BAGGAGE BROUHAHA

THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, concerned about passenger safety in turbulence, says the airlines must tighten up their enforcement of the carry- on baggage rules. These require that baggage carried aboard a commercial flight fit either under the passenger's seat or in an overhead bin.

Observing what every air traveler knows - that the rules are often honored only in the breach - the FAA has ordered each airline to submit a plan to limit carry-on baggage and thus, hopefully, to cut down on the abuses.The airlines don't like the idea because, they say, the FAA's proposal would require training a ground employee who would be required before each flight to certify that all baggage had been stowed properly.

This would mean delays and extra costs, say the airlines. It also would mean that some travelers would be inconvenienced, as their excess baggage was off-loaded to be transferred from the cabin to the baggage hold. One frequent flyer who would be so inconvenienced is the syndicated columnist William F. Buckley Jr.

Mr. Buckley said the new rules would prevent him from carrying his working tools - typewriter, computer, files, reading materials, etc. - with him in the aircraft cabin. Including essential personal items, Mr. Buckley said his carry-on baggage usually weighs 50 pounds.

What is needed are more trolleys to help him get his baggage from the plane to the connecting flight, he said in a recent column.

Certainly air travelers need a better way of transferring their carry-on baggage between connecting flights than the small trolleys that many persons find essential.

These are unsafe - the shock cord used to secure bags on them can come lose and cause serious injury - and only aggravate the problem insofar as they are one more additional item to maneuver along crowded aisles.

Given this much agreement with Mr. Buckley, we cannot help but feel that those travelers like him who somehow feel that they can single-handedl y revive the days of the steamer trunk owe their fellow-travelers more consideration. The airlines may not like what the FAA is doing, but no one - not even Mr. Buckley - denies that an excess of baggage under the seats and in the overhead bins can compromise air safety.

One solution would be to require, as some airlines already are doing, that all carry-on luggage fit into a measured container. This would assure that over-sized pieces would be carried as checked baggage. Another would be to limit bags to under the seat stowage and reserve overhead bins for overcoats, hats and other items of clothing.

The FAA's solution may not be the best, but at least it is a start.

Air travelers like the solipsistic Mr. Buckley need to be reminded that in conditions as crowded as they are aboard today's jet aircraft, space needs to be shared in as equitable a way as possible.

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