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 June 13, 2003
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Check Your Overhead Luggage Bin
Danger in the Aisles? Airplane Baggage �UFOs�
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By PlanetFeedback Staff

Next time you fly, check nearby overhead luggage bins to make sure theyďż˝re not overpacked.  Why?  You may be protecting yourself from a serious accident. 

Believe it or not, safety experts estimate up to 4,500 air travelers are injured each year by baggage that falls out of carry-on compartments.  There's even a name for these falling items: UFOs, or Unrestrained Falling Objects.
Flight attendants speak out
One organization that wants restrictions on carry-on luggage is the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union representing 44,000 flight attendants at 27 airlines.

 AFA has a vested interest in seeing this issue resolved soon: the union claims its members suffer 15% of injuries caused by UFOs and the moving of heavy items.

Another issue is passenger safety. 

ďż˝Passengers have reported that during an evacuation they were delayed in getting to an exit by someone who stopped to wrestle down a carry-on bag,ďż˝ states AFAďż˝s Web site.  ďż˝(And) severe turbulence has forced overhead bin doors to spring open and bags to be thrown about the cabin.ďż˝

The union even blames some take-off delays on overhead bins, since many passengers take extra time to store excessive amounts of baggage into the small spaces.  AFA reports that when United Airlines instituted a strict carry-on bag policy, the airline saw a 74% improvement for on-time departures.

A stuffed moose head?
Confusion abounds, too, about proper carry-on rules and whether theyďż˝ll be enforced.  AFA cites cases where ďż˝an unimaginable variety of articles (have been brought) onto airplanes, including a stuffed moose head, mini refrigerator, set of free weights, a big screen television -- and even a kitchen sink.ďż˝

 AFA spokeswoman Dawn Deeks recounts a about a USAirways frequent flyer who always wore a bicycle helmet in his aisle seat during his regular weekly flights. 

�Too often he observed people overstuffing bins and items falling out, so he took it upon himself to protect his head.�

Bins werenďż˝t designed to hold the type of stuff that people jam into them, Deeks says. 

 ďż˝Unfortunately, carry-on luggage has become a competition issue for airlines, so some carriers let you carry on whatever you want," she says. "But that can compromise safety on planes.  People just donďż˝t want to give up control of their bags, even though many bags need to be stored below.ďż˝ 

Although the bins are sturdy, they weren�t created for heavy objects, she explains. �Originally the space was for storing soft items like jackets.�

Safety hazards
Many other voices have raised the red flag about UFOs.

 In 1998, a Flight Safety Foundation study claimed items ejecting from overhead storage bins can sometimes cause brain injuries, with long-term consequences.  Even though the study looked at incident data for 757 planes from one airline, the risks could exist in numerous other single-aisle jet passenger aircraft, too, the study claimed.

Michael J. Polay and William D. Waldock, professors at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, cite one major carrierďż˝s report that showed 430 incidents between 1989-1991 were caused by baggage falling on people.  Briefcases were the most likely to fall from above, followed by  luggage carriers, laptop computers, child seats, canes, tennis rackets and other things. 

�The most commonly affected body parts were heads, shoulders, and arms, but some involved impacts to legs, feet and�backs,� explained the professors. Considering that passengers and airlines both have incentives to avoid reporting such incidents, both men speculate that carry-on baggage injuries �are grossly under-reported.�

Standard Carry-on Rules?
In recent years the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has worked with AFA and other groups to address the carry-on luggage safety problem, but has it done enough? 

For example, in 1988 the FAA issued an "Advisory Circular" suggesting each airline create its own policy limiting the amount of carry-on baggage allowed in the cabin.  Some industry observers feel that document did little to ease passenger bewilderment, decrease UFOs or improve safety. 

In 2000, AFA proposed to the federal agency a rule to limit each traveler to 45 linear inches and about 13 pounds of carry-on baggage (for U.S. carriers only). 

Todayďż˝s carry-on rules truly run the gamut.  Carry-on limits range from one to three pieces. Bags may come in different shapes, sizes and weights and still meet a carrierďż˝s maximum acceptable size (45 to 50 inches).

ďż˝Weďż˝ve heard about passengers changing airlines during a trip and finding out that the different carry-on policies force them to recheck or repack bags,ďż˝ says AFAďż˝s Deeks.  ďż˝Besides causing aggravation, sometimes that can cause people to miss their planes.ďż˝

Whatďż˝s the best solution? 
The safest:  Eliminate carry-on luggage entirely (not a popular idea). 
The most high-tech:  Use cargo nets in the bins (weight and cost drawbacks). 
The most compromising:  Limit bags to one carry-on. 
The simplest: Enforce existing regulations, and educate the public.
Luggage Bin Safety Tips

Here�s how to lessen carry-on luggage injuries:
ďż˝ Check as many bags as possible so you have less to carry.
ďż˝ Pack fewer items in your carry-on bags.
ďż˝ Donďż˝t stack items on top of each other in the bins.
ďż˝ Bring only valuables on board; check the rest.
ďż˝ Make sure the bin doors close easily (indicates overstuffing hasnďż˝t occurred).
ďż˝ Place all heavy items under the seat in front of you.
ďż˝ Consider shipping your luggage by Federal Express or United Parcel Service instead of relying on the airline to deliver it.

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