Ski Panos, a Southwest customer service agent from El Paso, Texas, said baggage has long been an issue. But since so many more people began checking bags, she has seen planes load in less than 10 minutes. The airline has said that it turns around planes in an average of 25 minutes with about 15 used to load passengers.
"There's no stopping in the aisles," she said yesterday while traveling through BWI. "No fuss."
Flight attendants have been fighting for federal bag restrictions for years and the new rules have had the same effect, said Thom McDaniel, president of the Transport Workers Union that represents about 8,500 Southwest flight attendants.
"I think it's unfortunate why the rules had to be put in place, but it's made the lives of flight attendants a lot easier," said McDaniel, an attendant who commutes by air from Dallas to Houston for work each day. "We went to one carry-on and one personal item, and people were coming on with two roller bags and saying one was a personal item. It was too much."
Nearly full planes had been compounding the excessive baggage problem inside the cabin, experts say. The rules have shifted that burden from inside the plane to the belly of the plane, and that's good for the airlines.
If minutes are permanently lopped off boarding times, the airlines can schedule more efficiently. They can add flights and get more use out of planes and workers and push costs down.
The complexity of the schedules and the advanced booking prevent any fast changes to flights, but within a year, big changes could be made, said Kenneth Button, director of George Mason University's Transportation Policy, Operations and Logistics Center.
In the meantime, the stress that had been put on the system could be reduced.
"Airports were not designed for all this security, and airlines were never meant to have all these bags in the cabins," he said. "Sometimes I can't believe what people try and carry on."
So far, the airlines appear to be handling the shift in work. And flights into and out of the nation's airports already might be benefiting, according to early numbers collected by www.FlightStats.com, an online tracking service that gathers information from government, airline and airport sources.
At BWI, arriving flights were on time an average of 83 percent of the time in the 12 days after the new rules, compared with 77.5 percent in the 12 days before. Departing flights posted similar averages. On-time arrivals were up from 74 percent in all of July, 71 percent in all of June and 78 percent in all of August 2005.
Arrival rates also improved at 24 of the top 30 North American airports in the days after the rules, compared with rates in July.
Despite the improvements, passengers still are adjusting. Business travelers in particular have complained about baggage; many of them are loath to check their belongings because they can't afford to wait in more lines, said Henry H. Harteveldt, chief travel analyst for Forrester Research in San Francisco.
"We are absolutely seeing a change in airport culture," he said. "We are undoing a lot of the changes we've made over time. But travelers are resilient."
Members of the Krebs family from Norfolk, Va., say they are adjusting. They normally carry on at least two bags, but for their flight this week they were checking everything except a pink diaper bag for nearly 2-year-old Zoe. Her 10-year-old sister Rebecca also carried a pillow.
"It reduces the hassle of trying to figure out what's allowed," said David Krebs, their father, who was taking the kids and their mother, Natalie, to Montana for a vacation. "On the plus side, I'm sure the security lines will be shorter. And we won't have to wait on the plane for people to put all their stuff in the bins."
Others went along more grudgingly.
"I don't want to have to buy personal care products in every city, so I'll keep checking my bags even though I really don't want to and don't normally," said Scott Stuart, a Boston salesman and frequent flier passing through Baltimore. "This is huge for me."