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Wheeled Airline Luggage Issues

Comments from Travel Insider Readers


Different people have different needs and different experiences, with different luggage.

Here are real world commentaries from Travel Insider readers, talking about their experiences with carry-on luggage.

Part 3 of a 3 part series - click for Parts  One  Two  Three



Travel Insider readers are savvy frequent fliers, and they know what they like and don't like with the luggage they carry.

Below, they share their thoughts and experiences with many different types of carry-on luggage.

Our shortest comment comes from Charlie, who is a La Jolla based CPA and so presumably has a careful understanding of cost and value issues :

Briggs & Riley is the best.

Although this is the shortest comment, it is a common feature in many other reader comments, too, with Briggs & Riley securing more favorable (and no unfavorable) mentions than any other brand.

For example, Kit in the San Diego area - who you might think works for Briggs & Riley, but actually works for a high tech company, writes

In my opinion, Briggs & Riley makes THE best luggage available. It comes with a lifetime guarantee 'Guaranteed for Life - Simple as That' and they DO stand behind their policy.

I have had their Baseline Companion Tote on Wheels in black for a couple of years now, and it is holding up really well.  I use it as a carry on for my computer, even though it is not a computer bag, and it has no dings, rips, or tears at all!

I bought their Baseline Carry-On Garment Bag on Wheels in 1996, and it has been to Japan, Guam, Europe, Hawaii and Alaska (three times each), as well as all over the continental US with me, primarily on Delta.  The only airline damage was inflicted by United, in Denver (that is no surprise!).  In 2001 alone I flew 178,000 air miles with it, and the bag is still going strong.  I've had the zipper repaired twice, at no cost and minimal inconvenience to me!  There is a repair shop here in San Diego that will fix an item and return it to me if I tell them I am only in town for a specified number of days.

In 1999, I added a Baseline 26" Upright Gear Bag .  Before I even had a chance to use it, my neighbor's cat snuck in an open door and sprayed the bag!  Needless to say, I was quite upset, but Briggs & Riley Customer Service worked with me to get the odor out (dried coffee beans absorbed the smell) and they offered to replace it if the odor would not come out!!  If that isn't customer service, I don't know what is.

Confirming Kit's experiences, Phil in Dover, NH writes

I think I can truly say I have tried every brand available from the cheap to the expensive.  They all seem to fail due to baggage handling abuse at one time or another.

I was introduced to Briggs & Riley about 5 years ago.  It is not an inexpensive brand, but it is not the most expensive brand either.  The thing they do that the other guys don't do... is fix it no matter what for ever.

I have sent my bags back for torn zippers, torn sides, broken handles, broken wheels... it just does not matter. I pay the freight back, they fix or replace it and they pay the return freight. It is that simple. When you have a problem, you call for an RMA and they provide it and the address of the nearest repair facility.

This will be the last luggage you will ever buy. It has been for me. I have 6 pieces, most of which I bought from their scratch and dent or discontinued selection. It works great and I know if the baggage gorilla attacks... I have no problems or paperwork to fill out. Just call Chuck and get my RMA number.  They have stood by the warranty on ALL occasions for me.

But not everyone has such positive experiences with warranties offered by other manufacturers.  Richard, a law professor in Hartford CT writes

I bought a Ricardo of Beverly Hills carryon because of their lifetime warranty. They exempt ordinary wear and tear from the warranty, which is understandable.

But it turns out that almost everything that can go wrong with a bag (wheels, handles, zippers) they view as ordinary wear and tear. And more dramatic problems, like rips in the bag itself, they assume were done by the airlines and so is not their fault.

Plenty of readers report problems with their bags.  Typical is this note from Dean

Purchased a Kenneth Cole Carry on size suitcase last year. So far every zipper pull has come off for the main compartment and top compartment. Since they break off, there is no way to replace. Have not been home long enough to contact retailer where I made purchase. I travel every week but have never encountered anything like this. Back to Atlantic where I have had excellent success.

And Leonard found even expensive attractive bags are not necessarily sufficiently robust.

I bought a beautiful carry-on wheelie in Florence, Italy, made from great black leather.  The price was $270.  Unfortunately, the extendible handle stopped working after 10 or 15 trips.  I suggest people be careful about the quality of things like handles and wheels.

Mauricio has mixed experiences with cheap luggage, but seems pleased with his two successes out of three tries, and writes

In my experience, expensive carry-on luggage has no advantage over the cheapest.

I've been using for several years a 22" carry-on that I bought at Sears for $30. It works fine, and has not broken anywhere. When I travel on business, I only carry my briefcase and this carry-on, both of which come along with me inside the airplane. I've done trips up to 6 weeks long with these two items.

I do not think that a Tumi or a Hartman (that cost well over $300) would have been any better.

Later on, I bought another two identical cheap carry-ons at Sears, one for my wife and the other for my daughter. My wife's is still fine, but my daughter over-loaded it and broke the zipper.

From Charles in Dartmouth

Regardless of brand, I've always considered warranty in buying luggage. A lifetime warranty is very useful when zippers and handles break several years out. LL Bean is particularly good at honoring warranties with little hassle to the customer, but I believe the quality on some of their luggage is not what it used to be.

On one occasion, I had them replace the heavy duty zipper in a duffle after several years of usage and with the luggage showing considerable wear (and perhaps a tear or two) and they charged me about $8 - not sure how they came up with that. To have the zipper replaced professionally locally (and in a durable manner) would have been about $50.

And from Doug, who has to own two pieces of Tumi luggage because one is so often being repaired :

Here's an important factor :  repair warranty.  Tumi, my favorite (and admittedly an expensive) luggage manufacturer will repair any damage from any cause for an unlimited time.  I travel a lot, with three pieces of Tumi, and I check a big one stuffed to weighing at least 70# (I don't mind paying the overweight fee on the rare occasions when I'm charged it; being an AA EXP helps).

I have two of these big Tumi suitbags because the weight subjects it to a lot of potential damage, so I have one to use while the other is being repaired.  The luggage store I patronize (Bretts, DBA tells me that there are only a few brands that could cope with the demands I put on my checked luggage (I own luggage from all of those brands).

And we'll give the last word on repair and reliability to John, a Sales Director on the East coast (although it seems he hasn't sampled the easy no hassle repair service offered by Briggs & Riley) :

I travel over 200K miles a year, mostly AP, EU and internal within NA. The carry on bag is the #1 most important thing I carry, along with my Briefcase (a whole other story could be written on what briefcase type works best, especially with all the tech gadgets we all now carry).

I have purchased the very high end brands (Tumi, etc) as well as the Wal-Mart specials. The high dollar name brands seem to get all the focus and are supposed to be guaranteed for life, but unless you have time to go to a store (assuming you remember where you bought it), find the receipt, etc, it is easier to buy a new one.

Also, since I travel every week, I can't wait 12 weeks for a bag to go back and be repaired. So, I now have 2 carry on, rolling bags - I think I got them both at a department store on sale and spent around $150 each. I will not spend $400+ for a carry on OR briefcase again, it just is not worth it. Too much crazy stuff happens when traveling and stuff wears out.

Various readers offered suggestions for luggage that has worked well for them.  Tim in Chicago writes

The carry-on suitcase I use, made by a company I endorse, is the " Switchback Modular 22 " by Eagle Creek. This bag is at the limits of carry-on (9x14x22) and has a daypack (a small backpack) that zips on & off the main bag. Also, this bag can convert into a backpack itself, and has a flap that covers the wheels (in order to protect your kidneys, as well as your clothes).

I use the daypack to store stuff that should never be in checked suitcases (such as medicine), so if I ever have to check the bag, all I have to do is pull the daypack out and check the rest of the bag.

I like the bag because I can get what I need for a trip packed into it. Another thing that makes it such a good buy is the lifetime warranty. The warranty covers just about anything that can happen to the bag outside of deliberate abuse. For instance, I bought my bag in January of 1998; in January of this year, I sent the bag back to Eagle Creek because the wheels were making a lot of noise (apparently, I wore them out). Eagle Creek replaced the wheels (and axle too, I believe) and sent it back to me. My only cost was the shipping cost to send the bag, and having to use another bag while mine was being repaired.

Another reason to consider this bag is that there are not too many of them out there, thus it is easy to pick your bag out of the crowd. It also comes in more colors than black and navy blue.

More enticing is some of the changes they have made over the years--lighter weight, a hand grip by the wheels for easier lifting, and more straps/places to store things.

Edwin, a Philadelphia surgeon writes

I think that a new bag from Atlantic deserves "special mention" for durability, convenience, and being the ONLY ONE I've ever seen with a CUPHOLDER!!! That's smart!

It's the Professional Expandable Carry-All Suiter which I got on eBags for $179 (including shipping).

Christian writes

To date, the best luggage I have bought is the Mobilizer NXT 22" Expandable Wheeled Upright .

I travel about 200k per year and this has held up the best. Travel Pro, No Names, etc fall apart.

Joe likes a product featured on well known travel writer Rick Steves' site :

The Rick Steves backpack w wheels and w/o wheels works well.

Loretta in Pennsylvania writes :

In my next wheeled carry-on, I will definitely check to see that the bag does not fall over on its face when full. I have seen models with an extending rack on the bottom for this purpose, but that is not practical when you just want to stand the piece independently for a moment.

I like a combination of soft- and hard-sided, checked luggage. We have 2 hard-sided, Samsonite cases that have all four wheels on the floor at all times. The case is slanted in design. My husband refers to them as R2D2, since they look like the character. They move easily & freely when pushed or pulled even when full with another bag strapped to them. Other than being difficult to get into & out of car trunks, they are great!

Peter in London also comments positively on Samsonite :

For at least two years I have used the tug along which has four wheels on the bottom with an extending handle,  It goes in the overhead locker in most aircraft from 737 upwards. The 4 wheels are especially good because you can both push and pull the unit, it's made by Samsonite, I assume that it is still in production but I rarely see them on the concourse.

The metal (2 prongs) beneath the handle (pull out type) could do with being beefed up a little as the metal warps a little.

(We review some Samsonite luggage pieces in our specific product reviews.)

Travel agent Brenda in Arkansas points out an advantage of having nondescript rather than ostentatious luggage

I have one "carry on" bag from Wal-Mart and a regular size back pack. The roll on has lasted for the last 12 years, looks a little the worse for wear but is still holding up. Probably would not look like a good bet for any thief.

Not everyone would agree with her - the nondescript luggage is more easily confused and you're less likely to spot a thief making away with your bag when it looks plain and ordinary like so many other bags.

From Andree

I have Hartman and Delsey luggage that have held up very well but the best thing I ever bought was a Sports Plus backpack made by Casual Gear Olympia for $14.99 at Tuesday Mornings.

It is a rolling carryon with a long retractable handle, a zipper expander and several pockets . It has pullout straps to use it as a backpack when hauling other luggage. The wheels are sturdy enough to have survived trips to Egypt, India and Turkey. Truly a great buy.

Hartman - a very expensive brand - attracted some skeptical comments by some readers who probably have no actual experience with the product, but reader Michael is a convert.  He says

I absolutely must recommend Hartman rollaboard bags.

I have a seven year old bag with the small wheels and a newer bag with the "skate" type wheels.

They are indestructible and the new ones with the skate wheels are super easy to roll around and they have just the right amount of "tilt" so they don't fall over if they are full.

For what its worth, they seem to be more water resistant, probably because the ballistic nylon is a tighter weave than the cheaper thin nylon on most bags.

Mark also likes his Hartman luggaage :

I own a Hartmann roll-on type bag I got 12 years ago as a gift (the pack-cloth type, not the tweed). They are undeniably expensive.

My bag has been to five continents, and 75 overseas trips in the ten years I can count in my passport stamps. When it gets mangled, as it does, I just take it back to a Hartmann retailer, and they send it off to be fixed, and give me a "loaner" bag while mine is in the shop.

Who can complain about that? I think they are about $450, but with torn up handles, broken zippers, rips and tears, I have probably gotten 3 cheaper bags worth of wear out of it. They are warranted for life. I expect I'll still be rolling this bag through airports for the next 25 years. My office staff teases me about my bag ("why don't you wash it?", to which my response is that I don't know anyone who takes their leisure time to wash their luggage.....) Besides, next time Hartmann takes it back for a repair, they tend to clean it up anyway.

From Matt in Harrisburg, PA

I have consistently used two lines and recently tried another on a suggestion by my ex-wife (flight attendant).

Travelpro has always worn and performed well and has lots of functional design built into them that others may not (i.e., the back zip pocket placed at a height above the height of an escalator step for when it's stuffed full!). However, some of the Travelpro less expensive, consumer line doesn't seem to hold up as well.

Travelpro's Vibe and Walkabout lines are their lower-end offerings. The other lines (Crew, Flight pro and Platinum) are higher end.  I did order a business case from them once, but returned it - the ballistic nylon case was heavier then the Samsonites and less functional.  That was a couple years ago though.

I've used Samsonite for my laptop/business case for many years, and they hold up well.

Recently purchased an Atlantic roll aboard and found it to be pretty good - very comparable to Travelpro (minus some functional design) and a bit cheaper also.

From Mayer, a security consultant in Calif :

I have been using luggage purchased at Costco. They have their Kirkland Signature brand on some good items.  I would be curious to know who makes it for them. Same with regard to the luggage sold by The Sharper Image.  I have had good success there as well, but I think their prices are too high now.

Candis, a real estate broker in MT, also comments on Costco luggage :

Our family of 5, very high elite travelers, uses the Costco brand of roller bags & briefcases, and the durability is better than any other brand we’ve suffered through over the years – the only complaint – the airline can still manage to misplace them WHENEVER I check them!!

(We review Costco luggage in our specific product reviews.)

From Suzanne, who is truly a rocket scientist :

I am not a business traveler, but do take trips several times a year.  I seldom check my luggage and go for the most lightweight with wheels for convenience.  I have been satisfied with the cheapest luggage I can find usually at local swap meets.  My current favorite is a large rolling duffle that I can squish into the overhead.  I also use a colored strap for visibility and just-in-case the zipper breaks, though it never has happened to me.

Ginny, a NZer now in Vancouver writes :

Tumi’s wheels are imbedded in the suitcase, thus ensuring they are stronger and more stable than many others. Same with their handles.

Love Tumi’s warranty. Anything that falls off is repaired – it seems forever.  No questions asked.  Great fabric too.

I am looking for a carryon wheeled piece of luggage (laptop, in flight necessities, books etc storage) that can be hooked onto their larger pieces, so I can wheel it through airports instead of lugging it over my shoulder plus carrying a handbag – every girls necessity!

Charles also comments about Tumi and has a helpful suggestion if you want Tumi quality without Tumi price and branding :

We switched from Tumi to its lower cost but better made subsidiary, Dakota, some years ago. Tumi's retractable handle cannot be easily operated with one hand, which is essential when boarding a plane or carrying other items.

We have been very satisfied with Dakota, and with Tumi's follow-up service on it when we have had to send it back to a factory repair shop for service of any kind.  Dakota is very well made and we travel a lot all over the world with it.  And it is about half the price of Tumi itself.  Other than the prestigious label, there is no reason to buy Tumi when you can get a better item made by Tumi for less.

John mentions a very different style of carry on (which we will be reviewing in our specific product reviews) :

Don't forget to look at Porter Case.

Traditionally manufacturers of tool cases for traveling technicians, they make a couple of hard sided carryons which have two features I've never seen elsewhere. The extension handle is on the opposite side of the wheels, giving another 6 inches or so of height, and an ingenious system lets the whole handle swivel 90 degrees, allowing the hard case to become a luggage carrier ( complete with binding strap ) for up to a couple of hundred pounds.

I bought a second one eight years or so against the sad day when mine might wear out or break, and the original is still going strong!  High quality and durability, along with the advantage of knowing that it will always fit in the overhead.

And Colleen suggests yet another brand :

I have used the Tutto carryons - the "suiter" and a smaller one for years. I fill them with clothes, papers and my lap-top. The great thing about the Tutto bags is that: they are incredibly lightweight, adding almost no weight to your things; and they are on four wheels, so you can manuver them easily, you don't have the weight of a two wheel pulling on your arm, and you can stack other heavy bags on top of them with no problem.

In almost ten years of use to travel at least once a week, and in the case of one I used as a briefcase, every day going to an office where I let it "roll" down a flight of stairs every day as I left, I had only one failed wheel (I lost a few handles when I forgot to take them off before checking them). My family also has the traditional two wheeled carryons that I purchased prior to getting my Tuttos and when the Tuttos are taken we use them so I have a firm basis for comparison.

The Tuttos are so much better than traditional carry-ons you wonder why more people don't have them. They are a little pricey, but I believe the biggest hindrance is they seem to market only through airline magazines. Anyway, I can't say enough good things about the product and I consider myself a very tough consumer.

Dale in Australia has had problems with luggage weight allowances :

I bought a hardshell carry on with the roller blade wheels and retractable handle ( I am sure you know the style), it is not too heavy, or so I thought.

The bag weighs about 6 kg ( just over 13lbs), and I use it to travel in Business Class ex Australia quite often... I once traveled economy with the family on a vacation to Fiji on Qantas and had to practically empty the bag contents and put them in my check in bag as they were being very strict on the weight limit... the main problem was I was carrying my laptop in it and this was making the bag too heavy...

So my best advice would be to recommend any one purchasing any carry on or check in baggage to really consider the weight of the bags before purchasing and to go for the lightest bags possible, otherwise they might end up like me and take a 3 parts empty carry on, especially when traveling in coach class.

Lastly, we end up where we started, with yet another reader testimonial about Briggs & Riley.  Guido writes

I travel an average of 1 transatlantic/transpacific flight per month and have tried various shapes, sizes, brands and materials for my (carry-on) luggage in the last 22 years.

For the last two years I am extremely satisfied with their 20" Upright Business Traveler.

The handle is longer than most handles I've seen, and an excellent means of attaching other loads on to :  I've hauled as much as a 60 lb garment bag AND my six year old son through a terminal!

In addition, I mark all my luggage with the bag tags you wrote about.

Read more in Parts 1 & 2

In Part 1 we explain what to consider when choosing carry-on luggage, including a discussion of cost, size and capacity.

In Part 2 we detail many other factors to consider when choosing carry-on luggage, including weight, wheels, and overall construction.


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Originally published 18 June 2004, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
List of Carry-on Bags Reviewed
Our Favorite Carry-on Bags
How to Choose a Carry-on Bag pt 1
How to choose a bag pt 2
Reader comments on their carry-on luggage experiences
Reviews pt 1 :  Briggs & Riley
Reviews pt 2 :  Heys USA
Reviews pt 3 :  High Sierra
Reviews pt 4 :  Samsonite
Reviews pt 5 :  Swany
Reviews pt 6 :  Travelpro
Reviews pt 7 :  Lower priced bags
Reviews pt 8 :  Unusual and specialty bags

See also

Series on larger checked bags - reviews, buyer guide, reader comments, etc

Other related topics

Domestic Airline Carry On Luggage Policies
International Airline Carry On Luggage Policies
Domestic Airline Checked Luggage Policies
Your Rights if your bags are delayed or lost
Luggage Locator review
Distinctive MyTag Luggage Tags
Luggage Transportation Services
Packing Tips


@ Work 20" Upright Business Traveler
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