Can You Call Dibs On Overhead Space On A Flight?

Can You Call Dibs On Overhead Space On A Flight?
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Earlier this week, we explained why you should never swap seats on a flight to make room for another passenger — but what about overhead space for their carry-on?

Our video producer, Joel, recently shared with me his (unique?) experience on a flight; according to him, during a dispute between two passengers, one flyer claimed that they were entitled to the overhead bin above their seat. And the other passenger, faced with this confusing scenario, willingly removed their bag to appease them.

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I have long subscribed to the idea that overhead baggage space, like online seating assignments, is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. If you board late, you’re shit out of luck and might be the one forced to check your carry-on at the gate. (This comes with the exception of airlines that restrict overhead baggage space by cabin class or don’t allow carry-ons for basic economy flights.)

Is it a dick move to place your bag above another passenger’s seat? When you’re the first to board⁠ — or if you see plenty of space ahead — then perhaps. By stashing your bag above the first row seats, you’re likely holding up the line when boarding. (You’d probably want your bag closer to you anyway for the sake of convenience.)

When passengers who sit upfront are forced to find another available space, they’ll also have to go against the flow of passengers to return to their seat, delaying the boarding process. But when space is limited and passengers are clamoring for a bin as Joel described—frankly, all bets are off and every available space is game.

So to our readers, we ask: Have you ever encountered someone who claimed the overhead bin above them? And what’s your take on carry-on bag etiquette?


  • I feel like you absolutely should have access to the storage space above you, within reasonable limits. I’ve been on a flight where I couldn’t put my single, small backpack into the overhead locker over my seat because the people in the adjacent seats had multiple items – two small “wheelie” cases, large backpacks, laptop bags and large handbags. Oh and a couple duty-free bags of booze.

    It’s an obnoxious thing that people do, bringing far more luggage than others and basically saying “screw everyone else”. To be honest, I think it’s the airlines fault for not putting their foot down and saying no. When you’ve got a person bringing literally four bags totalling probably 40kg and claiming it’s carry on there is something wrong with the check-in procedure. They should be restricting what can be brought on or making them check it so it goes in the hold instead.

    Anyway, my solution is to politely grab an attendant and point out the lack of space and ask for them to locate a space for my bag.

  • Actually, I must disagree with you.

    The number of times I see people with numerous carry on bags waiting by the line to jump in as soon as check in is called, or even stand in line and only stepping aside for first/business to board is absolutely ridiculous, and these people mean that the people who politely sit in chairs like civilised people end up getting gipped by those impatient, obnoxious, pushers, and then end up with nowhere to put their bags because the pushers obnoxiously put a suitcase beside a backpack/handbag rather than being considerate and putting their one suitcase in the locker and keeping their “personal” bag with them.

    First in best dressed is fine for seat allocations when checking in, but since internal flights technically only include one checked bag and may allow a small personal bag (which means a bag that will fit below the seat in front of you) specifically because of the limited onboard locker space, then passengers should also be limited to only putting that one checked bag in the locker and their personal bag in front of them.

    If passengers want to put any additional bag/s in the lockers, they should have pay for extra checked bag/s, then it’s on the airline to manage storage space and ensure there is room for all.

    I had a situation where I was hours early for a flight due to the transfer window (ie I was the first person at the gate) and sat down to read while I waited, then due to pushy people standing in the line even before the incoming flight landed, and then a large group coming at once from an international flight (each with multiple carry on bags) who jumped straight into the line as soon as they got there, by the time the called boarding, the line was already massive, and by the time I was able to get on the plan the lockers were so full that the hostess had to take my one suitcase (with my non-allergen triggering snacks and my medications that needed to be near me) to the front of the plane to put it in the Business lockers (as also happened to a few other people who’s only crime was that they weren’t impatient enough) – I was not late for the flight so should meet your “first in best dressed” argument, but lost out to pushy people that inconsiderately put multiple bags in the lockers, rather than there one allotted bag.

    I would argue that common sense and common decency should be the rule, rather than first in best dressed, and the rule of common sense and common decency would suggest that, if the allowance is one, plus a small personal bag, then you get to put one bag in the locker and the personal bag stays on your person (unless, of course, you are willing to pay extra for additional baggage, which would also translate to extra space in the lockers).

    Otherwise we need to implement what internal flights do in the US already do – if you turn up at the flight and have additional bags (or even one quite large bag), and it is a fully booked flight, then bags over a certain size are all compulsorily valet checked at the boarding gate (no additional charges, but you do have collect them from the carousel), and the obnoxious multi-bag pushers are in the same boat as everyone who just want to get to their seat and get back to their book.

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