Heavy load overhead

A trenchcoat with 33 pockets is one of the strategies used by passengers to sneak more onboard, writes Lissa Christopher.

Strategies employed by passengers to get excess cabin baggage on aircraft is the stuff of bad comedy. Here are some examples: the strategically angled individual who appears to have just one reasonably sized bag while approaching and sidling past the cabin crew but is actually wearing a backpack the size of a transit van; the suit bag packed more like a body bag; the coat tossed nonchalantly over a multitude of bags; the 120-litre women's "handbag"; economy passengers who dump their horribly heavy bag into the first locker in business class and move on; and, our favourite, wrestling a piece of luggage into the test frame to prove it's not oversize, then not being able to get it out.

Stowing cabin baggage is a daily challenge for cabin crew, says the source of this list (minus the hyperbole), a highly experienced Qantas cabin crew member who agreed to speak to Traveller on condition of anonymity.

"Even if passengers brought just their allowance, we would have difficulty stowing it all," she says. "We don't have the space for it on most aircraft." Stowing the extra baggage causes crew and passenger injuries, hostility and delays.

A perusal of cabin baggage discussions on travel sites shows many passengers think cabin baggage limits are primarily about airlines trying to squeeze money out of them at every turn - "nickel and diming us," as they say in the US. And airlines that charge for checked baggage may indeed be inspiring sneaky passenger tactics and making a rod for the backs of their crews. Our source, however, believes the problem in Australia is less about cost than about time. "Our most difficult flights are business flights," she says. "[Passengers] don't want to wait at the end for their luggage."

To put the question of fee gouging to rest once and for all, and to give cabin crew added authority, the crew member says Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority should place limits on cabin baggage across all airlines and classes of travel. "Then there would be no advantage to any airline to be different," she says. "It would become a CASA ruling and that would cut out a lot of that ambiguity."

Cabin baggage is a big problem in the US, where fees for checked baggage are the norm and the cabin crew of many American airlines, as a matter of policy, are told not to assist passengers with their baggage. The fees issue, in particular, has inspired the CEO of American clothing brand Scottevest, Scott Jordan, to develop the controversial Carry-On Coat, a trench coat with 33 hidden pockets. Apparently it "holds as much as a bag but is not subject to airline rules and regulations. Extra bag fees and carry-on fees do not apply."

The executive director of flyersrights.org, Kate Hanni, told The New York Times recently she uses vacuum-seal bags to maximise the amount she can get into her carry-on. The most radical solution, however, might be simply to travel with less.