Some strategies: be first on board, and this is where you might want to pay for the privilege. For example, for an extra 10 bucks, Southwest lets you cut in line, which may seem like a foolish expenditure since they already let you check two bags for free anyway, but if you want to be first in line for the cabs, it's the only way to go.
How else to get to the head of the line? Pennsylvanian businesswoman Karen Kinnane, a frequent international flier, says, "It does pay to be loyal to one airline." Indeed it does, especially if you fly enough to gain elite status which provides "first in line" boarding for free.
Not an elite flier? No problem: some passengers who fly the same route frequently know which sections of an aircraft board first and select their seat accordingly.
Others swear by sitting in the back of the plane; chances are, you'll board ahead of others but even if you don't, few want to stow carry-ons in bins past their seats since retrieving those bags would mean "swimming against the tide" of departing passengers. Atlanta's Steven Brown admits that there are disadvantages to this strategy ("Sometimes the smell from the lavatories can creep up the last few rows") but he finds "not having to fight for a spot in the bin" is worth it.
More good advice: don't dawdle or you could miss your boarding group altogether. As Manhattan journalist and traveler Kate Ashford puts it, "It's the stragglers who were off buying a sandwich who get stuck with no room for their rolling bag."
Make these strategies even easier on yourself by packing light; most airlines say you have to fit your stuff in a carry-on that's 45 linear inches (just add the width plus height plus depth of your bag). So maybe you'll have to wash a few things during your trip, big deal.
Don't want to pack that light? Frequent flier Keith Yearman says, "A coat with many pockets can be your best friend." Many pockets? Sure, stuff them with any and everything. That's not gaming the system, that's working it.
Of course, once the airlines start charging us for carry-ons, I'm going to have to come up with some brand new strategies.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.