Watch Out for the Carry-On Cops

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And you think you've got the carry-on baggage blues.

When Charles Lindbergh set out from San Diego on the first part of his journey to solo across the Atlantic, he took a carry-on bag: a small suitcase, tied to the Spirit of St. Louis' fuselage (possibly the first case of "bag abuse"). But when Lindbergh left New York for Le Bourget, he ditched his bag (too heavy) in favor of a couple of turkey and bologna sandwiches and two bottles of water.

Times have changed. Or have they?

Yes, size still matters. Just as the Lone Eagle carried next to nothing to save fuel on his little plane, today's airlines are trying to do the same by forcing passengers to pack lightly so carry-ons adhere to airline size and weight regulations, unless passengers are willing to pay for the privilege of checking bulky bags.

This is the latest airline gambit to help them try to keep up with the crazy cost of fuel: hefty, fuel-eating baggage will cost you (and help defray fuel expenses). Translation: in addition to charging a fee for a first-checked bag (American, United and US Airways are or will soon be doing this), the airlines are also cracking down on people who try to bring oversized, overstuffed and overweight carry-ons into the cabin.

Of course, 100 years ago, when ocean liner travel reigned, size didn't matter. The wealthy would sometimes pack up the equivalent of a household in a vast array of steamer trunks. But in those days they might be traveling on visits that would last for months -- or even years.

Air travel changed all that, and the luggage changed with it, especially once business travelers caught on to the benefits of speedy trips (speedy but relatively expensive trips, which is why airlines sought to pamper them with their very own cabin class beginning in the late '70s). Road Warriors quickly figured out that if they were among the first to board in business class, they could be among the first to get out of the airport, if they carried their luggage into the cabin.

In 1972, another boon for business folks (and everyone else, really) came when Bernard Sadow got a patent for suitcases with wheels, forever ending the literal meaning of "carry-on," at least in regards to our roller bags (Sadow is what you might call a Renaissance man; according to The New York Times, he also invented the "electric toothpick").

In the next decade, another inventor came up with the retractable handle, and our wheely, pullable carry-alls were suddenly the hot bags (and no doubt contributed to the demise of the garment bag as the business person's bag of choice).

Meanwhile, we've seen overhead bin space get bigger. In the '90s, the "next generation" Boeing 737 boasted larger overhead bins while a reporter breathlessly noted that the small Embraer 170 twin-engine could "hold roller bags as long as 25 inches." The huge Airbus A380 claims "more overhead stowage," while Boeing says its Dreamliner has the "biggest bins in the industry" (now, if only it could deliver the planes).

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