Shopping for Luggage

One of the fun things about moving to Greece is that we are desperately in need of new luggage. Most of our current motley assortment of luggage has traveled many thousands of miles, been sat on, spilled on, overstuffed, and bumped down countless flights of stairs and cobblestone streets.

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When we first moved to Italy in 2008, we had a total of fourteen bags of all sizes and descriptions. I vividly remember being at the airport, and dragging suitcase after suitcase over to be loaded on the conveyor belt. Miraculously, they didn’t charge us extra. Remember the good old days when it was actually kind of hard to pack enough stuff into even a large suitcase to go over the weight limit? Sure, it was hard on everybody’s backs, but you could take pretty much whatever you wanted on vacation.

My, how times have changed. Nowadays, with airline baggage regulations getting tighter all the time, every bag had better have the perfect dimensions down to the centimeter and the perfect weight, down to the gram.

Which led us on Saturday to drive down to the outlets on International Drive in Orlando armed with a tape measure and luggage dimensions for the two airlines we’ll be flying to Greece next March (Norwegian and Easyjet). I threw in the measurements for Ryanair as well, since I figured if our bags were kosher for Ryanair, they’d be kosher for any airline. Yes, the measurements for each airline are slightly different.

I reproduce the measurements here, on the off-chance that someone else might benefit from having them collected in one place. Measurements are in centimeters, since we are talking about flying European carriers.

EasyJet Cabin Luggage

Option 1: ONE piece of cabin baggage no bigger than 50 x 40 x 20cm including handles and wheels. Guaranteed to always travel with you in the cabin.

Option 2: ONE piece of cabin baggage within our maximum allowed size limitations, 56 x 45 x 25cm including handles and wheels. On some busy flights your bag may have to go into the hold, at no extra cost.

EasyJet Hold Luggage

Each individual item of hold luggage should not exceed total dimensions of 275cm (length + width + height), except for sporting and medical equipment.

Standard hold baggage allowance is 20kg per bag. Minimum of 1 hold bag per passenger is required to trigger the baggage allowance of 20kg.

Ryanair Cabin Luggage

One cabin bag weighing up to 10 kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, plus 1 small bag up to 35 x 20 x 20 cms may be carried per passenger*.

Ryanair Hold Luggage

15kg or 20 kg (different prices)

For health and safety reasons Ryanair does not accept for carriage any individual item exceeding 32 kilos or with combined dimensions of more than 81cms (height), 119cms (width) and 119cms (depth).

Norwegian Cabin Luggage

One item of hand baggage (max 10kg – 55x40x23cm) in addition to one small personal item onboard the aircraft. Your personal item (e.g. small handbag or laptop case) must fit comfortably under the seat in front of you.

NOTE: When travelling to/from Dubai, your hand baggage must not exceed 8kg in total weight.

Norwegian Hold Luggage

We accept individual items up to: length 250cm, height 79cm, width 112cm. The total circumference (L+H+W) must not exceed 300 cm. 20 kg weight limit.

To Spin or Not to Spin

Conveniently located in one parking lot were Ross, TJ Maxx, DD’s, and two luggage shops with very insistent salespeople and a distinctly Central American vibe. We started out with Ross, and were immediately confronted with our first choice: spinner wheels or not. If you have bought luggage during the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that spinner wheels are all the rage.

I don’t know who came up with the term “spinner wheels” (it gives at least me a mental picture of someone spinning madly around the airport with a suitcase as counter-balance–probably due to the fact that I have children to whom that activity would occur). All wheels spin, of course, but these wheels spin horizontally as well as vertically. They distribute the weight of the bag evenly even when you’re moving with them, and you can easily move the bags along in any direction without tipping them. I can see how this would definitely be useful when turning corners or inching along in a passport line.

However, there are also some equally obvious disadvantages. First many of the wheels we looked at were pitifully small and flimsy-looking. The idea of them bumping along on cobblestone streets or unpaved roads (both, unfortunately, places I have taken rolling bags) did not inspire confidence. Sturdiness is a serious criterion for me when it comes to luggage, and we generally opt for large, solid-looking wheels.

Second, and possibly more important, spinner wheels have the distinct disadvantage of making your bag taller without increasing the space inside it. Here, for example, are two bags that both fit within all the above airlines’ measurements for carry-on bags.

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You can see right off that the bag on the left would give you at least 25% more space.

A Note about Dimensions and Weight

Extra space is especially important for carry-on luggage, since most airlines (Ryanair excluded) won’t actually weigh your carry-on bag, even if they do have a posted weight limit. In fact, one of Easyjet’s major marketing ploys is that they have no weight limit for carry-on bags. This is both an obvious jab at Ryanair and a practical advantage for the majority of their customers, who travel without checked-in baggage. You’ll notice that Easyjet also gives another nod to baggage planning by having a smaller dimension that is guaranteed to always travel in the cabin, and a larger carry-on dimension that will be checked without charge if space doesn’t permit.

For checked-in luggage, unless your packed belongings are made entirely of styrofoam, you don’t need to worry about the dimensions at all, as the maximums are typically gigantic. Here, weight is the limiting factor. So large check-in bags are not really worth buying if you plan to travel by air. I’ve sadly had to retire a gorgeous, high-quality bag I snagged years ago for $10 at a thrift store because it’s so huge that #1 I could only pack it halfway full and meet the weight limit and #2 It weighs like fifteen pounds empty. Still, we refrained from buying the “World’s Lightest Luggage,” which weighed only five pounds and looked like it might fall apart after one trip.

There were some other, weirder luggage innovations, including this one, a handle thoughtfully adapted for people with three hands.

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We spent most of our time with the tape measure out, measuring carry-ons. Eventually it turned into a sort of existentialist version of Goldilocks and the 500 bags: “This bag is too high at the head. And this bag is too high at the foot.” Most of the bags were either too tall (some by ten centimeters or more) or too fat, especially at the bottom, where the wheels tended to widen out the bag. All the airline websites specifically stipulate that wheels and handles are included in the maximum measurements. Strangely, we found only one bag that took advantage of the full 40 cm of width. Most bags were 36 cm at the most. We would discover why later.

Hard-Sided vs. Soft-Sided

I confess that I did zero research on this question, and went with my gut. We only even considered soft-sided luggage. I had several reasons, among which:

  • Soft-sided luggage is both expandable–which gives you a bigger space inside if you need it, and contractible–meaning it has some “give” to it and can be squished into small or slightly irregular-shaped spaces (such as the little box you have to stuff it in to prove that it is indeed regulation size for the airline).
  • Most of the hard-sided suitcases were rounded on the front, which would make it pretty difficult to stack anything on top of them on a luggage cart or in a car, or anywhere else. If you did stack something on top of them, the weight wouldn’t be evenly distributed, leading to a higher chance of breakage.
  • The hard-sided luggage we were looking at (and granted, we were not looking at high-end luggage) seemed pretty thin and flimsy. One of the big upsides of hard-sided luggage is that it tends to be very light, but there’s such a thing as too light. We tend to end up sitting on our bags at some time during most long journeys, and at any rate they’ll be stacked in precarious towers and thrown about by the airline. The ones we looked at seemed very accident-prone.
  • We are pretty good packers, and tend to use clothes and other soft items to cushion breakables. Also, we don’t typically transport expensive breakables, or messy stuff like wine and olive oil. When we do, we use multiple layers of ziploc bags to prevent spillage. So the extra protection afforded by hard-sided luggage wasn’t as important to us, and besides, if the bag breaks (see above), it won’t protect your stuff anyway.
  • We’re used to fabric luggage, and we like it.

If you have hard-sided luggage, I’d be interested to know how well it has performed, and whether you like it.

What We Picked in the End

We did end up choosing luggage, after at least two visits to every single store. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the family fantasizing about sophisticated-looking matching luggage. The children’s primary consideration was color (the brighter the better), and Tony was becoming obsessive about what was looking like the latest incarnation of his personal luggage. We eventually determined that we’d compromise by getting four identical check-in bags and letting each person pick his or her own carry-on luggage. Axa and Raj chose the same bag, but in hot pink and neon green respectively. Tony found a really posh bag that was by far the biggest carry-on that approximated the stipulated dimensions (mainly because it was a full 40 cm wide). Since I wanted matching bags more than I wanted any specific bag, I chose one identical to his.

For our large bags, we were especially wary of small, puny wheels, which unfortunately were abundant in both the two-wheeled and four-wheeled spinner varieties. We did, however, find some with large, wheels and sturdy construction. They weigh 3.5 kilos apiece, and they’re bright orange, which Tony loves because it makes them easy to spot on the luggage claim carousel. Here are the receptacles for what will soon be all our worldly possessions (yes, you can see that Axa and Raj matched their bags to their Halloween candy pumpkins).

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It was only on the way home that we thought to look up the luggage dimensions for United, the airline we’re flying next month when we go visit our parents in California for Christmas. The verdict? 55 x 35 x 22 cm. So now we know why it’s so difficult to find bags that are 40 cm wide. And now we have carry-on bags that won’t work for U.S. travel. Oh well. Complete perfection is hard to attain.

2 thoughts on “Shopping for Luggage

  • November 6, 2014 at 12:01 am
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    Except for casual travel, we’ve given up on proper suitcases. When we need to haul loads back and forth between countries, we use duffels now. Specifically, we get the bare-bones Roadtripper duffels from REI. I can’t remember which size it is that is within the airlines’ guidelines – XL, maybe? – but one of them is just right. We like that they’re collapsible if you need more luggage going one way than another. And like you said, soft-sided luggage has a little more give to it.

    • November 6, 2014 at 7:21 am
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      That’s an interesting idea, Bridget. I’m sure they’re really light. I forgot to mention that Tony was considering wheeled duffels for check-in luggage. We have a couple of carry-on sized duffels (without wheels) that we’ve used fairly successfully. With four travelers (especially when two of them are kids who can’t manage their own bags yet), it worked pretty well to have two rolling carry-ons and two duffels, and put the duffels on top of the rolling bags. Tony has also been known to carry the two duffels slung over opposite shoulders, but even one filled duffel kills my back.

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