Left Holding the Bag

First it was the incredible shrinking plane. As 747 jumbo jets began to disappear, narrow-body planes took over. While the 747s also had the standard 3-4-3 seating layout, the seats were roomier and had legroom. The new crop of planes flying overseas seem to be precision designed for 14-year-old malnourished pygmies.

Then came fuel surcharges, which amazingly never seemed to disappear even after fuel costs came down.

Next in the continuing campaign to treat passengers like cargo in the supply management chain, came baggage limits. Two suitcases per passenger became one. Ostensibly, this policy reduced the weight and fuel use of planes. It definitely fattened the wallets of airlines cashing in with fees for fuel economies.

Now the other shoe has dropped. (Not to worry. You won’t need shoes anyway, since there’s no room for your legs and feet on the planes.)

Don’t look now, but your carry-on is too big. That’s right. You can give one of your kids th at new carry-on with the wheels you just bought for your next flight. It will make a nice bookbag. Odds are it won’t meet the new shrink regulations.

Global airlines announced Tuesday a new guideline that recommends shrinking carry-on bags, in an effort to free up space in packed overhead bins.

The guideline is not binding. That doesn’t mean it opens easily; it means they can waive the requirement at their discretion. Good luck.

Many existing bags currently in compliance with airline rules would not be given preferential treatment in the boarding process. What that means in plain English is that not only will you be hassled about the size of your carry-on, you can also expect chaos on the waiting lines while the ground crew tries to get the rules straight. Don’t worry about security, though. The TSA will continue to divest you of your water bottles and hand cream. Unless, of course, you manage to hide them in a carry-on packed with firearms and bombs. Those seem to get through without any problem.

Since nobody really knows what’s what, guidelines to be implemented are murky. You might be forced to (surprise!) pay a fee to check your bags.

So how did this happen? “Once again, the airlines find a way to make their problem the passenger’s problem — and an expensive problem at that,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and advisor. “The lack of overhead space is due to airlines cramming too many seats on planes and charging passengers to check their suitcases,” he said.

Just to add to the confusion, the new standards aren’t standardized yet.

Airlines around the globe have varying standards — different enough that a carry-on bag that is acceptable to one airline isn’t allowed in the cabin of another. The airline trade group says the new guideline will not necessarily replace each airline’s rules on bag size, but gives them a uniform measurement that “will help iron out inconsistencies.”

“Iron out consistencies” sounds ominously like the ancient Sodom Bed. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 109a) relates that in Sodom they had a special bed for guests. One size fit all. Was the guest too tall? No problem, they would cut him to fit the bed. Too short? They would stretch him to fit the bed.

Charlie Leocha, a consumer advocate and co-founder of Travelers United, said if enough airlines adopt these guidelines it will be great for travelers to at least know what size bag is acceptable on multiple airlines. But Leocha measured his own carry-on bag Tuesday — one that he has traveled with for more than a decade and never struggled to fit into an overhead bin. Surprise. He found out that it doesn’t comply with the new suggested size.

“Are the airlines in cahoots with the baggage manufactures? It just seems crazy,” he said.

And don’t trust labels on the bags or even store managers, who may not be up on the latest outrage. Many bags marketed as carry-on compliant actually aren’t.

It’s almost enough to make you miss Tower Air.

Known as a low-cost alternative to flying El Al, from 1983 to 2000, Tower attracted bargain-hunter passengers. It also served many who could not otherwise afford to fly to Israel.

Part of the charm, if you will, of flying Tower was the motley assortment of baggage, including corrugated cartons tied with rope. The image of the bedraggled travelers and their mosaic of pekelach led one wag to label Tower Air, “Ellis Airline.”

They just don’t carry on like that anymore.