Will you need to buy new carry-on bags? No, IATA says.

Good news. You do not need to go out and buy this bag. Photo: IATA. 

Good news. You do not need to go out and buy this bag. Photo: IATA. 

The internet was buzzing earlier this week with news that airlines were planning to force passengers to buy new, smaller carry-on bags. 

This was the fault of IATA, a worldwide industry group, which on Tuesday made an odd announcement via press release. It suggested travelers would only be able to board aircraft if their bags had a "IATA Cabin OK" logo on them. That would require passengers to buy new bags.

Here's the initial release:

Miami – The International Air Transport Association (IATA), announced a new initiative to optimize the accommodation of carry-on bags given differing carry-on bag sizes and airline policies.

Working with airline members of IATA and aircraft manufacturers, an optimum size guideline for carry-on bags has been agreed that will make the best use of cabin storage space. A size of 55 x 35 x 20 cm (or 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches) means that theoretically everyone should have a chance to store their carry-on bags on board aircraft of 120 seats or larger.

An “IATA Cabin OK” logo to signify to airline staff that a bag meets the agreed size guidelines has been developed. A number of major international airlines have signaled their interest to join the initiative and will soon be introducing the guidelines into their operations.

As I said Thursday on the radio - KPCC in Los Angeles - IATA is like the United Nations. It has 260 member airlines, and it makes a lot of "recommendations." Often, these recommendations just sort of disappear. I never expected North American airlines to adopt this new bag policy. They know they have a problem, but they don't think this is the fix.

Today, journalists received a clarification press release from IATA. The group says the internet got the program all wrong.

"The Cabin OK guideline is not a maximum size limit," IATA said in the release. "The maximum size of cabin baggage is set individually by each airline. This is not affected by the Cabin OK initiative."

Next, IATA gave further clarification via bullet points:

  • Cabin OK is a guideline, not a standard
  • A Cabin OK does not replace airline maximum size limitations.
  • Cabin OK is an optimum size, not a maximum size .
  • Cabin OK will give passengers greater certainty that their carry-on bag will be accepted in the cabin.
  • On participating airlines, the Cabin OK logo will indicate to crew and ground staff that these bags should have a high priority to remain the cabin.
  • The Cabin OK initiative does not require passengers to buy new baggage. 
  • Cabin OK is not a revenue generating scheme for the airlines. 
  • Cabin OK is an identifier to crew and ground staff.