Think You Own the Overhead Bin? Think Again!

Is it “bin abuse” when passengers use the overhead storage that is not near their seats?

We’re approaching the holiday-travel season, during which crowded flights and even more crowded overhead bins are part of the routine. Also to be expected when passengers bring a glut of stuff onto a plane: overhead-bin abuse. You’ve seen it before: the passenger who stows his carry-on in the first available bin space, and then proceeds to a seat dozens of rows away like it’s no big deal, like the entire plane is his personal glove compartment.

Is he wrong? Or, at the very least, is he discourteous? Is there an unspoken code that governs the proximity of one’s overhead bin to one’s seat?

Some people think so. “The bin above my row is full!” they sniffle. “Where am I supposed to put my bag?” Then a flight attendant is waved over and must rearrange bags or find a place for the forsaken luggage. A gate check may ensue, tragically. The bad guy wins and the film fades to black.

Here’s the truth: You’ll never see a flight attendant examine the names on the luggage tags and match them with nearby passengers. Why? Because anyone may stow his or her carry-on in any of the bins within his or her class on the plane. Although, according to some sources, flight attendants have been known to occasionally stop those passengers who deposit bags in the bins at the front as they board, there is no definitive rule that says flyers have first dibs on the bins above their assigned seats.

In fact, passengers are not technically entitled to any overhead-bin space at all—and especially not the overhead-bin space with proximity to their seats.

There is only so much bin room, and on full flights especially, someone is going to have to gate check his or her carry-on. Those are the facts. If you care enough, there’s an arsenal of preventative measures you can take to get your bag into the bin, from paying a small fee to board early to signing up for an airline credit card. Or you can hack the boarding groups by choosing a seat in the section of the plane that gets called first during general boarding. For example, many airlines use a back-to-front system, so when flying with those carriers, a seat near the back likely comes with better bin access. Adapt or perish!

Otherwise, priority passengers—frequent flyers, those who’ve paid to board early, families with children—and ticket holders in rows called before yours have every right, technically, to put their bags into the bin near your seat. In air travel, it’s survival of the fittest (and those traveling with offspring).

What’s your take? Do you think it’s rude when passengers use the overhead bins that are not above their assigned seats?

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By Caroline Costello

Caroline Costello's travel accomplishments include surviving a 2 a.m. whitewater rafting excursion in the Canadian wilderness, successfully biking from Dusseldorf to Cologne without a map, and gaining access to a covert pizza speakeasy in New Orleans.

Caroline is an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Her work has appeared on USA Today, the Boston Globe,,, ABC News, TODAY Travel, and, among other publications.

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