Forget knee room: On many planes the real prized real estate has become the overhead bin, with more and more travelers competing for the space in the years since free checked bags went the way of propeller-driven airliners.
The rush to claim the space has helped turning boarding systems into unruly crushes, and several airlines are taking distinctly different approaches to solving the problem.
United has made the most passenger-friendly move, pledging to install larger overheads, enough to guarantee each passenger one space. The new bins won't impinge on passenger space when closed, except possibly for a few very tall people trying to get up. On a 737-900, the new bins will add space for 65 more bags than now. Larger planes already mostly have the new bins; the last of the smaller planes should be equipped within two years.
Delta is also willing to guarantee bin space—if you're willing to pay a $59 annual subscription that's open to members of its Skymiles loyalty program. Skymiles Select guarantees Main Cabin Group 1 boarding, which gives a better shot at the space, even though Main Cabin 1 is in the middle of the boarding order.
And JetBlue has a third plan: For $5 you'll be able to check your carry-on when you check in. On the one hand, it leaves you hands free and is cheaper than checking a full-sized bag. On the other hand, at destination, you have to pick it up from the baggage claim. And, of course, you'll still need to carry something with you, since your laptop, battery, etc. can't be checked.