On a recent inner-European flight that was almost or completely booked, many of the passengers brought the typical trolley suitcases that are increasingly used as hand luggage, presumably (based upon visual judgement) within allowable size limits as hand luggage1. The overhead compartments were completely filled, and I witnessed how cabin staff asked various of the passengers who were still looking for a space for their trolleys towards the end of the boarding phase to store their trolleys in front of their seats like this:

sketch of trolley between two plane seats

No other storage space was available at that point according to staff.

Needless to say, this removed most of the legroom the respective passengers had (depending on shoe size, maybe forcing them to invade their neighbour's legroom), made the part of the legroom below the seat in front of them inaccessible, and (probably most importantly) also made accessing the life vest impossible.

This made me wonder: At this stage of boarding, i.e. all passengers have left the terminal, most are in the cabin, or the doors have even already been closed - is there anything that can be done about hand-luggage for which no space is left?

Please note that I do not consider this a list question. I expect there to be either a very small set of options that would generally apply, or just the statement that it entirely depends on the airline, location, etc. (which would be a valuable answer in itself, too).

As a last detail, the plane was a smaller passenger plane, maybe an Airbus 319 or similar. Larger planes might offer more leeway for stowing away things.

1: Roughly like the ones shown in that other question.

EDIT: Seeing some of the answers/comments so far, please do note that I am not asking about the legality of the luggage storing solution that I observed. I am explicitly asking about realistic short-term alternatives when chances are you end up with your carry-on luggage, but without any cabin space for it.

  • @pnuts: True, although I do note that the cases that I watched were exclusively passengers on window seats, so at least the trolleys should not block anyone during an evacuation. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 20:12
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    @pnuts: Sure, but while the trolleys took more than 50% of the seat width, they were on the wall side and thus not in the way for the passengers sitting on those window seats during a hypothetical evacuation towards the aisle. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 20:25
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    @pnuts: No, although (due to symmetry) that might have been more comfortable for the respective passengers. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 20:28

3 Answers 3


Practically speaking, here is what I have seen happen:

  1. Pre-boarding; if the flight is full - people are asked to volunteer bags to be checked-in at the gate.

  2. Pre-boarding; if the flight is full - the gate agent will come around and simply tag people's luggage for gate checking.

  3. If the cabin is full - crew usually will fit luggage in a different class overhead space (if applicable, usually happens in larger aircraft, but I have seen this on a 737 where the business class rows had reserved overhead bin space). For example, if economy gets full, cabin crew will stow luggage in the business class overhead bins.

  4. If all overhead bins are full, and the luggage will not fit under the seat - then it must be stowed as per regulations before takeoff. I have seen on a very full (summertime) flight were after everyone was boarded there were still people standing around with their carry-ons and then the ground crew were brought on board to offload the luggage into the cargo hold. This caused a lovely 45 minute delay as all the bags had to be tagged.

I have honestly, never seen what you have described in the graphic above. Not only is this against the rules (luggage must fit completely under the seat in front, or the overhead bins - it cannot prevent egress in case of emergency evacuation); but "storing" luggage like that does not prevent it from flying around in case of turbulence - ignoring the fact that legroom is pretty much gone and you are going to get very comfortable with your seatmate.

I am actually quite surprised at this and curious to know more details on the airline (was it commercial or private charter?) and the duration of the flight.

I am not sure, but perhaps rules are different for private charter vs. commercial airlines.


I think you may have misinterpreted the situation or mis-judged the size of the other passengers items.

Stowing items under the seat in from of you is allowed and encouraged, so longs as it fits completely under the seat. Your legroom is not really a factor.

The only time this would not be permitted is if the item extend out so far as to block egress during an evacuation.

Regardless of the size of aircraft, there is no 'leeway'. The crew should verify all items are under the seat before the aircraft can move.

If there is indeed no room, any item you have that does not fit under the seat in front of you must be checked or you must deboard the aircraft with all of your belongings.

No airline will intentionally send gate checked baggage on another flight. They will offload cargo first, but, for clarity, that never happens.

  • Ok, ok. Who doesn't like me! Really, it's a sign of effectiveness. So, thanks!
    – DTRT
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 0:04
  • There is no under the seat storage for the emergency exit rows, is there?
    – pintxo
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 0:06
  • "Regardless of the size of aircraft, there is no 'leeway'." - by 'leeway', I meant additional internally accessible storage options that are not directly above or under the passenger seats, such as a storage area or internal access to the cargo hold. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 0:06
  • @O.R.Mapper While there are such compartments, they would not be used for passenger storage. Yes, a 777-300 has more closets than a A319, but these are often used by the crew and storage there would be up to them.
    – DTRT
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 0:12
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    @O.R.Mapper You are 100% correct. I choose to believe the crew acted in a professional manner and secured the cabin in compliance with the prevailing rules. I've seen them act over much less. What you describe is so egregious there must be some missing factor, that's all.
    – DTRT
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 0:17

If there is not enough space in the cabin it goes in the hold. If there is not enough space in the hold it goes on a later flight. (The latter is unlikely because other hold luggage may be removed as necessary to make space - "cabin luggage" will have priority.)

If in the seat wells the airline will be breaching regulations for which it can be in very serious trouble, so is not likely to resort to that solution at all often.

  • This is not correct. Any excess cabin baggage literally goes down the chute and into the hold. Other checked bags would never be offloaded to accommodate gate checked bags.
    – DTRT
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 0:26

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