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Security lines at LAX (Los Angeles International) stretch almost to Anaheim. Photo by Tara Lee Tarkington on twitter.

Security lines at LAX (Los Angeles International) stretch almost to Anaheim. Photo by Tara Lee Tarkington on twitter.

With airport security lines sometimes crawling to an hour’s wait or longer, flying this summer threatens to become even more of a nightmare.

Some air travelers stuck in the seemingly interminable lines have missed their flights, while others have had to scramble to make theirs, adding to the existing stress of overcrowded planes, cramped seating, and scant legroom for most passengers.

While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is currently beefing up its numbers — especially in bomb-sniffing dogs — the TSA remains understaffed and bags and people still have to be screened.

There’s at least one obvious fix. TSA Pre-Check — which allows pre-screened travelers to pass through separate, faster lines and less intrusive X-ray machines without having to remove their shoes, belts, light jackets and (sometimes) their laptops from their cases — has to be expanded.

But the Pre-Check program has fallen short of its enrollment goals, perhaps because the application process seems too cumbersome or maybe because not enough people know about it. (I’ll have more on TSA Pre-Check and the accompanying Global Entry or “Trusted Traveler” program in a later post.)

And while I love Pre-Check when it works — I’ve used it for two years now and have often made it through security in a matter of minutes — it’s unevenly enforced at different airports and sometimes isn’t available at all.

A Novel Suggestion

Today, though, I want to raise another, more radical suggestion to speed up security lines and bring a bit more sanity to flying in the process: ban overhead baggage storage on planes.

This is an idea proposed by a reader of my local Tucson paper, the Arizona Daily Star, and it immediately struck a chord with me — even though it probably has as much chance of actually being implemented as my being upgraded to first class every time I fly.

But it never hurts to float an idea and see if it sinks or swims.

Global Entry enrollment also gets you TSA Pre-Check and most line avoidance.

Global Entry enrollment also gets you TSA Pre-Check and most line avoidance.

According to  Tucson resident Daniel Nelson, eliminating overhead bag storage on planes would make flying much more pleasant by:

  • Speeding up security lines — there would be far fewer bags to screen, and they’d be smaller bags to boot.
  • Allowing for faster boarding and deplaning, since there would be far less fumbling around trying to fit bags into the overhead compartments and then pulling them out again upon arrival;
  • Resulting in fewer injuries when passengers remove the bags from the bins or when they open the bins at the end of a flight and a bag falls out, whacking someone (probably you or me) on the head. .

With one modification, I have to agree with Nelson.

I would modify his proposal to allow for very limited overhead storage big enough only for one briefcase, small backpack, or other compact bag per passenger. Passengers have to have room for a laptop, prescription meds (if any), valuables, and other smallish items absolutely necessary to have along and keep safe.

Any other items, such as purses, duty-free purchases, etc., would have to fit under the seat in front of you. Larger carry-ons would be banned for lack of space and would have to be checked.

What Would Need to Happen

In order for such a ban to work, both the airlines and traveling public would have to buy into it — admittedly almost an impossible combination, like oil and water. Here’s what would have to happen:

  • The airlines would have to stop charging for checked luggage. (I would make an exception for multiple gigantic, overweight bags.) This particular airline cash cow, of course, is what caused the carry-on crisis to begin with: passengers understandably started carrying on more and bigger bags, until it’s become a time-consuming and sometimes injury-producing struggle to fit everything into place. Even though the original excuse for charging $25 or more per checked bag — the high cost of fuel — is now kaput, the airlines don’t want to give it up.
  • The airlines would have to stop cramming as many seats onto the plane as they possibly can and start removing some, which would create more “under-the-seat-in-front-of-you” space. Again, fewer seats affect the airlines’ bottom line, and some airlines would fight it.
  • Passengers would have to buy into it. To be sure, carrying on bags does have its advantages, even beyond avoiding the bag-check fees. Carry-ons seldom get lost, looted, stolen, irreparably damaged, or dispatched to Auckland, New Zealand, while you’re headed to Oakland, California.  And you can save plenty of time by skipping the baggage carousel and watching other people’s suitcases go round and round while yours apparently takes root somewhere in the bowels of the airport.
You could be here rather than waiting in line. Photo from Puerto Rico Tourism Company

You could be here rather than waiting in line. Photo from Puerto Rico Tourism Company

On the other hand, I can’t stop thinking about the advantages to Nelson’s idea.

Security lines would be shorter; you’d probably miss fewer flights or not have to get to the airport quite so early; and you’d also stand a much better chance of making a connecting flight if you have a short turn-around time (it can take forever to empty out a plane with folks having to fetch their carry-ons — sometimes from distant rows).

And if we could do away with checked bag fees and add more legroom…even the greediest airlines might like the fact that passengers weren’t so, uh, upset all the time. I’m sure flight attendants would love it.

Altogether, I think it actually would make flying more pleasant — or at least more tolerable.

But I’m curious to know what readers think — good idea, or flawed?

If you feel strongly about this, either way, please leave a comment. I’m completely open to further suggestion, as well.



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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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