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Once, I boarded a plane, went to my designated seat and tried to put my bag in the overhead bin. However, it was full, and other adjacent overhead bins were full too. Because I had a seat next to the emergency exit, which I paid for, I had to hand over my bag to someone else in order to take off.

Do I have any rights over the overhead bin above my seat? Could I ask the flight attendant to remove some of the bags to make room for me?

I cannot imagine that the bins were full because there was not enough space. I think this happened because some people were ignorant enough to bring more bags than is allowed inside the airplane instead of sending them to cargo. If this is the case why doesn't the airline enforce the bag limit inside the airplane?

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You have no right to the bin above your seat. For those exit rows where you cannot put anything beneath the seat in front of you, flight attendants will generally try to help find some space somewhere for at least your small personal item, but any passenger may be required to check their bags rather than put them in the overhead bin.

It is entirely possible that the airline didn't enforce the bag limit, but the overhead bins can easily fill up even when the limit is strictly enforced. If every passenger, or even most passengers, brings a regulation sized carry-on on a full flight, it is obvious that many of the bags will not fit in the bins and will have to be checked.

In some cases, overhead bins may be marked as reserved for first class or premium economy passengers (or safety equipment, or pillows and blankets). Even in such cases, cabin crew may fill these bins with other bags in an attempt to accommodate as many passengers as possible, and a late-boarding passenger may be caught out with no space.

It is hard to imagine that they are likely to remove and check someone's bag so you may have that space. Overhead bin space is typically first-come first served, and at some point, they will declare the bins full and start checking bags (sometimes even before the bins are actually full). Note that if your bag must be checked, you should ensure you remove any essential items (medication, passports, keys, etc...) and any valuables, along with any hazardous material that cannot be checked, namely spare (uninstalled) lithium batteries including external power packs.

Boarding as early as possible (which, on some airlines, could require frequent flyer status or paying an extra fee) will help secure you overhead bin space.

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    I have seen instances where small bags, purses, etc.. were removed from overhead bins and people were asked to put them under their seat instead, to make room for larger bags. I've never seen a large bag removed from the bin (except where it was so large the door couldn't be closed), though I don't doubt it has happened somewhere. Jun 11, 2016 at 19:41
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    I don't know how anybody manage to fit a bag under the seat. I have enough trouble getting my legs to fit even with no bags around.
    – kasperd
    Jun 11, 2016 at 19:50
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    @kasperd many people bring backpack-sized carry-ons and these would fit under the seat - but then there's really no room left for me to put my feet. Jun 12, 2016 at 15:59
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    @Martin It's happened to me. Apparently backpacks aren't allowed in the overhead bins on Sun Country Air. They took my large backpack and made me shove under the seat in front of me for some godawful reason. That was very uncomfortable Jun 12, 2016 at 16:30
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    Ouch, that sounds ridiculous. I would definitely complain to the airline if that happened to me. Jun 12, 2016 at 17:39
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Typically, the bins really are full because there is not enough space to fit everything if the plane is completely full and everybody uses their allowance to the fullest. Also, some overhead bins contain material for the safety procedure demonstration, etc. so you can't count on enough space being available right above your seat (and I have never heard of a number or anything that could be used to tie a bin to a passenger or a seat).

It can vary a bit but in my experience airlines do enforce their rules regarding cabin luggage. But they simply allow too much to guarantee that everything will fit comfortably in the overhead bins in a full plane. Airlines do this because they know that:

  • Some people will not use the allowance
  • Many flights won't be completely full
  • There is always the possibility to put some things away at the last minute

It happens somewhat frequently (especially with low-cost airlines) that I hear a call for volunteers to “gate-check“ their bags shortly before boarding because the staff knows that a given flight is full and problems are likely. That also means that the worse case is not having to use an overhead bin that's somewhat removed from your seat but having to part with your bag for the whole duration of the flight.

You can certainly ask a flight attendant for help but what they usually do is go looking/ask colleague for a free space, sometimes rearrange bags to make some room or, in the worse case, offer to put your bag in the cargo hold. I don't think they would simply remove a bag to find a space that's more convenient for you (and, while you might not care about it, that would mean another bag to place somewhere so it's not solving any problem as far as the whole plane and its crew are concerned).

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Do I have any right about the overhead bin above my sit? Could I ask the flight attendant to remove some of the bags to make room for me?

No, you do not. The overhead bins are not guaranteed to anyone. The flight attendant will try to accommodate you by placing your bags in any space overhead; or subject to there being no space, they may place them in another class (for example, they may place it in business class bins) or have it ground-checked.

In short, they will try to accommodate you but you are not entitled to any space overhead.

As mentioned by others, the only way to ensure that you get space above your seat is to board early, either by being first in line, or by paying for the privilege (by virtue of your frequent flier status) or some airlines may offer this as a pay option.

Further, even if you are the first one on board - the overhead bin may contain safety equipment (for example, it may have the props used for the in-flight safety demonstration), it may contain blankets/pillows (on some airlines, these bins are specifically marked) I have also seen an oxygen tank in there once; or you may find the bin above your seat is actually smaller than the other bins. This happens sometimes if you are in an exit row or seated above/behind a bulkhead.

In all these scenarios the staff will try to accommodate you - but please understand that your ticket does not entitle you (in any class of travel) to overhead bin space.

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Don't have much to say that hasn't already been said. I've been on some airlines where the bin above row 1 is reserved for passengers in row 1 and has a sign to say so. I've never been in an airline where the seat above the exit row has been so marked.

Not all airlines restrict you storing items under the seat in front if you're in the exit row. Airlines in the US have no such rule and you can store your bags under the seat in front on the other side of the emergency exit.

Some people prefer to store their bags in the bin opposite to their seat, especially since there have been many reports of in-flight theft from overhead bins. If you store it in the bin opposite you can see anyone opening the bin and whether they're interfering with your bag.

If I'm in an exit row, bulkhead or row 1 I always attempt to board as early as possible to forestall this problem.

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I don't think you have right to use the overhead bin.

The airlines have restrictions on dimensions of carry-on baggage and the checked ones. Whether they apply them stricly is up to them.

Once I was asked right before entering the plane to let my hand baggage be transported as checked one. They put random code on it and I've almost lost it - there was wrong name and wrong final destination.

As a prevention, I suggest to ensure that your baggage fits in checked baggage allowance and use as small hand baggage as possible.

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