Overhead Bin Rules to Follow to Avoid Being the Most Annoying Passenger on a Plane, According to Flight Attendants

It happened to me on a flight from Toronto to New York. With the short flight time, I was on a Delta Connection carrier (a.k.a. a very small plane). Entering the plane with my Beis duffel carry-on, I realized I was one of the last in my section to board. Scanning the rows where my seat was located, I quickly noticed there was no overhead baggage space available. So, I did what any seasoned traveler would do: I found the first available space in my cabin class, slid my bag in, and made my way two rows back to my seat. Or so I thought.

“Ma’am,” said the voice of a clearly already annoyed man behind me. “Where is your seat? Mine is here and that is my overhead space,” he said sternly enough to make me think twice about moving my luggage.

Our flight attendant quickly diffused the situation by offering to hold his briefcase in her closet, to which he accepted and my bag stayed happily in its place. However, this got me thinking — is everything I know about overhead bin space wrong? Should I have moved my luggage behind my row?

“The space above your seat is, for sure, not just yours. I have issues with people saying it’s their space all the time and I have to always tell them no assigned bin space,” said Herb, a Delta flight attendant who wishes to remain anonymous. He also explained that some overhead bins hold safety equipment and cannot be used for carry-on luggage, which would mean those passengers would have no overhead space at all.

Ann, an Alaska Air flight attendant who also wishes to stay anonymous, echoed this sentiment. “At Alaska, it’s all shared space within your cabin of service. So, technically you don’t have your own space. First class usually has their own shared space, while premium has the bins above the premium seats, which is in the front part of the main cabin. Main cabin seats are behind premium class, all the way to the back of the cabin,” she said.

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But the fight for bin space can be avoided if passengers are mindful of each other — and the limited space — from the start. Jim, another Delta flight attendant who prefers to remain anonymous, said that a little courtesy goes a long way when boarding and deplaning.

“The first thing to consider is you are not the only passenger. Some people don’t use any of the overhead space, but families, especially those with small children, usually need a lot,” he said, noting that his rule of thumb for finding space for his bag is to spot a row that’s already full that has room in the overhead bin above. He also emphasizes the fact that smaller bags should be placed underneath the seat, not overhead. “Be respectful of those passengers boarding after you,” he added.

But if your overhead space is already full, should you look for room in front of or behind your seat? Even for flight attendants, the answers vary. Jim said it’s best to place your carry-on behind your seat, and to wait for a break in the deplaning line to grab your belongings. However, Ann said her answer varies depending on what point of view she has that day.

“As a passenger, I’d look for room in front of my seat. This is mostly for ease of deplaning. With the single-aisle and forward flow of people getting off, it’s easier to grab on the way out, rather than head back to grab your bag. As a flight attendant, I would say find the spot closest to your seat. This way, passengers can keep an eye on their belongings from their seat. Whether it’s in front or behind varies in each situation,” she said.

Herb is also in favor of finding space in front of your seat, as it eases the flow of getting off the plane. “But if you do put it behind you, just wait until there’s a break in deplaning to try and get back. Don’t try and push past people — that’s just rude,” he said.

Like anything, there’s an exception to the rule, even when that rule is already loosely enforced. As the plane begins to fill up, luggage storage tends to get a bit trickier. Jim said that once the plane is almost boarded, finding an open spot is more important than where that spot may be.

“If I’m in the aisle boarding, I will often tell passengers sitting after row 30 to stow their bag in the first spot they see after row 20. I know how much passengers hate checking bags, so I will try to avoid doing that within reason,” he said.

However, one thing that’s a big no from all of the flight attendants is placing bags in the overhead of another class — especially if that class paid more for their seat. 

“Business class paid for their space; you paid for your class. Try to stick to it, unless there’s really no room. Personally, if there’s no more space in economy, I will stow your bag in the front before checking it. But the crew needs to do that to avoid passenger conflict,” said Jim.

Ann added that even though the bins are clearly marked by cabin, people don’t always pay attention and place their bags wherever they see the first available spot. Yes, even if the plane is not yet full. However, this doesn’t bode well for the passengers who paid extra for a bit of convenience. “People do sometimes put their bags up as soon as they can and walk all the way to the back — yes, it’s annoying. Most times, it takes up space for the first or premium cabin, and those in first and/or premium class need to place their bags further back. They do not like that,” she said.

At the end of the day, there are two major ways to avoid having to fight for overhead bin space: springing for a pricier ticket that allows you to board earlier or simply being on time for boarding.

“We let first class and Comfort board early so they get to put their stuff up first,” said Herb. “If you get on late, I can’t guarantee you’ll have a spot. We try to save space, but if I need more space to fit bags at the end, I will use it.” 

Overhead Bin Rules to Follow

  • Be respectful of other passengers.
  • Place smaller bags underneath the seat in front of you.
  • Do not place coats and blankets in the overhead bin until everyone has space.
  • Do not interrupt the flow of deplaning if your bag is behind you.
  • Place your luggage in the class in which your ticket is purchased.

Editor’s Note: Our flight attendants all asked not to be identified in the story. We identified them by changing their names.

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