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Stormy Skies for Carry-On Luggage

August 09, 1987|TONI TAYLOR | Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles

Preparing carry-on bags and items for flights might take a little more thought after Jan. 1, 1988.

This is the deadline set by the Federal Aviation Administration to establish limits on the size and number of carry-on baggage.

Moreover, the carriers must institute a system that screens such carry-on bags before passengers are allowed to board planes.

Currently, passengers manage to get away with taking virtually anything they want as carry-on baggage--car tires, TV sets, computers, surfboards, even Christmas trees, plus many objects that can't be stored in the overhead bins or beneath seats. In some cases, objects also have been stored in galleys, lavatories and other areas.

The presence of such improperly stored objects long has been a sore point with the Assn. of Flight Attendants, which represents about 22,000 cabin personnel.

The association said these items create safety hazards by becoming dislodged in turbulence, injuring passengers and crew. Also, loose and large items could slow down evacuation of planes should time be a critical factor.

"We want the airlines to establish procedures now to enforce the FAA's rules that call for carry-on luggage to be put away properly," John Leyden, a FAA spokesman said. "The airlines have become lax in complying with this rule."

Latitude for Airlines

The airlines can set carry-on baggage limits according to the type of plane used. While the flight attendants' association had asked for a one-rule limit for all airlines, the FAA decided to give airlines latitude in this aspect, because different kinds of planes can offer varying amounts of storage. However, an FAA inspector will have to approve the limits for each type of plane.

As passengers face different limits for various planes, it may become prudent to ask what the airline's policy is for the type of plane they plan to fly, especially if they're planning more than the usual kind of carry-on luggage. This might save having to make some awkward decisions, one of which might even involve excess baggage charges.

Another possible problem area could involve interline flights, where two carriers might have different rules.

It's also conceivable for the same carrier to have separate rules for various flight segments.

For example, there might be one limit for a jet on a domestic flight and a more liberal limit on the airline's own larger jet flying internationally.

Airlines may also use a volume or dimension method to measure carry-on luggage. Some carriers might choose a piece system, with others opting for weight restrictions. Some carriers, particularly those with larger fleets and various types of planes, might use both systems.

The flight association was critical of the new regulation.

Screening Location

"It's difficult to have written a rule with more potential for confusion, unless the airlines take the high road and show some common sense in introducing a uniform system which can make flying more safe," Matthew Finucane, director of air safety for the association, said. "It's possible for FAA inspectors to approve different carry-on baggage limitations for identical aircraft operated by different airlines."

Under the FAA's new dictum, it's also each airline's responsibility to decide where this screening process takes place. Check-in and boarding areas may be logical candidates.

At least one plane door has to be kept open until a flight attendant has indicated that all carry-on baggage has been put away correctly.

"This is a good provision," Finucane said. "Previously, cabin attendants might only find out, after the plane had left the gate or later, that there wasn't adequate space for some items."

It's also up to the airlines, in composing their new rules, to decide how to handle any items that somehow slipped through the screening process.

"These items would be taken off the plane, but this could mean anything from a glance at to a measure," Finucane said. "The rule is very ambiguous."

Meanwhile, the flight attendants' association is still seeking to gain a uniform rule, although the FAA has not imposed one.

There is also a possibility that Congress might introduce a bill mandating a uniform system, Finucane said. "To stave off such a bill, the airlines might themselves create a more uniform system on their own."

The new rules also mandate that under-seat storage areas be outfitted with devices to stop bags from sliding forward or into the aisles.

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