An outrage-driven about-face for the ages.

By Spencer Peterson
June 18, 2015
Credit: © Michael Harvey / Alamy

Well, that was fast. The International Air Transport Association announced on Wednesday that it is halting the rollout of new “voluntary guidelines” to curb the size of carry-on bags. With the Cabin OK program, IATA had proposed a new “optimal” size for carry-ons, at 21.5 inches in height, 13.5 inches wide, and 7.5 inches deep, a size allotment nearly 40 percent smaller than what’s currently allowed by Delta, American, and United Airlines. Now, citing “intense” reactions to the new standard, the IATA is embarking on a “comprehensive reassessment.”

"While the value of this initiative has been welcomed by many, including a growing list of airlines expressing interest in the program, there has also been much confusion," IATA said in a statement. "In North America particularly, there have been significant concerns raised in the media and by key stakeholders." Though IATA had partnered with luggage tracker Okoban to roll out the Cabin OK approval process, and several major baggage manufacturers had developed new products to fit the standard, no U.S. airlines had come aboard.

The U.S. airline association, Airlines for America, said Wednesday that its members rejected the proposed standard "because it is unnecessary and flies in the face of the actions the U.S. carriers are taking to invest in the customer experience—roughly $1.2 billion a month—including larger overhead bins." Nicholas E. Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, called the IATA’s action “unnecessary,” saying that “our members already have guidelines in place on what size bags they can accommodate.”

Before the about-face, Sen. Bob Melendez, a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development, called the proposal “a gimmick so airlines can keep padding those bag profits,” adding that “if our luggage has to go on a diet, the result cannot be another airline-industry profit binge. We already have less seat-space, less leg-room, fewer options and higher costswe have to stand up for consumers and say 'no' to the airline industry.” (How nice that, even after being indicted on federal corruption charges for, among other things, allegedly getting free rides in a donor’s private jet, Menendez is thinking about those in coach.)

In a statement, IATA senior VP Tom Windmuller emphasized that the organization’s “focus is on providing travelers with an option that would lead to a simplified and better experience. While many welcomed the Cabin OK initiative, significant concerns were expressed in North America. Cabin OK is a voluntary program for airlines and for consumers. This is clearly an issue that is close to the heart of travelers. We need to get it right.”