Delta Decries Smaller Carry-On Bag Standard - Which Is Then Withdrawn

Story has been updated to include Delta share price and IATA's withdrawal of the sizing initiative.


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Delta (DAL) said Tuesday it was unhappy with an airline industry trade group's effort to implement a smaller standard size for carry-on bags, and now the trade group has halted the effort.

The Geneva-based International Air Transport Association, which represents 258 carriers in 117 countries, said last week that it has initiated a program called "Cabin OK" to reduce bag size from the standard used by most U.S. carriers.

On Wednesday, IATA announced it was "halting the rollout "and beginning a comprehensive reassessment in light of concerns expressed, primarily in North America."

Perhaps the most significant opponent of the program was Delta, which declared in a press release Tuesday that it "has no plans to reduce the size allowance for carry-on bags.

"We are concerned IATA called for a change without input from airlines," Delta said. "Our focus and investment in the carry-on experience have been on installation of larger bins on domestic and international aircraft, and will continue to be on delivering the reliable bag service -- checked or carry-on --- that Delta customers have come to expect."

American (AAL) and United (UAL) both said Tuesday they have no plans to change the sizing standard, which is currently 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches.

The IATA proposal also prompted an outcry from some Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate.

IATA said Wednesday that  "interest in the Cabin OK program has been intense.

However, "while the value of this initiative has been welcomed by many, including a growing list of airlines expressing interest in the program, there has also been much confusion," the trade group said. "In North America particularly, there have been significant concerns raised in the media and by key stakeholders."

On June 9, IATA introduced the new guidelines  for carry-on bags -- stipulating 21.5 inches by 13.5 inches by 7.5 inches -- as it sought to address the ubiquitous problem of too little bin space to meet passenger demand.

IATA issued a clarification on June 12, saying its proposal had been "misunderstood in some reporting." If the size guideline were to be "fully embraced by passengers, everyone would have a chance to travel with their carry-on bags on board aircraft of 120 seats or larger even when the flight is full," IATA said.

The "Cabin OK" guideline is not a maximum size limit, IATA said. Rather, it involves a method for identifying approved bags so that select bags, identified with a Cabin OK logo, will be given "priority to stay on board the aircraft when all carry-on bags cannot be accommodated in the cabin.

"Cabin OK is not a revenue generating scheme for the airlines," IATA said. "For the vast majority of airlines, the current practice when all baggage complying with maximum size limits cannot fit into the cabin storage is to check this baggage in the aircraft hold free of charge. The Cabin OK initiative will not change this practice."

Nevertheless, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) on Monday introduced a bill to prevent U.S. airlines from adopting the smaller size standard. On Tuesday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sent a letter, co-signed by five other Democratic senators, to 10 major U.S. airlines, urging them not to reduce the current size standard.

If the carriers do reduce the standard, Menendez wrote, they should also eliminate fees for checked bags. Since 2008, airlines have collected $21 billion in bag fees, he said, noting, "These fees are not taxed and provide no new benefit to consumers -- in fact, the understandable decision of more travelers to rely on carry-on luggage often makes boarding a plane cumbersome and difficult."

In early afternoon trading on Wednesday, Delta shares were down one cent to $40.56. Most other airline share prices also showed minimal fluctuation.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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