The Petite Woman's Guide to Getting a Heavy Bag Into the Overhead Bin

In Depth

I’m 5’2”. Overhead bins often present a problem for me.

I do my best to avoid roll-aboard bags (I find that a soft-sided duffel offers more flexibility and ease), but if it’s a longer trip, I’m usually packing more and have no choice but to use a roller bag. Packing more means a heavier load — nothing major, but a challenge for an admitted weakling such as myself — and that’s where I start to struggle. Even if I can easily carry the bag up and down multiple flights of stairs, I tend to have difficulty lifting luggage high over my head and getting it into the overhead bin while standing on the tips of my toes.

I can hear the indignant critics now: If you can’t handle your own bag, you shouldn’t be carrying it. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, honey. These thoughts have crossed my mind, too. Really. But when you’re facing fees to check a bag — a bag that requires you to arrive earlier at the airport than you might otherwise, a bag for which you may have to wait at the luggage carousel for forty-five minutes, a bag that might not even arrive at your destination — it’s understandable to want to cram as much as possible into a carry-on just to avoid the potential miseries of checking luggage (so long as your carry-on is within the size limits; trying to slip through with a bag that is clearly too big is unforgivable).

But no matter how many weights I lift, my small stature makes it difficult to take a bag that’s on the heavier side — one which I can pull through the airport with zero problem, mind you — and hoist it a full arm’s length above my head. And why should a taller, stronger person get to pack more than I do? Fuck that privilege.

So, yes, a small person with less than impressive upper body strength may find herself in a position where it’s nearly impossible to lift a bag up into the overhead bin. She may dread the boarding process, the exasperation of fellow passengers as she holds up the boarding line while embarrassingly struggling to lift her goddamn bag.

There are two solutions. The first is to lift your bag slightly above your shoulders — which is maybe as far as you can get it anyhow — and lean the edge of it on the bottom of the overhead bin. Then duck your head down and place it beneath the bag so that you can lift the bag another foot by using the power of your head. This move will also allow you to reposition your arms into an overhead press position, at which point you can probably get the bag up into the bin (if you’re in flats, this might mean lifting up onto your toes). You will also hold up the line and look like an idiot and mess up your hair, but you’re emotionally strong and independent and you can handle it.

Far more preferable is to rely on the kindness of a stranger, hopefully someone who will swiftly and kindly intervene to lend you a hand. Someone who, just like you, wants to keep the process moving smoothly. Someone who won’t make you feel bad about your physical disadvantages. But people can be real assholes, particularly in airports, so you must take steps to ensure that a good-hearted, capable person is standing behind you in the boarding line.

Sure, you can ask for help. But it’s even better if help comes to you first.

You need to chose a mark. Lucky for you, people are insane and start lining up to board well before the gate agent gets started — this annoying herd behavior will work in your favor. Make your way over to your boarding group but don’t actually get in line (and I use “line” loosely here, since everyone after the first five people just stands around in a disorganized mass until they fall in place as they eventually shuffle forward). Scan the crowd and look for someone who looks like they will be helpful. This person may be a man or a woman but I’ve had the most success with youngish dudes over 5’8”, so long as they don’t look particularly slick or like a seasoned business traveler (these people are more likely to judge you and relish in watching you suffer).

Once you have identified this person, stand next to them. Not behind them, not literally in front of them — just kind of mill around next to them. When boarding begins and the crowd begins to move forward and organize itself into an actual line, slide in front of this person. Don’t cut. Be cool! Don’t start moving before anyone else does. Subtlety is key. All you need to do is casually take step or two forward, half a beat faster than your chosen mark. They will probably let you go ahead because they are polite and chill and can see that this boarding process matters more to you than it does them.

When the time comes to get your bag in the bin, start to lift it but do so a bit more slowly than the average traveler. Do this from the get-go, even though you might not really need to slow down until you start the major lifting portion. If you’ve selected wisely, your mark (who should now be standing directly behind you) will quickly move in to help the moment they see that you’re moving a tiny bit slower than the rest. The speed with which this good samaritan assists you will more than make up for the two seconds you lost trying to slowly lift your bag. Thank this person profusely and quickly take your seat.

Congratulations. You have successfully capitalized on human kindness. Now, no matter where your good samaritan ends up sitting, try not to recline your seat for the duration of the flight. It’s good karma.

Image via Shutterstock.

Flygirl is Jezebel’s new travel blog dedicated to adventures big and small, tips and tricks for navigation, and exploring the world at large. Have a story or an idea? We’re always taking submissions; email us with “Flygirl” AND your topic in the subject line. No pitches in the comments, please.

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