This Is the Worst Spot on the Plane for Your Carry-On Bag

Don't make the process harder than it needs to be.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

Ever since most commercial airlines started charging a fee for checked baggage on domestic flights, the overhead compartments on planes have gotten increasingly crowded. Whether you want to avoid the extra cost of checking luggage or to skip the hassle of collecting your bags from the carousel when you’ve arrived at your destination, you may opt to only travel with a carry-on and personal item. While great in theory, it’s not always as easy in practice. The bins are crowded, people are trying to roll their overstuffed bags down a narrow aisle, and everyone’s trying to find their seats—it can get pretty chaotic. Fortunately, there are a few ways to make the whole process smoother, including avoiding the worst spots on the plane for a carry-on. That said, there are 12 times when it’s still smarter to check your luggage than carry it on.

Always store your carry-on in a bin above (or near) your seat

When you board a plane, finding a spot for your carry-on can be tricky—especially if you are sitting toward the back of the plane. Though it can be tempting to walk down and locate a spot a few aisles away from the overhead compartment of your seat for your carry-on, TikToker assures viewers that the proper airplane etiquette is to place your carry-on above your row.

“Airplane Etiquette 101: Don’t place your carryon in row 8 on your way to row 26,” the TikToker wrote in a video of him seated on a plane. If your flight is full, chances are you’ll end up storing it a few rows behind where you’re sitting—a big mistake. In the caption, adds, “And put your purse/jacket under your seat like you’re supposed to!”

And put your purse/jacket under your seat like youre supposed to! #travel #airlinetiktok #boarding

♬ Elevator Music – Bohoman

However, the video quickly sparked controversy. Some agreed with the creator, that it is a basic courtesy to store your carry-on above your row. But, others strongly disagreed. On particularly packed flights, some flyers are just thankful to find a spot for their luggage anywhere they can.

Why is anywhere not above your row the worst place on the plane to stash your luggage, then? When the flight has landed and it’s time to deplane, in order to get your carry-on, you must wait for everyone in front of you to get their bags and get off the plane before retrieving your own if it’s stored ahead of you. If it’s stored behind you, you have to push past passengers or wait for them to pass you to get your luggage behind you, all the while holding up the whole process. That’s why it’s much quicker to just grab your carry-on from within your row, if possible. It’s important to pay attention to what you’re packing; some carry-on items could literally save your life.

Gate-check your bag

Certain smaller planes were not designed with overhead bins that can fit regulation-size carry-on roller bags. In these cases, you’ll be asked to gate-check your bag, which involves handing it over to airline staff at the end of the jet bridge before you board, then picking it up in the same spot when you deplane. Even aircraft with full-size overhead compartments frequently run out of space, so if you’re boarding towards the end of the process, you may be asked to gate-check your bag.
If you’re on a normal-size plane yet don’t want to deal with bringing your bag on board, you can always offer to voluntarily gate-check your bag. Talk to the gate agent at the counter and they will be able to walk you through the process. Just be sure to ask whether your bag will be available planeside when you get off, or if you’ll have to pick it up at baggage claim. This can differ depending on the airline and aircraft involved, so it’s best to ask; it’s also an important question if you’re trying to avoid spending time at baggage claim.

Find baggage that fits under the seat

If you don’t need as much on your trip, you may want to consider buying a smaller piece of luggage; namely, one that fits under the seat in front of you. This way, you’re guaranteed to have a spot for it every time and don’t have to worry about the overhead bins.

Ask the flight staff for advice

If you’re not sure whether you want to deal with bringing your carry-on on board or not, ask the gate agent about how full the flight is going to be. If they say that you’ll have no problem finding a place to stow your luggage, then you can board with that peace of mind. If they caution you that it’s going to be fairly full, you can ask if gate-checking would be better. And if you do bring your carry-on with you but have trouble finding a spot for it in the overhead bin, flag down a flight attendant. They know all the tricks to fit as much up there as possible. Plus, if you spot some smaller items up there that you can fit under a seat, it’s easier to have the flight attendant ask the owners to move them, instead of having to make that possibly awkward request yourself. Just don’t ask them to put your bag up for you—that’s one of the 17 things you should never say to a flight attendant.

Elizabeth Yuko
Elizabeth is an award-winning journalist and bioethicist from New York City covering knowledge, culture, politics, history and lesser-known facts about holidays and traditions. In addition to Reader's Digest, she writes for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Architectural Digest, the Atlantic, Bloomberg CityLab, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Teen Vogue, the History Channel, Real Simple and Lifehacker.