The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Airlines could soon shrink the size of luggage you’re allowed to carry on

It’s a happy day for luggage manufacturers. The world’s major airlines could soon be changing their requirements for carry-on luggage, potentially forcing people to buy new bags.

Working with airlines and aircraft manufacturers including Boeing and Airbus, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association, unveiled a new best-size guideline on Tuesday for carry-on bags at 21.5 inches tall by 13.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches deep. That's 21 percent smaller than the size currently permitted by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

Eight major international airlines have already decided to adopt the new rules: Air China, Avianca, Azul, Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Emirates, Lufthansa and Qatar. "We’ll certainly be announcing more big carriers," said Chris Goater, a spokesman for the transport association.

Still, the guideline is non-binding, and carriers are free to ignore the suggestion or adjust it. Goater stressed that nobody should feel compelled to run out and buy new luggage today.

American Airlines has no immediate plans to change its baggage program, a spokesman said. Delta and United have yet to respond to requests for comment.

"Many airlines have existing baggage size suggestions for carry ons, and those are not affected by what we've announced today," Goater said.

The airlines are have begun working with luggage manufacturers to produce new bags meeting the dimensions that will be labeled “Cabin OK.”

The guideline is designed to allow every passenger to have room for their carry-on bags in a plane of at least 120 seats. Currently, 20 passengers have to check their bags because overhead compartments are full.

The idea is to set a standard size that consumers can be confident will be allowed on most major airlines. "If you've got a Cabin OK bag ... you can fit it in. And it'll be someone else's bag that has to go in the hold, not yours," Goater said.

“What we’re trying to do is take away that uncertainty from the 120th passenger in line – will I be able to bring my bag into the cabin?” said Perry Flint, another spokesman for IATA.

The new guideline is about half an inch shorter and narrower than many airlines allow. But the biggest change is that it is significantly shallower, by an inch and a half — meaning no more overstuffing your suitcase.

Here's why millions of fliers could soon be buying new carry-on bags. (Video: WUSA9)

Note: This post has been updated to include a response from American Airlines. The graphic has also been corrected to make clear that a trade group issued the recommendations, rather than the airlines themselves.