As more travelers try to dodge costly checked bag fees, many are opting for carry-ons and putting pressure on airlines' limited overhead bin space.
Industry observers say the fight for overhead bin space has gotten more intense than ever on airlines that charge checked bag fees, and trying to find space for carry-ons can slow boarding considerably.
To adjust, airlines are now either retrofitting aircraft or purchasing new jets with larger bins to try to meet demand.
Others still, like low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, now charge for luggage stored in overhead bins in part to discourage travelers from bringing large bags on board.
In the roughly two years since Miramar-based Spirit has charged for carry-ons, the airline has successfully cut its boarding time by an average of more than six minutes.
Bin space availability also hasn't been an issue since the fee was introduced, Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said.
Fliers who buy carry-on space also benefit by boarding first and getting access to bin space directly above their seats, Spirit said.
American, Delta, Southwest and United, all of which operate flights to and from South Florida airports, are among the airlines adding extra bin space.
About 58 of Delta's Boeing 767-300 aircraft are getting larger bins that will enable the planes to accommodate 26 extra standard-size roller bags, a spokesman confirmed Friday. Delta's first new Boeing 737-900 also will have bigger bins when it debuts next year.
"We're investing $3 billion to improve our passenger experience, and the larger bins are a part of that investing," Delta spokesman Eric Torbenson said.
Some new planes in American's fleet, which are outfitted with the Boeing Sky Interior and are replacing MD-80 aircraft, can hold 48 more bags in their bins, according to the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline.
American already has about 175 of these Boeing 737-800s, including 76 older models that are also getting new overhead bins, spokesman Ed Martelle said Friday. Another 28 new 737s will be added this year.
"In both new and refit bins, the roller suitcases can go in wheels-first, which means more rollers per bin," Martelle said.
Airline and travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said the larger bins benefit both passengers and airlines.
For passengers, the larger bins mean a better chance for more people to store their carry-on luggage.
"This should lead to less stress and higher customer satisfaction," said Harteveldt, of Atmosphere Research Group.
For the airlines, the bigger bins can contribute to better on-time performance and may also help reduce flight attendants' stress, because fewer people may be scrambling for space to stow their belongings.
Southwest debuted it first Boeing 737-800 aircraft, dubbed Warrior One, at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on April 11 after a flight from Chicago-Midway International.
The plane sports Southwest's new "Evolve" sleek cabin design, featuring more seats and the Boeing Sky Interior.
"The addition of the 737-800 aircraft with the Boeing Sky Interior brings many enhancements to our in-cabin experience — one of which is more overhead bin space per customer," Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said.
The increased bin space is "a nice bonus as we improve our cabin experience with new and renovated aircraft interiors," Hawkins said.
The push for bigger overhead bins has some industry watchers questioning the move.
"It's good that airlines are making overhead bins larger, but people in the industry and consumers are wondering if this is just a Trojan horse," said George Hobica, of Airfarewatchdog.com. "Does this mean they'll start charging to recoup costs?"
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Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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