Alaska Airlines Adds “Space Bins” And Increases Overhead Storage Space By 50%

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The advent of airline fees for checked luggage has seen demand for overhead bin space go through the roof. More and more people are bringing onboard whatever they can get away with to avoid paying the $20+/bag fees and and that often leaves overhead bins full long before the last passengers have boarded the aircraft.

So far, most airlines have shown little interest in doing anything about this issue (despite it costing them money in delayed departures) but it looks like Alaska Airlines is about to break that mould.

Over then next two years Alaska is scheduled to take delivery of 35 Boeing 737 aircraft which will all have a new overhead bin (the “Space Bin”) installed. The Space Bins are reported to stow six bags where the old bins could only stow four (based on the standard carry-on bag measuring 9″ x 14″ x 22″).

As well as the new planes that Alaska will be receiving over the next two years, the existing Alaska 737s with the sky interior will also be refitted with the new overhead bins (starting in 2016).

How Will The New Bins Fit More Bags?

As the 737 aircraft aren’t getting any bigger in length, the only way to increase the amount of overhead storage space has been by making the bins taller – and that has meant losing some room above each person’s seat. In total 2″ of headroom will be lost.

Boeing 737 Space BinsThe new Space Bins – Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines/Boeing

Alaska is selling the idea of less headroom by saying that lower bins will be easier for passengers to reach and will also make the air-conditioning controls easier to reach…..and I don’t have a problem with any of this. I already can’t stand up fully when I’m not in the aisle so 2″ less head room is neither here nor there to me.

When you take a look a the comparison between the existing overhead bins (left) and the new Space Bins (right) as mocked up by Boeing below…..

737-Space-BinsImage courtesy of Boeing

…you begin to see just how much of a difference this could make.

The screenshot below (taken from Boeing) shows just how much difference the new Space Bins can make (click to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 16.01.29

If those numbers turn out to be accurate then we can expect to see overhead bin capacity increased by over 50% on two of the 3 aircraft that will have the new bins (and the third aircraft type is only marginally further behind).

This Could Be A Game Changer

There was a time when the privilege of boarding first was nice but not entirely necessary because all it meant was that you’d be in your seat while everyone else slowly boarded the plane – personally I’d prefer more time in the lounge. But, with the way things have been going with the lack of overhead space, it’s been important to get on the aircraft as soon as boarding starts just to make sure that you have somewhere to stow your carry-on. Hopefully the new Space Bins will start to change all that.

It’s not just passengers that will benefit but the airlines too (I can’t see a modern airline fitting anything unless it has a positive effect for them first and foremost!)

Alask Airlines believes that the new Space Bins should “cut boarding times, improve on-time performance and require less intervention from flight attendants” all of which eventually feeds down to their bottom line. Could this actually be a win-win for everyone?

Unfortunately Boeing doesn’t have any plans to introduce the Space Bins on any aircraft other than the 737s with “sky interior” but that could change if the product becomes popular.

Other Airlines With Orders

Alaska Airlines is Boeing’s launch customer for the new Space Bin but a few other airlines have placed orders too:

Boeing Space Bin CustomersScreenshot from Boeing’s Website

With Delta and United already onboard it’s surprising (and for me, very disappointing) not to see American Airlines’ name up there on that list. Wikipedia claims that American is the largest operator of the 737-800 in North America and American themselves brag about their 737s:

We’re proud to fly the next generation of Boeing 737-800s; outfitted with cutting-edge technology and unprecedented design; like the new Boeing Sky Interior – a contemporary atmosphere with updated lighting that increases the feeling of space aboard the plane. You’ll also enjoy extra legroom in Main Cabin Extra, gate-to-gate in-seat entertainment and an array of enhanced food and drink options.

So why no announcement about the Space Bins?

I sent American Airlines a tweet to see what they’d say and this was the resulting, brief, conversation:

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 19.03.13

First, kudos to the @AmericanAir Twitter team for replying as quickly as they did, they’re definitely one of the better Airline/Hotel Twitter accounts out there.

Secondly, it looks like the answer was a simple “no” all along.

The fist link they sent was just a link to the American Airlines 737 page which makes no reference to overhead bins.

The second link they sent was a link to the American Airlines fleet renewal page which does actually make reference to overhead bins in the 737 section….

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 19.04.30 ….just not the overhead bins that I was talking about. The Space Bins don’t appear on any other aircraft type other than the 737 so the one’s referenced in American Airlines’ literature (which mentions the 787 Dreamliner) aren’t Space Bins.

So it would seem that American Airlines will be the only US legacy airline that doesn’t have the new Space Bins fitted, and that’s a shame. As the world’s largest airline and, if we can believe Wikipedia, the operator of the largest fleet of 737 aircraft in the US, I simply cannot understand why they wouldn’t fit the new overhead bins.

I’ve flown enough domestic American Airlines flights to know what a shambles boarding can be and I’ve seen how many people are forced to gate-check their carry-ons because they’ve run out of space onboard – so why not install overhead bins that could increase capacity by up to 50%?

We already know that none of the other airlines is installing the Space Bins for the fun of it…they fully expect to see a return on their investment in quicker boarding times and better on-time departures/arrivals. So why not American?