SEATTLE – Tired of battling your fellow travelers for overhead bin space for your carry-on bags? Help is on the way.
It will come in the form of new “Space Bins,” an option Boeing is adding to its best-selling 737 airplanes that will soon be flying on at least three U.S. airlines. The bins will increase carry-on capacity by up to 50%.
Alaska Airlines will be the world’s first airline to fly with the new bins, taking delivery of the inaugural Space Bin 737 on Friday at Boeing Field in Seattle. Delta will be next, taking its first Space Bin 737s in early 2016. United also is among the seven global airlines that already have committed to the bins.
Boeing’s new bin design comes as more travelers try to bring their bags onboard instead of paying checked-bag fees now in place at nearly every big airline in North America. That has led to a carry-on crunch inside the cabin, with overhead bins often filling to capacity even as passengers are still boarding the plane.
Boeing pledges its 737 Space Bins will help alleviate that crunch.
The roomier Space Bins – which the company is selling as an option for airlines buying its 737s – will accommodate six standard-size carry-on bags. That’s up from four on the standard bins currently offered on the jetmaker’s latest 737 models.
“We’ve had strong customer demand for a larger bin solution,” says Brent Walton, Boeing’s new features manager for 737 interiors.
He acknowledges the development of new bins was spurred largely by the uptick in fliers with carry-ons, something that has created headaches both for fliers and airlines. He says Boeing, and the carriers that have ordered the Space Bins, are confident they’ll be a problem-solver.
“It’s two-fold,” Walton says. “Passengers will have room to stow their carry-on when they get onboard. It’s less stressful.
“It also eliminates the need for the airlines to have to gate-check bags when the plane is too full. The airlines think it may help them reduce their workload and also lead to faster turn times.”
Alaska Airlines believes shifting to the Space Bins will have a dramatic impact on its flights.
On the carrier’s Boeing 737-900s – the largest model of the plane in the Alaska Airlines’ fleet – the Space Bins will allow the 181-seat jet to hold 174 bags. By comparison, the current bins on Alaska Airlines’ 737-900s have a capacity of just 117 bags.
“It’s a pretty impressive increase,” says Sangita Woerner, Vice President, Marketing at Alaska Airlines. “Virtually everyone can carry on a bag, which is fantastic.”
The 737 delivered to Alaska Airlines on Friday will begin flying paying passengers next month. With a combination of new aircraft deliveries and the retrofitting of 34 newer 737s already in its fleet, Alaska Airlines expects about half of its 150-plane fleet to have Space Bins by the end of 2017.
To come up with a workable design for its larger bins, Boeing says it had to trim about 2 inches between the bottom of the bins and passengers’ seats but found a group of test subjects didn’t mind losing headroom.
“The response has been positive,” Walton says. “If anything, for those passengers who aren’t quite as tall, it’s been a little bit of an improvement to reach the attendant call light, the reading light and the (nozzles) for air.”
Why bin space matters
Knowing there’s adequate room for carry-ons “reduces the stress and uncertainty associated with the flight,” says Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and founder of the Atmosphere Research Group. “It could make a customer feel more confident and comfortable booking a particular airline.”
And, he says, airlines flying with the Space Bins will be able to meet one of the top preferences of many fliers.
“People don’t want to check their bags,” Harteveldt says. “Especially the business traveler, because it saves valuable time when they get off the plane.”
Alaska Airlines’ Woerner says customer surveys and tests show “there’s a ton of anxiety about getting on that plane.”
“It’s less about priority boarding and getting on first. It’s more about, ‘Am I going to have space in that bin for my bag?’ ”
Only 737s for now
While passengers may be excited at the prospect of having more room for their bags, Boeing will only be offering the Space Bins on its new 737s with the “Boeing Sky Interior,” the company’s branding for the updated airy interiors it installs on its current-generation passenger planes. Airlines already flying 737s with that interior will have the option to retrofit those planes to include the Space Bins – something Alaska Airlines has said it would do.
For new 737s, Boeing is offering the extra-spacious bins as an option for airlines willing to pay more – though Boeing would not divulge how much more.
Southwest, the world’s largest operator of the 737, told USA TODAY it currently has no plans to add Space Bins to its existing 737 orders. It’s perhaps no coincidence, however, that the airline is the last major holdout to allow customers to check bags for free.
But Harteveldt predicts that if Boeing’s Space Bin concept proves popular, “we may see Boeing adapt it to its widebody aircraft.”
Harteveldt points out that Boeing has a long history of tailoring popular innovations from its newer planes for use on other aircraft in its manufacturing lineup.
“For example, the Boeing Sky Interior concept evolved from the cabin design of the 787 Dreamliner. The Space Bin is evolving out of that. So just because something starts in one type of airplane doesn’t mean it will never appear on another,” Harteveldt says.