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Airlines Limiting Carry on Baggage

November 29, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ New restrictions aimed at reducing carry-on luggage could become an unwanted surprise for air travelers like Andrea Edelstein.

``I prefer to carry on my bags so they don’t get broken, lost, gone through or rained on,″ said Edelstein, flying out of Washington National Airport on Friday to a high school reunion in New Jersey. ``I’ve had all of them happen to me.″

Edelstein, clasping her two leather duffel bags and a dry-cleaned dress, said tighter limits would be unnecessary if passengers followed the rules in place.

But some airlines, acknowledging that customers often bend those rules, are taking action.

Last week, Northwest Airlines began permitting travelers just one carry-on bag plus a small addition such as a purse or laptop computer. On Monday, United Airlines will begin an experimental rule for flights out of Des Moines limiting low-fare passengers to one carry-on bag.

A recent American Airlines change requires attendants to determine the number of acceptable carry-ons for all flights by gauging the passenger load.

``It was so obvious that it was being abused,″ said Kathy Peach, a Northwest Airlines spokeswoman. ``People are pleased there is a little more structure.″

The airline’s new one-bag-plus policy makes concessions for certain customers, including those in business and first class.

Still more structure may come from guidelines being developed by the Federal Aviation Administration asking airlines to amend and clarify their carry-on policies. For example, airlines would have to outline how they would prevent luggage that cannot be stowed properly from getting into the cabin in the first place.

``We think it’s a behavior issue,″ said Kathy Creedy, an FAA spokeswoman. ``It’s one which the flight crew, the industry and passengers must work together to solve.″

Some airlines and flight attendant unions have been clamoring for regulators to take more direct measures.

``In general, we believe this should be done on an industrywide basis with an FAA regulation,″ said American Airlines spokesman Chris Chiames.

But the agency has shied away from that.

The holiday season is notorious for excess carry-on baggage as people lumber to gates toting wrapping paper, overflowing shopping bags and heavy winter coats.

``Sometimes you wonder how they got onto the plane with that stuff in the first place,″ said Kathy Cerstvik, a flight attendant for Continental Airlines.

Plenty of travelers have lost patience with overpacked fellow passengers angling for limited space.

``It’s just ridiculous,″ said Byron Biggs, a Washington businessman traveling to Houston on Friday. ``The bags with the wheels are the worst. If they had never invented those they wouldn’t have half the problems.″

Several weeks ago, the Association of Flight Attendants held an industry meeting to highlight dangers of carry-on luggage. Citing cases of falling computers and bags, the association estimated more than 4,000 passengers were injured last year.

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