If you’ve ever boarded a plane only to find the overhead bins crammed to capacity, you may have wondered what travelers are supposed to do with their carry-on luggage in that situation. In short, flight attendants have specific procedures in place to handle full overhead storage compartments.

This article will provide an in-depth look at the policies and contingencies airlines and crews have developed for the overhead bin dilemma. We’ll review how gate agents and flight attendants manage bin space, options for passengers when space runs out, as well as tips for avoiding the problem altogether.

How Airlines Try to Prevent Full Bins

When it comes to overhead bin space on a flight, airlines have implemented various strategies to prevent them from becoming full. These strategies aim to ensure a smooth boarding process and maximize passenger comfort. Let’s take a closer look at how airlines tackle this issue:

Checked Bag Fees Motivate Carry-Ons

One of the main reasons overhead bins can fill up quickly is the increasing number of passengers opting to bring carry-on luggage instead of checking their bags. In recent years, many airlines have implemented checked bag fees as a way to incentivize passengers to pack lighter and reduce the number of checked bags.

As a result, more passengers are bringing their bags onboard, leading to a higher demand for overhead bin space.

According to a study conducted by TravelPulse, approximately 75% of passengers now bring carry-on bags, compared to only 40% a decade ago. This increase in carry-ons has put pressure on airlines to find solutions to accommodate the growing demand.

Encouraging Gate Checking

To address the issue of limited overhead bin space, airlines have started to encourage passengers to voluntarily gate check their larger carry-on bags. Gate checking allows passengers to keep their bags with them until they reach the aircraft’s door, where they can hand it over to the airline staff who will stow it in the cargo hold.

This helps free up space in the overhead bins and ensures a smoother boarding process.

Some airlines have even introduced incentives to encourage gate checking. For example, they may offer priority boarding or waive the gate-checking fee for passengers who are willing to check their bags at the gate.

This approach has been successful in reducing the number of carry-ons brought onboard and alleviating the strain on overhead bin space.

Bin Space Regulations

In recent years, airlines have also implemented stricter regulations regarding the size and number of carry-on bags allowed in the cabin. By setting specific dimensions and weight limits for carry-ons, airlines aim to ensure that each passenger’s luggage can fit in the overhead bins without causing overcrowding.

For instance, some airlines restrict the size of carry-on bags to 22 inches in length, 14 inches in width, and 9 inches in height. They may also impose weight limits, typically around 40 pounds. These regulations help ensure that there is enough space for everyone’s bags and prevent delays due to insufficient bin space.

Boarding Policies Impact Bin Availability

When it comes to boarding a flight, the policies implemented by airlines can greatly impact the availability of overhead bin space. The way passengers are organized and allowed to board can either alleviate or exacerbate the issue of full overhead bins.

Back-to-Front vs Random Boarding

One common boarding policy used by airlines is back-to-front boarding, where passengers seated in the back of the plane are called to board first. This method allows those seated further back to find available bin space before the bins closer to the front fill up.

It typically results in a more even distribution of passengers throughout the cabin and can help reduce the chances of overhead bins being full.

On the other hand, some airlines opt for random boarding, where all passengers are called to board at once or in no particular order. This approach can lead to a rush of passengers trying to secure overhead bin space, causing bins to fill up quickly and leaving those boarding later with limited options.

As a result, passengers may be forced to check their carry-on luggage at the gate or store it underneath the seat in front of them.

Pre-Boards Fill Bins Early

Another factor that affects bin availability is the presence of pre-board passengers. These individuals, such as those with disabilities, young children, or elite status, are often allowed to board before other passengers.

While this policy allows them extra time and assistance, it can also lead to bins filling up earlier, leaving less space for those boarding later. Airlines can attempt to mitigate this issue by reserving certain bins exclusively for pre-board passengers, ensuring they have adequate storage options without affecting the availability for other passengers.

Group Boarding Causes Congestion

Group boarding, where passengers are called to board in specific groups or sections, can also impact overhead bin availability. If the boarding process is not efficiently managed, it can cause congestion and delays, leading to a higher likelihood of bins being full by the time certain groups of passengers board.

To address this, airlines may implement strategies such as staggering the boarding times for different groups or increasing the number of available bins to accommodate the higher demand during group boarding.

It’s important for airlines to consider these factors when determining their boarding policies in order to ensure a smoother and more efficient experience for all passengers. By implementing strategies that prioritize bin availability and optimize the boarding process, airlines can minimize the chances of overhead bins being full and alleviate the stress and inconvenience it can cause for passengers.

What Happens When Bins Reach Capacity

Gate Checking at the Door

When the overhead bins on a flight reach capacity, airlines often offer the option of gate checking bags at the door of the aircraft. This means that passengers can hand over their carry-on bags to the airline staff, who will then stow them in the cargo hold of the plane.

Gate checking is a convenient solution that allows passengers to keep their bags with them until they board the aircraft, and then retrieve them immediately upon landing. It ensures that all passengers have their belongings securely stored and also helps to expedite the boarding and deplaning process.

Stowing Bags Below Seats

In situations where the overhead bins are full, another option is to stow bags below the seats in the cabin. Most airlines have specific size restrictions for carry-on bags to ensure they fit comfortably beneath the seats.

Passengers are usually allowed to bring smaller bags, such as backpacks or purses, that can easily fit in this space. Stowing bags below seats is a practical solution that allows passengers to keep their belongings within reach during the flight.

However, it’s important to note that larger bags may not fit under the seats and may need to be gate checked instead.

Utilizing Onboard Closets

Some aircraft, especially larger ones, are equipped with onboard closets or coat rooms where passengers can hang their jackets or store their bags. These closets are typically located near the front or rear of the aircraft and provide additional storage space for items that cannot fit in the overhead bins or below the seats.

Passengers can ask the flight attendants for assistance in utilizing these onboard closets. It’s worth noting that the availability of onboard closets may vary depending on the aircraft type and airline, so it’s best to check with the airline beforehand or ask the flight attendants for guidance.

Tips for Passengers to Get Bin Space

When it comes to air travel, finding overhead bin space for your carry-on luggage can sometimes be a challenge. With more passengers opting to bring their bags on board, it’s not uncommon to encounter full overhead bins.

However, there are a few strategies you can employ to increase your chances of securing bin space.

Check Larger Bags

If you’re traveling with a larger bag that you can’t fit under the seat in front of you, consider checking it. By checking your larger bag, you not only free up valuable bin space but also avoid the hassle of lugging it around the airport.

Most airlines allow passengers to check a certain number of bags for free, so take advantage of this service if you have the option.

Board Early

One of the best ways to ensure you have overhead bin space is to board the plane early. Many airlines offer priority boarding to certain passengers, such as those with elite status or those seated in premium cabins.

If you fall into one of these categories, take advantage of the early boarding opportunity to secure your bin space before it fills up. If you don’t have priority boarding, try to be one of the first in your boarding group to enter the aircraft.

Consolidate Multiple Carry-Ons

Another helpful tip is to consolidate your belongings into a single carry-on bag. Instead of having multiple smaller items taking up valuable bin space, try to pack everything into one larger bag. This not only maximizes the use of the overhead bin but also makes it easier for flight attendants and fellow passengers to find available space for their own bags.

Remember, it’s important to be considerate and respectful of other passengers when it comes to overhead bin space. If you see that the bins are full and there’s no space for your bag, don’t force it. Instead, politely ask a flight attendant for assistance or offer to have your bag checked.

By following these tips, you can increase your chances of securing overhead bin space and ensure a smoother travel experience.


Getting stuck without overhead bin space can make for an uncomfortable flight. Understanding airline policies and crew procedures for handling full bins can help travelers be prepared. Following tips like consolidating bags, boarding early and gate checking can also minimize headaches.

Flight attendants are skilled at finding solutions when storage runs out – but avoiding the problem altogether is always easiest.

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