RHONE: Has carry-on luggage always been this big of a headache?

AJC columnist discovers what will and won’t fit in the overhead bins
Crowds flood into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport during peak travel for the Fourth of July. Photo by John Spink / jspink@ajc.com

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

Crowds flood into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport during peak travel for the Fourth of July. Photo by John Spink / jspink@ajc.com

It’s summertime, and vacation season is ramping up.

This year, a record-breaking number of Americans traveled in the days before and after the Fourth of July — almost 71 million people, according to AAA projections. That’s not just more people than last year. It’s higher than the 2019, pre-pandemic July 4 holiday.

In the past, I’ve rarely traveled during the Fourth of July — too many people on the roads and in the skies. But I decided I’d take the plunge this summer and booked a flight for last weekend.

I’m a little rusty when it comes to plane travel during the holidays. The pandemic waylaid most of my vacation plans that extended beyond quick jaunts to the Midwest. It seems like I forgot everything.

It’s kind of funny now, but weeks before my departure, I began working on ways to reduce the hassles I might encounter. I felt like I was turning into my mother as I carefully mapped out my strategy.

I decided I would take MARTA to the airport rather than attempting to drive and park. I would use my Clear membership to reduce the time spent at the screening checkpoints.

But the biggest strain on my brain was my luggage: Did I want to carry on or check?

The idea of arriving at my destination, then waiting at the carousel for my bag to dump out felt like more of a hassle than lugging it with me. And frankly, I didn’t want to pay to check it. (Now I’m feeling a little less like my mother, who definitely would have paid to check her bag).

While most major airlines started charging a fee for checking in 2008 to boost their bottom lines, I had always managed to avoid this annoyance via a perk from my credit card company. But that perk has disappeared.

Given the cons of checking luggage, I came to a decision: I would carry on for the first time in a very long time. But this decision took me down a path I hadn’t fully anticipated.

I needed to figure out if I even had a 22x19x4 inch bag. Then I had to find another bag that was large enough to accommodate overflow from my carry-on but small enough to qualify as a personal item.

Then there was the issue of my personal-care products, most of which were in containers that would not fit into a quart-sized plastic bag.

I went on a desperate search for new products for my weeklong trip and discovered wondrous things I never knew existed, like solid shampoo and conditioner bars specifically designed for my hair type, and cleansing bars that remove makeup and also can be used as a hydrating face mask.

When did all these magical products come into being? Have I not been paying attention?

At Target, I grabbed solid sunscreen and body lotion in a stick. I ordered powdered toothpaste, which, by the way, tastes awful but gets the job done.

I reduced my makeup to one all-purpose stick, one eyeliner and a few lip pencils.

I did all this downsizing with the intent of packing these items deep in my suitcase and not having to remove them at the security checkpoint.

This packing for carry-on is a science. No wonder I always checked luggage.

I even took it a step further. I ditched my computer and carried a notebook and a pen to record my thoughts, so I wouldn’t have to wrangle with electronics.

I somehow convinced myself that doing all of this would put me in a better position to zip through the airport crowds and onto the aircraft.

Because, let’s be real. All these carry-ons, from all us people who don’t want to pay extra or end up with lost luggage, aren’t going to fit in the overhead bins.

Writing for The Atlantic, Ian Bogost explained: Airlines order overhead bins as stock equipment, which means they come in a few standard designs to hold four or six bags. But airlines custom design the seating so they can add more people, which means the space for luggage is often less than what is needed for the number of passengers.

Overhead bins won’t be getting any bigger, industry experts in Bogost’s report said, even though more people are carrying on their bags.

Bogost’s article was informative enough. But it made me a bit anxious.

Had I searched for solid versions of shampoo and dual-purpose products in vain?

Maybe I should have just checked my bag?


Before leaving, I added one last item to my carry on — a balm stick made with essential oils that promise to relieve stress.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.