Not to get personal, but are you a cheater? Are you one of those passengers who heads to the gate with a clearly overstuffed or oversized carry-on bag, confident in the knowledge that an overwhelmed gate agent will simply take your bag and check it for free?
OK, so sometimes crime pays but not always, so don't count on this. Yet I know you want to avoid those bag fees, because they're just awful, aren't they?
Well, they are and they aren't. Let's be blunt: the airlines are in trouble, and much as we may hate it, they need those newly-raised bag fees to stay aloft -- fees that could bring in as much as $2 billion, this year alone.
Sure, some things drop in price -- maybe Apple's iPad? -- but don't hold out hope for bag fees. We'll just keep paying and paying.
Solution: don't check bags. And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, U.S. airlines are pretty liberal when it comes to carry-ons, certainly compared to some overseas carriers.
For instance, compare the home team's regulations with the draconian carry-on rules for Europe's Ryanair. Yes, Ryanair still allows you one carry-on bag but when they say one, they mean one. Laptop? That's one carry-on. So is a purse. And so is that fancy shopping bag from the Via Veneto. Show up with two items and Ryanair can stop you from boarding and refuse to give you a refund. Harsh.
Actually, things have gotten a little harsher on many airlines, because of that little matter of extra international security after the Underpants Bomber allegedly tried to take down a plane. Carry-on bags now get extra scrutiny and you may not be able to bring along as many extras as you used to (on United flights from Canada to the U.S., for example, you can still bring one carry-on bag plus a purse or laptop, but not both).
I think most of us can live with the extra scrutiny, I mean all of us still have to go through the same long security line, carry-ons or not, so what have you saved by checking a bag? Not time or money, that's for sure.
So a carry-on is still worth it except for one big hassle: bin space, or rather, the lack of it. But I have strategies to deal with that.
Remember when no one gave bin space a second thought? Remember when people didn't need carry-ons because no one cared if they were first out of the airport? Now it's a race that everyone wants to win.
But as times changed, overhead bin space didn't keep up. Yes, Boeing's Dreamliner does promise us oodles more room overhead, but it'll be used for international flights where bag fees aren't much of an issue. And American Airlines, for example, has been changing out its aging fleet of MD-80s with 737-800s featuring those spacious "Big Bins," but it's kind of slow going, as only a handful are being added each month.
In the meantime, more and more people are using the bin space as personal storage lockers, shoving in everything from laptops, lunch bags and anything else they can lug, leaving precious little room for the rest of us.