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Is It Chill to Store Your Small Stuff in the Overhead Bin?

Actually, it’s one of the biggest jerk moves you could ever pull on a flight

Cherisa, a flight attendant for a commercial U.S. airline, gets just as frustrated as I do watching boarding passengers shove their purses, jackets and other personal items into the overhead bin on airplanes. “It absolutely is just as annoying [for us] as it is from your seat,” she tells MEL.

Flying economy is infuriating and humiliating enough without having to fight with strangers for carry-on space. Flights are overbooked, seats are cramped, sleep is a luxury, food is nauseating and the damn sound on the TVs never seems to work. But nothing irks me more than watching people take up valuable designated space for our carry-on suitcases.

I get why you’d want to use that overhead space to its fullest. On a cramped flight, the only space that’s truly yours is the legroom below you, and stepping on your laptop bag isn’t a pleasant way to spend five hours in the air.

So why not throw your Canada Goose above you and sprawl out? Because it makes you an airplane asshole. “It’s all shared space, but a lot of people don’t see it like that,” Cherisa says. “How rude is it to not put your own purse in front of yourself so we can accommodate a roller board and this person doesn’t have to go down to baggage claim to get their bag?”

Cherisa once had a woman refuse to move her small purse from the bin. Luckily, another passenger was willing to move their bag to the space below them. “She was one of those people sitting in what we like to call ‘second first-class,’ a.k.a. extra comfort. So she thought she was entitled to the overhead space. But you’re paying for the [extra] legroom, not the overhead-bin space.”

So what constitutes a small carry-on item? The answer never changes. If it fits under your seat, that’s where it goes. This includes briefcases, tote bags, purses, backpacks, jackets and cameras. Unless the flight is largely empty, overhead bins should be reserved solely for suitcases, duffle bags and musical instruments. God knows you don’t want to trust United with your guitar.

That’s a problem, though: People simply don’t trust airlines to keep their stuff safe. Which is why I’m not asking you to check your suitcase. I never do. It’s too expensive. Last year, JetBlue, Delta and American Airlines all raised their bag fees to $30 for the first bag. It’s big business. In the first half of 2019, airlines reportedly earned $1.5 billion in checked-bag fees.

Worse, airplanes are restructuring their overhead bins. Alaska and Virgin reduced the maximum size of a carry-on bag by 32 percent to match current size limits at competing airlines. On Ryanair’s 737 aircraft with 180 seats, there’s only guaranteed space for 90 overhead bags. This all makes elite status more important than ever, and the airlines know their credit card with priority boarding is now a lot more enticing.

To ease the congestion of boarding, know the official procedures of the overhead bins. Suitcase rollers go in first. Close the bin to make sure your bag fits. Then reopen. Don’t leave an empty bin closed and don’t leave your suitcase halfway hanging out.

If it doesn’t fit and you’ve already sat down, the flight attendant won’t hesitate to check your bag. Cherisa says, “By the time I get to it, we have to shut the boarding door. So if I can’t find who it belongs to and space for it, I’m gonna check it.”

The etiquette of the overhead bin doesn’t stop after the plane takes off. When deplaning, move swiftly and have a goddamn plan. Never idle. “People do that all the time and hold up everybody else,” Cherisa says. “Everyone, take a bag and get off the plane.”

Recently, I’ve grown to enjoy watching the politics of the overhead bin unfold in real-time from my middle seat. People say you get to know a person by how much they tip or whether they stop to help you on the street. I disagree. The overhead bin says it all: who’s courteous, who’s self-interested and who’s the hot guy with the Hermès duffel?