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The Travel Detective: Has Luggage Improved in the Past 40 Years?

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We recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of wheeled luggage and the Travel Detective takes a moment to share what works and what doesn’t with luggage on the market today.

We’ve recently celebrated another interesting anniversary: the 40th anniversary of wheeled luggage. Forty years ago a guy was lugging two large suitcases through the Aruba airport when he noticed a worker rolling machinery on a skid. That’s when he had an “ah ha” moment. Then in 1987, airline pilot Bob Plath designed a rectangular suitcase with a vertical back, two wheels, an extendable handle and that became the Rollaboard. Nowadays, I don’t know if there is a single bag sold without wheels.

You are going to travel with luggage, but what kind are you going to buy? Just because a bag has wheels doesn’t necessarily mean it’s portable. It may mean it’s transportable. Some people could put a dead moose on wheels and call it a Rollaboard, and they’ll try to get it in the overhead compartment. Remember, there are good wheels and bad wheels and durability matters.

Handles also matter. If a Rollaboard handle is not fastened properly to the bag, the handle is going to bend, break and then completely fall apart. You want a sturdy handle that’s not inside the bag but stitched on the outside the bag so it doesn’t take up all the interior space. When a quarter of the available of interior space is taken up by a handle then you’ve bought nothing but a handle that is going to fall over.

So if you are going to buy a bag, especially one that is relatively expensive where you have made a considerable investment, you’re going to want a bag that will last more than a month. You want a bag with a low center of gravity. If you buy a bag without a low center of gravity, you’re going to hurt yourself. You’re either going to trip on the bag or the bag is going to fall on you.

You also want a bag that can stand up on its own with the wheels.

And you want a bag that doesn’t weigh more than the stuff you’re putting in it. Leather luggage has limitations. It just weighs too much.

Last but not least, you want a bag with a warranty. Here’s the biggest scam going: Every bag says they have a warranty. Most of them call it a limited warranty and they’re not kidding. It’s limited to looking at the bag and realizing you have no warranty. You’ll see all sorts of caveats in warranty language about not being responsible if an airline damages your bag or not being not responsible for “wear and tear.” Somebody has to explain to me the meaning of the words “wear and tear.” Because if a bag tears, then something is wrong with the bag.

Some companies actually tell the truth with their warranty. I was recently pleasantly surprised by Briggs & Riley. They actually have a true lifetime warranty. I really destroy my bags because I fly so often. So the handle broke on my bag I sent it to them and it was fixed and back to me the next day. Now that’s a real warranty.

Has your luggage disappointed you? Sounds off in the comments.

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By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio

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