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Would fees end 'out of control' carry-ons?

By A. Pawlowski, CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some hope Spirit's new fee will reduce the number of carry-on bags on board planes
  • Passengers have been bringing large and heavy bags with them to avoid checking luggage
  • Current carry-on situation is "out of control," veteran flight attendant says
  • Survey: 80 percent of flight attendants hurt over past year while dealing with carry-ons

(CNN) -- If George Clooney's character in "Up in the Air" had to fly Spirit Airlines, you have to wonder how the carry-on master would feel about having to pay a fee to bring his perfectly packed bag on board.

Like many air travelers, he clings to his luggage protectively and avoids handing it over at the ticket counter at all costs.

"Do you know how much time you lose by checking in?" he asks in the movie. "Thirty-five minutes a flight."

But for the average passenger, even more important than skipping the dreaded baggage carousel is the chance to avoid paying extra for checked bags -- a fee now charged by most major air carriers.

All of which explains the outrage that followed when Spirit, a Florida-based low-cost carrier, announced last week that it would start charging its customers $20 to $45 for items they place in the overhead bins. It's the first airline in the United States -- and perhaps the world -- to do so.

CNN.com readers left hundreds of passionate comments in response to the news. Many reacted angrily, vowing never to fly the airline and even calling for a boycott.

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But some posted messages of support and expressed hope the policy would reduce the number of people who bring overstuffed bags on board and "hog" the overhead space.

"I have watched the growing abuse by passengers who are taking ever-larger items into the cabin; turning to seated passengers to ask for help in lifting their leaden bags; blocking the aisles while they turn, twist, shove, and bang their oversize carry-ons into crowded bins," wrote one poster.

"I completely support these fees. In fact, they should be doubled! I am sick of all you people dragging half your house on board flights and delaying everyone that's boarding just so you can fit your refrigerator in the overhead bin. If you don't like it...DRIVE!" vented another.

Then there's the loud and colorful video that New Yorker Bob Thompson posted on YouTube in response to the Spirit carry-on fee in which he argues that people shouldn't fault the airline for coming up with the charge, but blame fellow travelers who don't follow the rules instead.

YouTube.com: Watch Bob Thompson's rant about carry-ons

No consistency

Beyond inconvenience, the growing number of heavy bags showing up on board is also a serious job safety issue for flight attendants.

More than 80 percent reported being hurt over the past year while dealing with items in overhead bins, according to a survey released last month by the Association of Flight Attendants. The most common injuries were strained and pulled muscles in the neck, arms and upper back.

Spirit's new fee could be effective in reducing the number of carry-ons and the industry will be watching closely to see what impact it has, said Rene Foss, a flight attendant for more than 25 years and the spokeswoman for the union.

"At this point, it seems like anything is worth a try, I guess, because it is out of control on board the aircraft," Foss said.

"Nobody wants to pay for checked luggage, so they bring it all on board the airplane and they're bringing bags that are bigger and heavier. Often times, the passenger is unable to actually lift their own bag over their head ... [and] they want the flight attendants to lift it."

Passengers are also at risk of being hurt. Half of the flight attendants in the survey reported seeing carry-on items falling from overhead bins. If the compartments are overloaded, they can pop open during takeoff, Foss said. She recalled working on a jumbo jet one time when she saw a bag with a duty-free bottle of liquor fall out and hit a passenger on the head, causing injury.

The Association of Flight Attendants is supporting a bill sponsored by Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Illinois, which would standardize the dimensions of carry-on baggage.

Currently, the airlines have varying policies, Foss said, and the luggage sizers at the gate that are supposed to weed out overstuffed bags often aren't used. The union has also launched EndCarryOnCrunch.org, a Web site where people can read about the issue and leave comments.

Tips for packing lighter

The possibility of other airlines following Spirit's lead has many travel experts looking at potential avoidance strategies and ways to pack more efficiently in general, some of which could be helpful for travelers now.

Here is a roundup of the advice:

• Pack a few clothes in your laptop bag, writes Tim Leffel on his Cheapest Destinations blog. Under Spirit's new policy, each passenger will still be able to bring one personal item that fits under a seat for free, such as a laptop computer, so the bag can give you a bit of room to maneuver.

• Downsize your contents by sucking the air out of your sweaters and T-shirts -- no kidding. Airfarewatchdog.com put small and medium size clothing into vacuum freezer bags and used a hand pump to suck out the air. It took just seconds and the testers were very happy with the results. "Suddenly your big pile of clothes can fit into a much smaller space. It's pretty amazing," wrote George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com.

• Don't bring anything and ship your stuff ahead instead if the distance isn't too big and the bag isn't too heavy. A mail drop with the U.S. Postal Service can be an attractive alternative to lugging your bag around, said Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor at Travelocity. For example, it would cost about $26 to send a 25-pound bag with the dimensions of a typical carry-on from Atlanta, Georgia, to Miami, Florida, via Priority Mail, which arrives in two days. The price drops to $17 if you can wait a few days longer.

Have you seen people going to the extreme with carry-ons? What are your tips for packing light? Let us know in the comment section below.