An inconvenient shrink: Continental's carry-on limit gets smaller...just in time for Thanksgiving

The tale of the scrimping airlines gets curiouser and curiouser. And shiftier and shiftier. Continental has announced that it will reduce the maximum size of its passengers' carry-on bags by a full six inches.

That's right. As of November 1, if you try to tote a bag measuring more than a total of 51 inches, by the rights the airline can turn you around and force you to pay to check it. The new rule says that domestic carry-ons can't measure more than 45 inches.

Gee, Continental, this stricter rule wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that as of October 7, you now charge $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second, would it? After all, there are lots of people whose bags fit in the overhead bin just fine today, but as of the Thanksgiving flight rush, could potentially be forced to shell out for them. You wouldn't be taking advantage of consumers, would you? You won't take these new rules as an opportunity for the extra-charge police to stop passengers with a poorly timed gotcha, right?

In fairness to Continental, which will replace all of its in-terminal measuring templates to enforce the new standard, the new size is pretty much what all the majors require. So it's not as if it's being unusually unfair, timing notwithstanding. The one big airline that's still generous with the dimensions, Southwest, perhaps not so ironically permits two checked bags for free. (U.S. Airways, which charges, still allows for 51-inch carry-ons, but then again, it also charges you $2 for a simple drink of water, so it's bleeding passengers in other ways.)

Let's not fool ourselves. The airlines are doing anything they can get away with to make more cash, including legally getting out of paying taxes through extra fees. It's pointless to keep complaining about that. But is it pointless to point out that we seem to be watching an airline needlessly alter its rules to railroad passengers into extra fees?

The fact that each carry-on's weight limit, 40 pounds, will stay exactly the same tells me that heaviness is not the issue here. At the same time, I have a hard time believing that those six inches are going to make any perceivable difference in the overhead compartments, particularly because they don't have to come from any specific side of the luggage. Passengers can just make their bags six inches shorter, not wider, and they could still potentially take up the same amount of space.

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