How Alaska Airlines is making more room in its overhead bins

 On the left, Alaska's old overhead bins. On the right, Alaska's new overhead bins. Photo: Boeing.

On the left, Alaska's old overhead bins. On the right, Alaska's new overhead bins. Photo: Boeing.

Do you have carry-on bag anxiety?

You know the feeling. You have a bag of legal size, but you know you'll be among the last to board. Will your bag fit? Or will an airline employee yank it from you at the last minute?

Boeing and Alaska Airlines believe they have solved the problem. Boeing recently unveiled what it calls a "space bin," and Alaska is the first customer. The new bins allow Alaska to carry 47 more standard-sized bags on each Boeing 737-900ER, an almost 50 percent increase in bags, according to the airline. Each bin stores six regular-size bags with wheels, up from four, Boeing says. The bins hang about two inches lower than traditional ones.

For now, Alaska is taking the bins on new deliveries, but the airline plans to retrofit some aircraft next year. By the end of 2017, Alaska says nearly half of its fleet will have the new bins. 

Why is Alaska doing this?

One reason is to make things easier on passengers. But there's another reason. It is a pain for Alaska to take bags from passengers and stick them in the luggage compartment. 

"The problem with airplanes today, on 737-800 with 150 people, we have maybe 120, 130 carry-on bags," COO Benito Minicucci told investment analysts last week. "There's at least 10 to 20 on every flight that don't fit. So we have a process to try and manage carry-on bags on every flight. They get lined up in the jet way, and they've got to get taken down downstairs."

First, Alaska needs to pay employees to lug bags. And that process can lead to later boarding, which can lead to late departures and is costly to the airline. "This is going to be a massive, massive help and help our operation," Miniucci said. 

Wall Street analysts generally do not care about your travel anxiety. Instead, they focus on profits. One analyst asked if the new bins would lead to less revenue for Alaska, since fewer passengers might pay for checked bags. But Alaska said it expects this will only help make the carry-on process more efficient and not take away revenue. 

"These were coming on anyway," chief commercial officer Andrew Harrison said of those bags. "It's just that [now we're] not having to take them downstairs.

If you fly more Airbus aircraft than Boeing, fear not. Airbus has developed a similar system, and Delta Air Lines in the launch customer. Look for Delta's new Airbus bins next year when the airline starts taking A321s. 

Not surprisingly, Airbus' version looks similar, as you can see below. You gain a lot of space when you make the bins big enough for bags to rest on their sides. 

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