Baggage Suggestion Leads To Some Carrying On

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A key lawmaker's suggestion to restrict airline passengers to one carry-on bag has sparked a debate among politicians, travelers, airlines and their employees.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said it may be time to crack down on carry-ons to allow airport screeners greater flexibility in searching bags for explosives.

Next month, as part of a Feb. 9 aviation hearing, Stevens plans to initiate further debate on the issue. At a hearing last month, Stevens said he was concerned that airport screeners are too busy processing and searching through carry-on bags at airport checkpoints and whether that slows the process of looking for explosives or other dangerous items.

"He's in the preliminary stages of looking at the issue," a Stevens spokesman said.

Other than suggesting passengers be limited to one carry-on, Stevens has not outlined what, if any, specifics he is proposing. So the key question for many travelers -- would purses and briefcases count as one carry-on bag? -- cannot yet be answered.

Those details will be mulled at next month's hearing. Stevens's opinions on carry-on bags surfaced last month during hearings on the Transportation Security Administration's plan to allow passengers to carry scissors and screwdrivers on flights.

"I'd be happier if you permitted passengers to only take one thing on," Stevens said at the time, according to a transcript of the hearing. "Some of those bags are occupying more space in a plane than I do."

It's not the first time strict carry-on limits have been broached. The move first surfaced in 1997 as airlines struggled with overstuffed overhead bins and looked for relief.

But now, in the wake of increased airport security because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Stevens says it may be time to revisit the airlines' policies.

Airlines allow two carry-ons per passenger, a limit that has been in place since 1987. But as carry-on bags have grown in size over the years, many industry observers have argued about revisiting the issue. Airlines have complained about the hassle of travelers searching for overhead bin space and delaying their flights. And flight attendants have complained about having to help passengers with large bags.

The Association of Flight Attendants has already issued their support of Stevens's idea. "We've always urged them to limit the amount of carry-ons," said Patricia Friend, president of flight attendant's union. "In our opinion, it's more important that the less bags security has to screen, the more attention they can pay to the ones they do screen."

But as Stevens and the flight attendants favor the idea, the airlines, fearing a backlash from business travelers, are less enthusiastic.

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