Carry-on size may be policed by airport security

Those who hate bigger government can slip on their tinfoil hats now. A congressman from Illinois, Dan Lipinski, has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to have the TSA take control of the size of carry-on bags.

Right now, each airline is responsible for screening each passenger's bags to make sure they'll fit and that no one person is taking up more than their fair share of space.

But if Lipinski's notion survives to maturity, the people who handle the security screening will be in charge of measuring your stuff. They'll have a one-size-fits-all set of standardized maximum numbers to which your bag must conform.

Presumably, the size screening would take place at the same checkpoint where we go through metal detectors, and if your bag doesn't fit, you'll have to turn around and return to the check-in counter to pay a checked baggage fee.Crowded overhead space is a problem, but is it a federal issue? Passengers are trying to lug big stuff onto planes. There's no doubt of that. The airlines have virtually ensured the perpetuation of such monkey business by charging customers to check stuff. But let's not confuse the need for better self-control and more careful screening with a call to implement a new structure within a government agency.

Aside from the issue of bloating bureaucracy, and apart from the probability that measuring suitcases will detract from the TSA's primary mandate of not allowing me to get blown up, there's also the issue of variable airplane sizes. Some airlines allow their customers more leeway than others because they fly all sorts of planes, and on many flights, they have the overhead bin space to permit larger bags.

If a federally standarized carry-on size is to have any use at all, it would have to suit the smallest major aircraft. If you're flying across the country on a jumbo with plenty of space, why should you have to tote a bag that's no bigger than a briefcase?

International carriers are already pretty good about keeping an eye on what their passengers carry on. Often, the allowance is even smaller than on domestic American flights. So a self-policing system can work if only we put our minds to it.

I'm scratching my head over why we need to put this in the federal lawbooks at all. It seems like Lipinski is trying to kill a housefly with a cannon. The minor annoyances that exist could be easily solved by having the airlines do better at policing passengers as they board. After all, the airlines are the ones that have a profit motive to do so -- if a person can't stick to their allotted space, they have to pay to check something.

On a Delta flight two days ago, the desk clerk sent the woman in front of me out of the line to "combine down" from three bags to two. The passenger, who knew she was trying to get away with something, wordlessly complied. And despite the last-minute switcheroo, the flight still left the gate early.

Over at Budget Travel, commenters are weighing in on the new proposal. A guy named Pete has one of the simplest solutions, and the cleanest: "How about a sample overhead bin at check in," he says. "If you can not get your carry on in the bin by yourself and in one try it goes in checked baggage."

An elegant solution. A few years ago, the big theme parks started putting sample vehicles in front of the rides so that "guests of a certain size" (Universal's wording) know in advance if they're going to fit. Do the same for "bags of a certain size" at each carrier's ticket desk.

There are lots of grounded planes at the moment that can lend their bins to the effort. And then we can let Washington get back to the serious quality-of-life stuff, such as why 45.7 million Americans have no health coverage.

Until then, Lipinksi, you can take your big carry-on and stuff it.

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