Existential carry-on crisis

My first flight was in 1960 from Raleigh to Kinston, NC on a Piedmont DC-3.  I was 12 and didn’t have much need for luggage, but I do remember that I had a modest carry-on flight bag given me by the airline (I think I still have it). I didn’t check anything, and the flight bag had a shoulder strap and no wheels (well, no bag had wheels then).  I was welcomed aboard and threw my little bundle in the open rack above my seat.

Piedmont DC-3

Fifty-four years and several thousand flights later, I still prefer not to check my luggage.  A lot of folks are like me in that regard, or at least it appears that way at the TSA screen and on board.  However, unlike me, almost every flier these days brings a roller bag to the airport.  I still prefer to lug mine on my shoulder, which makes me an anachronism.

It’s true, of course, that most of today’s carry-on takes the form of roller bags, some the first gen two-wheel jobbies, but, increasingly, the four-wheel version that pivots in any direction, like your bag on a pair of roller skates:

gucci four wheel diamante carry-on suitcase_2

That’s not me, though.  I never moved on to any type of luggage with wheels after my first flight, not even when some entrepreneur came out with folding luggage trolleys, the precursor to built-in wheels. Remember those?  They were all the rage before roller bags and cluttered up overhead bins even worse than the current all-in-one models:


So now the whole progression of carry-on luggage evolution is clear:

Larson wheel cartoonicon_arrow_right_green_clip_art_9471foldable-luggage-trolleyicon_arrow_right_green_clip_art_9471Tommy-Bahama-Retreat-II-21-Wheeled-Carry-On-Upright-P14980878icon_arrow_right_green_clip_art_9471Zero_Halliburton_Classic_Polycarbonate_Carry_On_4_Wheel_Spinner_Travel_Case_Silver_Main_1__32989.1397745956.1280.1280

Rolling luggage is fine and dandy; I’m not knocking it.  For reasons buried somewhere deep inside my genetic code, though, I still prefer to sling my bag’s strap over one shoulder while the other shoulder is bearing the considerable burden of my over-stuffed briefcase, which contains my big laptop.

Sure, I’ve tried a bunch of roller bags over the years.  For instance, Delta graciously awarded me a snooty, cutting edge Hartmann roller bag when I hit one of my five million mile marks with them, but it mainly sits in the dark of a closet, pining to be tossed into an overhead. Every time I take a roller bag somewhere I feel like, well, like everybody else, like I have somehow lost a part of my identity and individuality.  I always go back to my two tried-and-true pieces, pictured here:

20140624_090330-My existential luggage dilemma 1

One is a typical Hartmann suit bag designed, I’m guessing, in the late eighties (charcoal color) in those air travel Stone Age days before wheels were married up to luggage.  It appears to be made of some kind of rugged carpet–not very pretty, but it’s virtually indestructible.

The other (the blue one) is a very old and very durable Henley soft-sided canvas bag that will expand or contract to hold whatever is demanded.  Its durability is legendary, only topped by an Atlas leather bag (which I could never afford in my early years of consulting).

These are the ones I carry most often going anywhere, for work or pleasure (one or the other, of course, never both together).   People in TSA lines look at me funny because my luggage doesn’t look like theirs:

carryon at security line.jpg

The fact that I am physically carrying mine is a curiosity.  I get a few smirks.  I don’t care, but I have sometimes wondered why I alone am shouldering my bag in the writhing lines of rolling luggage snaking through security or crowding the boarding door.

Suddenly, though, maybe my carry-on strategy is the right one.  As the airlines seem poised to crack down on carry-on that doesn’t comply with their exact measurements of 22 x 14 x 9 (see my earlier post), they use the dreaded luggage cage to test potential offenders:

luggage cage.jpg

Most roller bags are either rigid or not very flexible.  They either fit or they don’t fit, and many just don’t fit.

My two shoulder bags, happily, are both supple and will squeeze down to fit perfectly in the cage.  The Hartmann bag is technically two inches too wide, but experience shows that it will compress nicely and without forcing it into the airline test devices.  The Henley is like a jellyfish and will fit itself into the shape of any airline cage.  It, too, is technically too big (high by one inch), but a little push when placing it into the bars will ensure it lines up at or below the rim.

Most roller bags can’t do that, and the new-fangled four-wheelers seem more rigid than ever.

Of course both my over-the-shoulder bags technically violate the standard 45″ linear limit, but there’s no need to be concerned about that. The airlines don’t have time to measure and calculate whether a bag exceeds 45 linear inches.  If it passes the cage test, it’s going on the plane as carry-on.

Because my bags are now uncommon and definitely not any type of roller bag, airline personnel seem more forgiving even if the top of one peaks over the edge of the cage or bulges a bit.  It’s like a free pass, almost an acknowledgement that anyone who still uses sheer body strength to defy gravity should be rewarded with some bin space on board.

Or so it seems to me.  Whatever is the reason, my bags have not been rejected yet.

5 thoughts on “Existential carry-on crisis

  1. You should check the Red Oxx bags – hidden padded shoulder pack straps, handy carry strap, handles top and side, easy to handle. Super durable – and when my Basenji dog took issue with my travel and chewed my bag, their “No Bull” warranty kicked in and I got a replacement within days.

  2. How have you avoided damage to your neck, back, shoulders and arms? After years of doing the same that you did plus carrying a bag on my shoulder for in-town errands, I had a day when I couldn’t pick up my arms .. at all. Great damage to neck discs. You have good genes or something! (Speaking of first flights: mine was in ’47 on a prop TWA from DAY to EWR. I was in arms.)

  3. I also have the Hartmann bag from Delta. You should set it free and use it. It is the most versatile bag I have ever used and has many little clever touches that just make travel easier. For example, the suiter insert zips from the top down. Makes getting the suit to fold wrinkle free so much easier.

  4. My first flight was also on a DC-3 – from Bakersfield, CA to LAX so I could go to Disneyland on opening day. As for the shoulder bag – I found that Air Boss by Red Oxx is an outstanding bag and comply with EU requirements…

  5. I had been concerned about carry on size and particularly since I read this article. Looking at the manufacturer’s website, my carry on bags did not comply with respect to the thickness (by about one inch). The thought was kind of depressing, to have to waste more money on bags. I went to the airport the other night and put my bag in the sizers for several of the top airlines and they fit with no problem. Not sure where the discrepancy is, but time to get out the measuring tape.

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