American’s A321s Are Getting Bigger Overhead Bins

On a vast majority of flights in the US nowadays you’ll hear an announcement in the gate area that they’re “expecting a completely full flight, and won’t be able to accommodate all carry-on bags.” Gate agents will often announce that they’re happy to gate check bags to your final destination as a courtesy, as if they’re doing you a favor.

In many ways this is a beast that US airlines have created. Since they’ve been charging for checked bags, it has become increasingly common for people to carry-on more and more, in order to avoid extra fees. With the introduction of basic economy, which doesn’t include a free carry-on for American and United passengers, the claim is that overhead bin crowding will be less of an issue. That certainly hasn’t been the case on any flights I’ve taken so far

The good news at least is that there has been some innovation when it comes to overhead bins. Several companies are producing larger overhead bins that allow passengers to stack bags differently to maximize capacity.

American Airlines has announced that they’ve chosen Airbus to provide cabin upgrades to their fleet of 202 Airbus A321 aircraft. As part of this retrofit, American’s A321s will be getting Airbus XL overhead bins, which supposedly provide a 40% increase in storage space for carry-on bags. This increased storage is because bags can be stacked sideways next to one another. This is the largest retrofit in Airbus’ history.


The Airbus XL overhead bins that American is getting

The head of Services by Airbus has the following to say about these retrofits:

“Thanks to this Airbus cabin retrofit, passengers on American Airlines’ A321s will be able to board faster and will enjoy an overall improved travel experience. This is exactly the type of added-value that our services can bring to airlines. This contract is a major step for Airbus into the US services market, and we are grateful to American Airlines for their trust in our expertise.”

The claim is that this will also cause American to standardize their seat counts and interiors across the A321 fleet, to provide a more consistent travel experience. However, it’s my understanding that American still won’t be adding power ports to their ex-US Airways A321s, which is a bloody shame.


American’s current Airbus narrowbody overhead bins

I’ve been on a fair number of flights lately with these larger overhead bins (including some recent flights on Delta A319s), though on every single one of those flights they still asked passengers to gate check bags. Why?

  • Passengers don’t realize these bins are different, so place bags in the same way they did before, which eliminates any benefit of these bins
  • Flight attendants at US carriers are trained not to help passengers with their bags in order to avoid injury, and as a result they don’t do much to help ensure the efficient use of overhead bins
  • Flight attendants at US carriers are so focused on closing the door on-time that they often don’t actually care if there’s still overhead bin space, as it’s easier for them to just tell people to gate check bags

I’ll be curious to see how much of a reduction we see in gate checked bags once American gets these new bins.

If you’ve been on flights with these larger overhead bins, did you notice a huge reduction in terms of the number of bags that needed to be gate checked?

Comments

  1. “In many ways this is a beast that US airlines have created.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m always struck by how much more orderly and civilized the boarding process is on (non-ULCC) flights in Europe and Asia, even on full flights using the same narrowbody aircraft as US carriers – people simply have far, far less carry-on luggage.

  2. “However, it’s my understanding that American still won’t be adding power ports to their ex-US Airways A321s”

    American is adding power ports to LUS A321s but the timeline is crazy, they do not project to complete until 2021.

  3. Also could add that gate agents couldn’t care less about what happens on-board the plane, so none of them use the sizers to enforce maximum carry-on size unless it’s egregiously large. Claims as to overhead bin capacity operates under the assumption that a carry-on does not exceed a certain size. Those claims are worthless when the gate agents let Mr. Important Business Person bring on a 28x18x20 roll-aboard.

  4. Squashing down the roof on top of passengers is never a good things. These airplanes are going to be even more claustophobic than ever 🙁

  5. Q. How hard would it take to “train” flight attendants to assist with baggage in the overheads?
    A. it does not matter because the airlines don’t give a crap abut passenger experience and the unions will find a way to make it impossible. The potential injury excuse is BS.

  6. Recently took a few flights in Peru, where checked baggage is free, and the overhead bins were half empty. Boarding was faster too, because people werent stopping in the aisle to try and fit a giant bag in a tiny space.

    Security was great too. Faster and less intrusive than Precheck, for all customers.

  7. A recent Alaska flight had a flight attendant hustling around organizing the bags in the space bins. But you’re right, other carriers will close a half full bin.

    The other thing American needs to do is deal with the boxes under every seat. Delta has seat back screens and manages to have only 1 smaller box. I often have to put my second item up because of the boxes — especially on the window side where the curve of wall takes up space, or in the row behind the bulkhead where the bulkhead seat’s IFE screens fold down into another box under the seat.

  8. The ex-US Airways A321s are very dumpy. And they still aren’t adding any IFE? And maybe, someday, adding power at every seat? Delta has IFE on all their A319s and A320s even.

  9. As a FA at AA, your comment that “flight attendants at US carriers are trained not to help passengers with their bags in order to avoid injury, and as a result they don’t do much to help ensure the efficient use of overhead bins” is misleading.

    We’re not “trained” to “not help.” We’re told not to lift passenger bags. That doesn’t mean we don’t move bags to accommodate other bags to make efficient use of overhead bins, we’re simply not going to lift passenger bags for them. If they need to be moved, we move them. If we’re concerned about injury, we ask the passenger to move it.

    To reader rjb’s (question and answer) comment, it’s not “because the airlines don’t give a crap abut passenger experience and the unions will find a way to make it impossible.” If a FA injures themselves lifting a bag (that a passenger has packed and brought on and incapable of lifting themselves) then guess what…? The FA won’t be working that flight (or the next flight). What happens then? If it’s a hub, probably no more than a delay while the airline calls a standby or reserve FA to replace them. If it’s an out station, a canceled flight. There are consequences to having an injured FA. You may think “the potential injury excuse is BS,” because you probably don’t care about the well being of the individual, but the picture is much bigger.

    “Flight attendants at US carriers are so focused on closing the door on-time that they often don’t actually care if there’s still overhead bin space, as it’s easier for them to just tell people to gate check bags”

    I don’t care about closing the door on-time. That’s not really up to me. I cannot give you one example of a coworker so concerned about closing the door on-time that would, or could have, resulted in them (or me) saying, “just check the bag, we need to close the door on-time.”

    More often than not, agents pre-emptively start checking bags. It’s seriously been a couple of years since I’ve had to call the agent to have them check bags because we’re out of overhead space. We’re usually sitting waiting for the door to be closed.

    Sure, we want to leave on-time, but it’s not like we’re threatened by not leaving on-time. Your comment incites this dramatic myth that simply doesn’t exist. Look, we want to leave on-time; by no means am I saying we don’t care about that. The reasons we care have nothing to do with this D-0 “policy.” I hear more about this D-0 stuff on these blogs then I ever do at work.

    I suppose in the end, why did this post have to end with negative “attacks”? Is it not a positive that they’re replacing them with larger bins? You couldn’t just leave it at that? I guess if you had, I wouldn’t have commented. We’re both no better off. :-/

  10. Lucky – May want to correct your story since they are adding power ports as Gary mentioned. Given that this is being done in conjunction with the standardized retrofit, I’m guessing they appear at the same time….

  11. Jason Z is right, that’s a 737 NG cabin (pre-Sky Interior).
    I still don’t get why Airbus doesn’t offer pivoting bins, like the ones in the 737 Sky Interior or the 3rd party ones installed on Delta A319. That just seems to be the most efficient solution space-wise.

  12. Gee, my LH experiences in Europe were unique but widespread, indicating a policy in place. I have used LH at least 30 times within europe and transatlantic. beginning in 2017 they assigned gate agents to harass passengers to gate check roll ons. I use the term harass because when I demonstrated that my roll on looks big but fits the size rules I was harassed, almost missed my flight and had the gate escalator turned off as I was stepping on.

  13. @DCA… each time I fly on AA, the aircraft has IFE but its via the free GoGo in flight app so one must have a phone and the app to watch. Tons of movies, tv shows, etc. No annoying tapping of the seat from the person behind you. And, no commercials- which is very nice (unlike those annoying Cathay Pacific flights).

  14. Checked bags def make boarding faster. B ig reason why Japan is so efficient. Hell, you don’t even have to look at Japan, a country known for its timeliness/efficiency. Garuda Indonesia boards A330 domestic flights 15 minutes before the scheduled departure even when the plane is on a remote stand, because they know they can get away with it.

  15. Is Lucky going to comment on the Flying Blue 50% points bonus before Dec. 31st? Good deal or Average deal?

  16. @Amar – on the contrary, we’re actually all better off for your post. As passengers, on any given day, we only know what we “see”. There are two sides to every story, and sometimes, that gets lost. Your post is concise and reminds us all that the things we see happen (or see not happening) are usually that way for a reason, which sometimes may not be apparent. For me, I’ve flown plenty of miles on AA and have both my share of complaints and compliments to the crews working my flights. I’ve seen what looks like FAs being unhelpful with bags. I’ve also seen FA’s bending over backwards trying to help passengers who, without necessarily intending to be, are being complete numptys with their luggage.

    At the end of the day, it is nice to hear the perspective from someone inside the industry. I appreciate your post.

  17. Flight Attendants, or no one else for that matter, should help with storing overhead bags. My philosophy is, if you can’t lift it then check it. Don’t try to save a checked bag fee, then struggle with lifting and storing a bag in the overhead bin and look around for assistance.

    And oh, for you folks in Boarding Zones 7,8, and 9…check your freaking bag! There is not going to be room in the overhead by the time you load. Even if you do hang out at the gate like gate lice blocking the way for everyone else, there is not going to be room in the overhead!

  18. I think it was a recent DL flight that had these bins and they had pictures to help people understand that the bags should go on their side (probably doesn’t work 100% but…anything helps) plus they had announcements to that effect. Either way these new bins are good and the more of them the better!

    @Amar I’ve also heard, and perhaps you can confirm/correct if wrong, that its not so much that you’re told not to lift the bags but also that given you have such instruction that any injury caused by lifting bags is “outside work scope” and thus not covered by work comp or something like that. is that true? Because I think many people think the FAs don’t want to help because they are “lazy” but don’t get that there are real legal implications for the FA if they are injured doing something outside their job requirements.

  19. Years ago when I was working on my Masters from Embry-Riddle, I discovered that statistics on how airlines handle baggage are almost trade secrets. This was the skeleton in the closet 40 years ago and it still is today.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if airlines were required to publish the number of bags carried (checked and carry-on), damaged, lost and revenue generated? Perhaps, they would then spend some time and money on cleaning up their dirty laundry.

  20. Thanks RTBones. 🙂

    Ryan, yeah, it’s not something that would be covered. Even if one could claim it, it wouldn’t be an easy road to go down. I’m sure the company is free from legal implications if we injure ourselves, but likely could face legal implications if one of their employees injures someone else in the process (i.e dropping bag on someone).

    I suppose everyone all around, passengers, FA’s, the company… damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    Safe travels!

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