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Fortunately, a move to shrink airline carry-on sizes was thwarted in 2015. Meanwhile, manufacturers rolled out better wheels, more-versatile hard-shell models and high-tech features.
Air travel can unravel quickly in plenty of ways. Fortunately, luggage manufacturers tweaked their products to make one part of your travel experience reliable. They introduced more hard-shell luggage that give a nod to the flexibility of soft-shell models through the addition of space-expanding features. Multiwheel, or spinner, bags now are the dominant style. Finally, high-tech features help travelers to keep track of and even weigh their luggage.
CARRY ON. Given the reality of checked-luggage fees, carry-on luggage is the choice for many travelers. However, International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is a trade group, threw the market into a tizzy in 2015.
IATA, which represents 260 airlines that handle 83 percent of all air routes, pushed guidelines for a standard carry-on size. The problem: It was for a size that was smaller than what U.S. airlines allowed.
The initiative suggested a maximum size for carry-on luggage to be 21-1/2-by-13-1/2-by-7-1/2 inches. That size aligns with many European airline dimension requirements, luggage manufacturers and retailers tell us. However, U.S. carriers allow carry-on luggage to be 22-by-14-by-9 inches in size. In other words, IATA’s new specs would force U.S. travelers to buy new carry-on luggage if they didn’t want to check their bags.
Fortunately, that scenario isn’t forthcoming. Each airline enforces its own carry-on regulations, and seven luggage manufacturers tell us that the smaller size recommendation won’t be enforced in the United States in the foreseeable future.
The manufacturers that we interviewed, and others, make carry-on luggage that fits international rules. Those typically cost the same as do the larger carry-on models, says Jerry Kallman of retailer Airline International. However, none of the manufacturers plan to discontinue their traditional 21- and 22-inch carry-on luggage for the foreseeable future. Mike Grueninger, who operates a large-group travel company, and other industry observers agree that manufacturers don’t have an incentive to discontinue these models, because consumers want the largest bag that they are allowed to carry on. Plus, retailers, with an eye toward sales, stock those sizes. No one with whom we spoke saw a scenario for manufacturers to discontinue larger carry-on sizes that they sell in the United States nor smaller sizes that they sell for overseas use.
“I don’t anticipate that the IATA recommendation will ever catch on in the U.S. market,” Kallman says.
That means that if you travel aboard U.S.-based airlines, no sweat. However, if you use an international carrier, you should check before your flight departure to avoid having to gate-check your larger U.S. luggage.
HARD FUNCTIONS. Hard-shell luggage now is widespread, and features that used to be rare now are common in these models. We found at least 25 luggage collections that have at least two convenience features. These include built-in cup holders, pull-out, easy-access exterior pockets, props for viewing a tablet computer, protection for a notebook computer and improved openings that help to keep your things from spilling out. You can expect to pay at least $130 for hard-shell carry-on luggage and $180 for hard-shell check-through luggage that are part of those collections.
For travelers who want to maximize their packing contents, two manufacturers will introduce expandable hard-shell models. Briggs & Riley will include its CX compression system in its Sympatico collection, which starts at $529 for a 21-inch carry-on, when it reaches stores in July 2016. The system allows you to expand packing capacity by 25 percent. You expand the luggage by pulling two interior handles and then compress it later by pushing down on the bag.
Meanwhile, Victorinox Swiss Army Travel Gear is expected to launch the Spectra 2.0 ($290) in June 2016. The manufacturer says the carry-on luggage expands by 47 percent when you unzip a zipper that travels around the bag. As with soft-shell luggage that have a similar feature, the Spectra 2.0 expands accordion-style.