Airplane overhead compartments. Home to luggage of all shapes and sizes, the odd coat or two, several duty-free bags, a fair bit of dust and… passengers?

Last week, a video was posted on TikTok appearing to depict a traveler on a Southwest Airlines flight peering out from inside an overhead locker. The clip quickly spread across social media, although the original TikTok seems to have since been deleted.

It’s not the first time a video like this has hit the internet. In 2019, a flight attendant – also on a Southwest flight – was captured on film poking their head out of an overhead compartment. At the time, the airline released a statement saying the crew member was enjoying “a brief moment of fun,” before confirming “this is not our normal procedure.”

A Southwest representative told CNN Travel the airline was also “aware” of last week’s locker incident and is currently “looking into it.”

Not a ‘certifiable place for passengers’

Given passengers are advised to stay in their seats for the duration of a plane journey – usually with their seatbelt fastened – it should go without saying that climbing into the overhead locker is a bad idea.

As British flight attendant Kris Major tells CNN Travel, the overhead bin is “not a certifiable place to be as a passenger.”

“If we encountered turbulence they could get hurt – if they got blown out they could really get hurt and they could also hurt someone underneath them,” says Major, adding that a passenger in an overhead bin also wouldn’t have access to an oxygen mask in the event of an emergency.

His words are echoed by Guido van Geenen, vice president of corporate communications for overhead bin supplier Diehl Aviation. Van Geenen tells CNN Travel that while the lockers are designed to accommodate “quite a lot of weight” that doesn’t mean they’re a safe place for passengers.

“Climbing in and out of an overhead bin may also be dangerous,” adds van Geenen.

In order to get into a locker, a person would have to clamber onto the back of the airplane seat, which could buckle under the weight.

Van Geenen also makes the important point that “bins do not have a way to open them from the inside” – meaning if you’re inside a locker and someone closes it from the outside “you have a problem.”

“All in all, we definitely do not recommend using the overhead bins for a nap,” says van Geenen. “They are designed to safely hold the passengers’ bags, but not made for a casual nap.”

Flight attendant’s perspective

Flight attendant Major’s witnessed a lot in his 25 years of flying, but he’s never actually seen a traveler inside the luggage bin.

“If I saw a passenger trying to climb into an overhead locker, it would take me a few seconds to believe that was what was happening in front of me,” he says.

That said, Major admits he has “seen photographs of crew in lockers” and suggests it’s the kind of thing that, while “pretty frowned upon” does happen from time to time when crew have the aircraft to themselves before boarding.

While there’s been a recent uptick in unruly passenger behavior on airplanes, Major says that if he encountered a passenger inside the locker, he wouldn’t automatically assume they were being deliberately disruptive.

His goal, first and foremost, would be to “just get them out” and ensure they were safe.

“It would depend on why they were up there as to my reaction,” says Major. “I would get them out, and then ascertain what was going on. I would assume that they were either under the influence of something, or mentally unwell.”

If a passenger spots another passenger inside an overhead locker, Major advises they notify a crew member, rather than intervene themselves – this same advice applies if passengers witness any untoward or unusual behavior on board.

“A passenger could inadvertently create a passenger disruption incident, because they could create conflict – whereas the crew are trained to de-escalate,” Major says.

Major also discourages passengers from filming and posting about an incident like this one. What might seem like a funny viral moment could have negative consequences, says Major, especially if the person in the video is already vulnerable.

Future of overhead lockers

While the airplane overhead locker is currently out of bounds for passengers, some as-yet-to-be-realized airplane cabin concepts reimagine this area as a space for travelers to stretch out and relax mid-flight.

Take Toyota Boshoku’s CLOUD CAPSULE concept, which envisages the area above the economy seat as an additional space for passengers to retreat to once the airplane reaches cruising altitude. In 2021, this design was nominated for a Crystal Cabin Award, a prestigious aviation design prize.

While this concept might seem futuristic, the idea of passengers making use of the overhead locker space has some precedent. Way back in the 1950s, travelers who flew with Pan American Airways across the Atlantic on the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser were able to sleep in overhead compartments mid-flight.

Major says flight attendants “always look out for future developments,” but he suggests crew are more focused on overhead lockers becoming bigger to accommodate more bags, rather than being adapted to accommodate passengers.

“Hand luggage is one of the biggest issues facing flight attendants,” says Major. “It causes problems if we can’t get all those bags away or if we can’t get passengers to put their bags away or if they’re bringing too much on…”

On most flights, overhead locker space is “at a premium” as Major puts it. Bins are so packed with travelers’ bags and belongings that the idea of a person squeezing in there too is laughable.

But Major is keen to stress that while the idea of someone climbing into the overhead locker might “seem funny,” it’s important to remember an airplane cabin is a very specific environment and safety restrictions are there for a reason.

“You’re barrelling through the sky at 35,000 feet – 500, 600 miles per hour,” he says. “You don’t want to create an issue on board the aircraft, it’s not the place to do it.”