Overhead bins on planes are getting bigger, and it's turning air travel into a less stressful experience for both passengers and crew

·7 min read
Boeing Space Bins
Boeing Space Bins Boeing
  • Aircraft overhead space has evolved with bigger bins, like Boeing's Space Bins and Airbus' Airspace XL Bins.

  • The bins offer twice as much room for passenger luggage, ensuring every traveler has a spot for their carry-on.

  • Larger bins alleviate the stress put on flight attendants when doing last-minute gate checks.

Finding overhead bin space has been a challenge for travelers, but Boeing and Airbus' larger bins have eased the stress.

Boeing Space Bins
Boeing Space Bins Boeing

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Historically, overhead bins filled up quickly because the volume of passengers outnumbered the amount of space offered for carry-on bags, causing problems for travelers and flight crews.

Luggage in conventional overhead bin
Luggage in conventional overhead bin robert paul van beets/Shutterstock

Source: The Wall Street Journal

To combat the issue, some passengers would stay loyal to an airline for the priority boarding perk, while others paid extra for early boarding to secure the coveted overhead bin space.

JetBlue Airways Airbus A220-300 Flight
Flying on a JetBlue Airways Airbus A220-300. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: The Wall Street Journal

While these options were viable, not everyone wanted to pay extra for bin space that was supposedly guaranteed with the ticket, and the false hope was a letdown for passengers who had to walk their bags to the front of the plane to get gate checked.

Passengers load luggage into overhead bins
Passengers load luggage into overhead bins NikomMaelao Production/Shutterstock

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Gate checking can be a major inconvenience for not only passengers but also the cabin crew. The process of moving and tagging a bag adds time to the boarding process, causing last-minute flight delays and stress for flight attendants.

Two flight attendants talk in a nearly empty cabin on a Delta Airlines flight
REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Moreover, stubborn passengers sometimes damaged baggage or the bins themselves by trying to smash their luggage into a bin that was already full, taking up more of the limited boarding time.

Flight attendant helps passengers stuff luggage into overhead bin
Flight attendant helps passengers stuff luggage into overhead bin lunopark/Shutterstock

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Things got worse when airlines started cramming more seats onto aircraft to increase capacity. For example, American Airlines' Boeing 737-800 aircraft went from 148 seats to 172 without adding extra bins or installing bigger ones, forcing passengers to compete for overhead space.

American Airlines traditional overhead bin space
American Airlines traditional overhead bin space American Airlines

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Then the problem was exacerbated when airlines like JetBlue started charging for checked bags, so more passengers were opting to bring a free carry-on, further adding to the overhead space crisis.

JetBlue Airways baggage
JetBlue passengers checking in luggage Chris O'Meara/AP

Source: The Wall Street Journal

In response to the issue, Boeing and Airbus engineered large overhead bins capable of fitting twice as many bags as earlier designs.

Airbus employees working on the Airspace XL bin
Airbus employees working on the Airspace XL bin Airbus

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Boeing's 60-inch Space Bins can hold 50% more luggage, including up to six standard-sized bags, which is two more than its Sky Interior pivot bins seen on many next-generation Boeing 737 aircraft.

Standard bin vs space bin
Standard bin vs space bin Boeing

Source: Boeing

According to Boeing, the Space Bins sit two inches lower in the cabin, which reduces headspace, but has a lower bin lip, allowing passengers to more easily see the back of the bin and making bag loading easier.

Boeing Space Bins
Boeing Space Bins Boeing

Source: Boeing

Moreover, the bins will quicken the boarding and turnaround processes and offer peace of mind for passengers worried about finding overhead bin space for their carry-on bags.

Boeing Space Bin
Boeing Space Bin Boeing

Source: Boeing

Boeing said its Space Bins are an option for airlines, but about half of its MAX aircraft have the larger bins installed.

Flying on American Airlines Boeing 737 Max.
American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: Boeing, The Wall Street Journal

Airbus came up with a similar design known as the Airspace XL bin that can carry eight bags vertically, which is 60% more capacity compared to current models.

Airbus Airspace XL bins
Airbus Airspace XL bins Airbus

Source: Airbus

The bin "emphasizes cabin spaciousness and stowability," according to Airbus.

Airbus Airspace XL bins
Airbus Airspace XL bins Airbus

Source: Airbus

Airlines like Alaska and American have welcomed Boeing and Airbus' overhead bin improvements, with Alaska debuting its Boeing Space Bins six years ago and now having them on 56% of its fleet. The company said that number will grow as more aircraft are delivered.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Alaska Airlines cabin Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: Airbus

Alaska also equipped its 79 Boeing 737-900ERs with Space Bins, increasing its luggage capacity from 134 to 199.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max Flight
Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft interior Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: The Wall Street Journal

"This was a tangible guest improvement," said Alaska's senior vice president of marketing and guest experience Sangita Woerner. "I think it was a game-changer when we launched it in terms of making it more seamless to board, the stress on the guests, the stress on the gate agents and flight attendants."

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max Flight
Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Meanwhile, American Airlines, which has big bins on two-thirds of its narrowbody aircraft, has fitted its 737 MAX 8 planes with Space Bins, which offer enough room for 178 bags. This is more than enough space for the 172 passengers the plane can carry.

Flying on American Airlines Boeing 737 Max.
American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: The Wall Street Journal

According to Boeing, the 737 MAX 8's standard overhead bin configuration was only capable of holding 118 bags. American says customer satisfaction on 737 aircraft with the bigger bins is 5% higher than aircraft with conventional bins.

Flying on American Airlines during pandemic
American Airlines conventional overhead bins on a Bombardier CRJ900 regional jet Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: The Wall Street Journal

American also has big bins on its Airbus fleet, having fit Airbus' Airspace XL on its A321 aircraft. According to the company, customer satisfaction on these aircraft is 8% higher than on planes without the XL bins.

American Airlines Airspace XL overhead bins on A321
American Airlines Airspace XL overhead bins on A321 Airbus

Source: The Wall Street Journal

"People are a bit anxious about getting your luggage in," said American chief customer office Alison Taylor. She explained that the big bins make getting carry-ons in and out a quicker and easier process. "It's actually played out even better than we thought," Taylor said.

American Airlines Airspace XL overhead bins on A321
American Airlines Airspace XL overhead bins on A321 Airbus

Source: The Wall Street Journal

American also said its high number of narrowbodies equipped with bigger bins have made it a preferred carrier for corporate customers.

American Airlines Airspace XL overhead bins on A321
American Airlines Airspace XL overhead bins on A321 Airbus

Source: The Wall Street Journal

"We know for a fact that we've gone from being non-preferred to preferred at a nice corporate account in the last two months because we have 66% [of the narrow-body fleet with big bins]," Taylor said. "It is that important to travelers."

Flying on American Airlines Boeing 737 Max.
American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 overhead bin Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: The Wall Street Journal

United is also jumping on the big bin trend, having said its order of 200 Boeing 737 MAX jets and 70 Airbus A321neos would come equipped with the larger bins.

United Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9
Flying on a United Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: The Wall Street Journal

While many major carriers see the benefit of bigger bins, some do not think they are necessary. Southwest Airlines has opted for conventional bins on its 737 aircraft because it already offers two free checked bags for all passengers.

Flying on Southwest Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Southwest Airlines during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Meanwhile, Spirit Airlines charges for carry-on bags, decreasing the amount of luggage brought on board. Moreover, it charges more for carry-on bags than it does for checked bags, which encourages people to check their luggage instead of carrying on.

Flying Spirit Airlines across the US - Spirit Airlines Flight 2021
Flying Spirit Airlines from Santa Ana, California to Newark, New Jersey. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: Spirit Airlines

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