Airlines don't like your carry-on bags. Too many of them can clog overhead bins and sometimes hurt people if bin doors fly open unexpectedly. Carry-on bags are known to injure about 4,500 people a year worldwide.
But airlines know you like carry-on bags--at least your own. Seasoned travelers realize that the difference between being able to walk off a plane with all your belongings and having to pick them up at baggage claim can amount to a half-hour of your life every time you take a trip.
A few airlines would like to enforce a one-carry-on-per-passenger rule. But the first one that did so would place itself at a disadvantage relative to the other carriers that allowed their patrons to carry two items (or more) on board.
Airlines do understand, however, how to impose an unpleasant burden on their passengers and avoid being blamed: Ask the government to make them do it. Airlines fault the Federal Aviation Administration for requiring photo ID before a passenger can board a plane, for instance, although the FAA swears such identification isn't required. (See "../9703/citings.html#2">Gonna Fly Now?," Citings, March 1997.)
Several airlines and the International Cabin Crew Association are lobbying national governments to pass uniform carry-on regulations. The ICCA wants a strict one-bag limit on all flights worldwide. American Airlines and two of its unions are lobbying for a two-bags-only rule even though American--and other airlines--already impose such limits on crowded flights. Consumer choice and competition make it tough for individual airlines to impose strict, unconditional carry-on rules, unless the government steps in. The ICCA acknowledges as much on its Web page (ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/ICCA_egham): "Because of the possible commercial impact it would have on any airline which tried alone to enforce" baggage limits, "no airline is prepared to take the step."