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Your Airline Carry-On Bag Size May Shrink

Justin Bachman | 6/25/2015, 11:50 a.m.

Charge airline passengers to check a suitcase and you can hear the overhead bins groaning with big, overstuffed carry-ons.

To lighten the load, which snarls boarding, the global airlines’ trade group will now encourage travelers to buy a new, smaller bag. At the close of its annual general meeting in Miami, the International Air Transport Association introduced an initiative to standardize the size of carry-on bags and smooth the boarding process.

The standard would be 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches or smaller, so that “theoretically everyone should have a chance to store their carry-on bags on board aircraft of 120 seats or larger,” the group said on Tuesday at the conclusion of its gathering. Bags of this size will come with a small logo: IATA Cabin OK.

The current maximum size for U.S. carriers is 22 x 14 x 9 for American, Delta, and United, and 24 x 16 x 10 for Southwest.

A dozen airlines, including Emirates, Lufthansa, and Qatar Airways, have signed on, Tom Windmuller, an IATA senior vice president, said in a video explaining the initiative. Another 30 to 40 airlines have expressed interest. “This is a program that’s designed to make things easier for everybody, first and foremost for the passenger,” he said.

Don’t look for any of the major U.S. airlines to sign on anytime soon. Melanie Hinton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. carriers' trade group, Airlines for America, was quick to note in an e-mail that the initiative “is NOT a requirement for the industry.” She said the bag dimensions cited by IATA “are NOT an industry standard, as making dimensions an industry standard would be anti-competitive.”