From the front lines of the carry-on crisis: “I have been experiencing severe pain and dizziness for days”

By | October 26th, 2010

Next time you fly, look up. Before you open that overhead bin, think about Shari Altarache and the injuries she says she sustained on a recent flight.

Luggage falling out of overhead bins isn’t a new problem. Back in 2000, when I wrote this story, an average of 12 people a day were getting hurt from bags that dropped on them.

With the major domestic airlines now charging for the first checked bag — and some even adding fees for carry-on luggage — is it any wonder more people are trying to cram everything into the overhead space?

Or that more people are getting hurt?

The question is: How do you fix this carry-on crisis? I’ll get to the solution in just a minute. But first, let’s hear from Altarache, who was flying from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Phoenix last week on US Airways.

A man was trying to stuff a heavy piece of luggage in an overhead bin above my aisle seat. The luggage struck my head hard and I have been experiencing severe pain and dizziness for days. The paramedics met me at the Phoenix airport and told me that they are seeing a significant increase in the number of head injuries since the airlines started to charge for bags.

Besides the constant pain, I worry about whether US Air will reimburse me for the unpaid medical expenses. I have been told that it is not the fault of the airline, but the responsibilty lies with the passenger whose luggage hit my head. The problem now is that US Air will not release his name due to privacy issues. I may be stuck with footing the bill for an injury I did not cause.

This is still an open claim, so I haven’t gotten involved yet. I’ve asked Altarache to keep me posted.

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She continues,

It angers me that airlines can wash their hands of any responsibility when they are creating dangerous conditions by allowing too many passengers on with bags. There is just not enough space for carry on luggage, and people are definitely not abiding by the 30-pound limit nor are the airlines checking to see if the bags exceed weight limits. I am pretty sure that the gigantic bag that hit my head weighed closer to 50 pounds.

I feel that airlines should warn passengers sitting on the aisles of these hazards or at the very least equip them with safety helmets.

I can’t seem to get over my pain and lightheadness since this happened. Everything I see is so dizzying to me and seems surreal since the injury. The ironic thing is that my seat – 7D – was a “choice seat” that I had to pay an additional $15 for since I booked my travel last minute. Essentially, I had to pay a supplemental fee to get my head injured — I was even surprised that the flight attendants didn’t charge me for the bag of ice I needed for the flight to help with the injury.

How awful. Needless to say, Altarache should seek immediate medical care. Her injuries could be serious.

She should also pursue her claim through US Airways, and if it’s turned down, she should appeal to a higher level.

Falling luggage is becoming a real problem. But what’s the solution?

I can think of several. Airlines could expand the size of their overhead bins, or start charging for carry-ons, or more strictly enforce the carry-on limits by requiring every bag fit into a template.

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What do you think? In a survey of more than 600 readers taken this morning, you said … bring back the templates!

(Photo: M. Mstretta/Flickr Creative Commons)

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