By Evie Carrick
January 01, 2020
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There are a lot of factors that go into a day of airplane travel. And a lack of overhead bin space is increasingly becoming one of them. If you arrive at your assigned seat and the nearby bins are already full, you may end up stashing your carry-on a few rows back. It may not seem like a big deal at first, but if you do this, you’ll have to either wait for everyone behind you to get off or be that jerk that moves against traffic to grab your bag. It’s a rookie move that could derail your entire travel day.

The root of the problem is a lack of overhead bin space. The Los Angeles Times reports that when airlines added more seats and started charging passengers to check their luggage, the number of fliers and carry-ons increased. The result was more demand for the limited overhead bin space.

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You may not be able to control a plane’s overhead bin space, but there are some things you can do to ensure you never have to store your carry-on behind you.

Pay for priority boarding.

When you have a tight connection, purchasing priority boarding may be worth it. A United Airlines representative told Travel + Leisure by email that “when flights are full, customers who board in groups one to three are most likely to find space for their bags.” Also, “customers are able to purchase priority boarding and board with group two to get on earlier to stow bags.”

Keep in mind, if you’re part of an airline rewards program, you may already have priority boarding.

Buy luggage that fits under the seat.

You may have carry-on travel down to a science, but in reality, there’s an even more minimal option. Traveling with luggage that fits under the seat in front of you ensures you don’t have to give overhead bin space a second thought. And the good news is that some of the best underseat bags are surprisingly roomy.

Volunteer to gate check your bag.

If you’re on a full flight, chances are the gate staff will be looking for volunteers to gate check their bag. The staff will tag your bag and stow it under the plane with the other checked bags free of charge. You’ll pick it up at baggage claim upon arrival.

It may not be as efficient as stowing your carry-on over your seat, but it certainly beats waiting for the entire flight to deplane, so you can retrieve your bag from behind you.

Stow your bag near the front of the plane.

If you’re on a full flight or boarding late, keep an eye out for available bin space as you walk toward your seat and stow your bag in the first open slot. Grabbing a bag from several rows up as you deplane is significantly easier than elbowing your way against traffic or waiting until everyone behind you has gotten off.

Ask the flight staff for help.

When it comes to the aircraft’s overhead bin space, the cabin crew knows the particulars and are pros at making sure everyone’s bags have a place. If you’re boarding late, tell the flight attendant where you’re seated and ask if they have suggestions on where to store your bag. They may be able to tell you if there’s bin space near your seat and can give you tips on where to put your bag if the nearby compartments are already full.