other way. It’s a recipe for disaster.

And, it’s getting worse.

Airlines have had to cope with shrinking budgets, thanks to a dismal travel market, and that means making cuts. So, when there isn’t another pill water, peanut or blanket to chop, the airlines have to take away the planes themselves. Airline capacity is falling almost across the board this year, making planes more crowded. That translates to fuller overhead bins. The other airline money-making scheme – charging fees for extra baggage – has also cramped the cabin. Passengers are hoping to dodge the extra cost, even though it is modest.

When there’s an airline problem, of course, Congress rushes to devise some sort of solution – an obvious move given the track record legislators have had “fixing” the industry. The latest move appears to be an effort to limit and standardize carry-on sizes across airlines, with the TSA enforcing the rule at checkpoints. What will this accomplish? Well, your security wait just got longer. Not only will they have more work to do, but you’ll have the joy of waiting behind 27 people who all need to argue with the TSA employee about how the new rule is bullshit.

Until Congress comes in and accomplishes nothing, what matters most are strategies for making sure you can get as much of your stuff as possible into the overhead bins, especially if you want to keep some foot space under the seat in front of you. Here are five ways to make the whole process easier.

1. Board early
Chance favors the prepared. Get onto the plane as soon as you can. If you have elite status, use it. Linger by the gate to wait for your zone to be called. Then, strike when the announcement is made.

2. Be honest
You could become a scumbag and toss your carry-ons into the first overhead bins you see … or you could play it straight and put your bags in the appropriate bin. Become a part of the solution, not the problem.

3. Consolidate
Don’t carry too many carry-ons, and if you do max out the gear you can tow, bite the bullet and stick some of it under the seat in front of you.

4. Gate-check
You’ll have to wait a little longer for your bags, but it isn’t nearly as bad as having to linger by the carousel. This is as close to a win-win as you’ll find in the hell we call air travel.

5. Deal with checked luggage
Sometimes, you’re going to have to suck it up and check your damned bags. Don’t try to fight with the flight attendant or gate agent over size or amount. You’ll only delay the process … especially if the flight attendant has to announce that some of the bags in overhead bins will need to be checked. Don’t push the envelope, and learn to live with the rules.