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In The News

Luggage Takes Flight

TRIB Total Media - February 16, 2008 - Bob Karlovits

Luggage design seems to be drifting to earth from above.

No, it is not a matter of divine inspiration, but simply the demands of air travel.

"It's very simple," says Paula Morgan, owner of Travelwares in Sewickley. "People want (it to be) light, and they want lots of space regardless of the size. And everything has to have wheels. Airports are just getting bigger and bigger."

She and other professionals in the luggage business agree the products are being designed with air travel in mind, even though they obviously are used in many other settings.

Luggage is being shaped to handle two kinds of travelers: casual and business, says Audrey Shapiro, spokeswoman for the Burlington Coat Factory chain, headquartered in New Jersey and with six stores in Western Pennsylvania.

While the business traveler usually is on the go for only several days and wants everything handy in a carry-on, the vacation traveler "wants to put everything below" in check-in luggage, she says.

For the working traveler, it is not only a matter of having tools and data handy, says Tim Jacobsen, vice president of e-commerce for Luggageonline, an internet luggage firm from Philadelphia..

"The easiest way to get off a plane and end a trip is to grab your bag and avoid that baggage claim area," he says.

Jim Aul from Specialty Luggage in Bethel Park says that is the root of carry-on luggage's popularity.

"That is the only way to travel," he says.

Packing for a good time

Vacation travelers seem to want to pack up all their cares and woe, along with their belongings.

"The vacation traveler wants to go very big," says Luggageonline's Jacobsen. "Weight would appear to be an issue, but it doesn't seem to matter."

Burlington's Shapiro agrees, saying a vacationer does not want to deal with the grim realities of travel. Pack that suitcase. Give it to someone. Let it be put down in the luggage compartment. That whole deal should be easy.

"It's all about the airport experience," she says, adding the important thing is to make it easy.

Some vacation travelers are finding a new way of dealing with that experience by using a type of bag that is selling well for Maine's L.L. Bean Co. Steve Jordan, senior product developer for luggage, says duffel bags are winning customers because of color, size and weight.

And color is a big part of that. The Bean duffels come in 15 colors.

Jordan and others say bright colors help travelers identify bags in what can become the Black Sea of Baggage Claim.

Shapiro says some travelers also see color as a way of making a "statement of individual style."

Brooke Heitz is marketing manager for Connecticut-based Victorinox Travel Gear, which makes Swiss Army luggage. She says "classic black will always be in style, but travelers are increasingly buying luggage in bright colors to differentiate their bags."

She says the Werks Traveler 3.0 series is offered in "a slew of bold colors."

"It can make baggage claim a more festive place," Jacobsen jokes.

He says that is even true with carry-ons, such as the Delsey Fusion, which comes in five colors.

Putting it all inside

For the vacation traveler interested in tucking it all away, Travelwares Morgan suggests a 29-inch bag to avoid traveling with a second bag, for which some airlines now are charging a fee.

An overpacked bag still presents problems, she says, but that fee is less than for a second bag.

At the same time, Jacobsen recommends a 25- or 26-inch bag "to keep things as light as possible" while offering a good packing possibility.

Aul and Bean's Jordan say packing cubes are becoming popular in big bags because they provide an element of order. The cubes are rectangular containers with some form of transparency. Airline security inspectors can see the contents of the cubes, then return them to the suitcase without messing it up.

Jordan says packing cubes are almost a necessity with duffels because those bags have less of a definition than suitcases and are prone to disorder.

Use of large luggage also demands something else: wheels. Morgan says wheels are demanded on everything, from carry-ons to 29-inchers. Jacobsen says the two-wheeled bags that are part of everyone's equipment are being replaced by "spinners," bags with four wheels the traveler walks alongside.

Victorinox's Heitz says four-wheelers are gaining in popularity, but the two-wheeled Werks Traveler 2.0 still is their biggest seller. A new generation of the line is coming in the fall.

Jordan says one of the biggest problems with four-wheeled bags is that the wheels extend farther than the two-wheeled assembly and can break off when packed on a plane.

"Then you can be in real trouble," he says.

Nonetheless, he currently is working on a design for Bean's first spinner.

Most of the retailers and representatives agree the durable ballistic nylon is the most popular material for these bags, too. But Morgan says she is seeing more interest in hard-sided suitcases.

"Young people have never seen them before," she says.

She also says another old style is making a comeback. A small cosmetic bag known as a "train case" is becoming a carry-on for fashion-conscious travelers, she says.

"Everything old becomes new again," she says.

The profit in organization

Getting down to business seems to focus on what working travelers have in their overnight bags as well as their pockets.

"A business person wants to be organized," says Burlington's Shapiro. "They want to pull it together."

Morgan says that means keeping the small items, such as a cell phone, Blackberry or MP3 player in a jacket or coat pocket. Meanwhile, larger but just as vital items such as the laptop or catalog collection go in the case that is in the overhead compartment.

She says she has an 18-inch bag with an external computer compartment that is popular, but sells many computer covers so the machines can be kept covered while they are in their overnight bags.

Heitz says Swiss Army offers a collection that "allows professionals to take their business with them."

The Architecture 2.0 line has legal-sized sleeves in a fan file and other sleeves that are breathable and keep a computer from overheating.

Meanwhile, two other packs are built around carrying and protecting laptops. One, the E-Motion line, is a duffel-like bag and ranges from $279 to $349, while the Ground Force collection is more of an everyday pack and ranges from $59 to $159.

Jacobsen says most of his business customers spend around $200 for a bag, but Specialty's Aul says it isn't unusual for a customer to go up to $500.

"If you are a business traveler and your bag breaks once, what do you lose?" he asks. "What's it worth to you? You miss a cab. You miss a meeting. You miss making the connections you need to make"

Specialty has stores in Bethel Park, the Aspinwall area, North Fayette and Downtown.

He points out some baggage retailers and makers will guarantee losses if their equipment fails. That is a nice backup, but it doesn't help much when the failure occurs.

Most domestic airlines allow carry-ons that are 45 linear-inches in size. Than means the combination of height, width and depth should not exceed 45 inches.

Aul says that makes 22-inch carry-ons popular because they can easily handle a computer. Meanwhile, Morgan says one of her 18-inch bags also is a big seller.

She suggests the technical needs of the business person have become the dominant force in design.

"It used to be that everything had a water-bottle pocket on it," she says, "but now that is not allowed, so bags are being designed for the technical things people have."

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