Anyone who has flown on a plane recently will know the utter degradation passengers must go through in order to reach their destination. There are the hour-long lines, the aggressive pat-downs and body scans, the uniformed men and women screaming at you to remove your shoes, the televisions blaring cable news everywhere you turn in the terminal, the $5 bottles of water, the delayed flights, and the seats that seem to get smaller with every trip. When the infant sitting in the row behind me wails inconsolably for every minute of every hour of the flight, I often find myself empathizing, thinking, “Same here, baby.”
Relief from this new travel normal comes only at the end of the trip, when you reach into the overhead bin, grab your bag, and race out of the airport. Fresh air! In a new city! You’re arrived! But in order to pull off this great airport escape, you need a bag that will fit in that overhead bin, a bag that won’t be eyed skeptically by flight attendants and subsequently gate-checked, a bag (and its lock) that is approved by those guardians of the skies, the TSA. That bag is a rolly bag.
With a rolly bag, there’s less lugging, the smooth glide of the wheels taking the pressure off your invariably tense shoulders. With a rolly bag, your stuff gets protected, as contents of a tote bag
may will shift (and spill everywhere) during the flight. With a rolly bag, you have one less thing to carry as you make your way from Terminal A to Terminal G when your gate has been changed for the fourth time. With a rolly bag, you get back a little bit of your dignity.
Each airline has its own rules about approved carry-on luggage size, but generally the acceptable dimensions are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches—any larger than that, and you should plan on adding 30 minutes of waiting around a luggage carousel to the end of your trip. Luckily, most suitcase designers work with these measurements in mind, so you have plenty of options when it comes to picking the right bag for you.
Luggage manufacturers have also gotten wise to the TSA’s rules about locks. Since TSA agents screen every bag that’s headed to a plane (and have the right to open your bag and inspect the contents if they suspect you’re carrying something suspicious, like a large bottle of shampoo), you’ll need to use a lock that they can easily open. If you don’t want your bag’s lock to be broken as they rifle though your carefully folded clothes, choose a TSA-approved lock, which can be opened with a master key by agents.
To help make any flight just a little more bearable, here are seven rolling bags approved by the airlines and the TSA—and your fellow travelers.
Sleek and lightweight, this durable, waterproof roller is beloved by travelers for its form and its function. It’s got two internal compartments for organization and a removable nylon bag for keeping your cleans and dirties separate, plus an eye-catching matte finish. “The first time I took it outside a person stopped and told me I had a beautiful suitcase. That was definitely a first,” writes one Amazon reviewer. Writes another, “I would give it 6 stars if that were possible.”
With a deep metallic finish, this space-agey hard-shell suitcase won’t crack under pressure. “I saw a video with this being crushed by a car and emerging in good shape, so I thought it could stand up to the rigorous wear and tear I put on a bag with my constant travel,” writes a reviewer. “I was not disappointed.” The bag can also expand an additional two inches, which makes it a good choice if you’re the kind of person who always returns home with a few more things than you left with.
This compact four-wheel rolly bag gets high marks for fitting a ton of stuff. “I'm amazed at how much I can put inside it, easily a week or two worth of clothes with no problem!” says one reviewer. “The storage is impressive for its size.” The smooth wheels are also of note: “The wheels of the Fiero are like butter; they move easily as you guide the luggage with just one hand,” writes an Amazon reviewer. “Other than accidentally running my foot over while half asleep, I've had a great experience with it.”
Available in 23 (yes, 23!) colors, this set of German-made bags abounds with thoughtful details. “The handles are designed to come up to the same level—the small piece has a handle that extends longer than the large piece, that way they are on the same level when walking two pieces of luggage...so nice, well thought out,” says one reviewer. The three-piece set is also designed so that the bags nest inside each other for compact storage when you’re not traveling...but with bags this nice, you might find more excuses to take to the sky.
For a luxe look, go aluminum. Even lighter than standard polycarbonate rollers, aluminum rolly bags will have you flying through the airport. And in rosy gold, this bag will have you jetting in style, one hand on your telescoping handle, the other holding down your fabulous wide-brimmed hat. “I've always wanted a Rimowa,” writes one reviewer, “but could never stomach the cost. At a fraction of the price, this is pretty darned good.”
If you’ve got the money to spend and can stomach the cost, Rimowa is top of the line in durable rollers. Its bags are the iconic hard-shell zipper-less rollies, and have thoughtful features that regular travelers love, like velcro-securable internal compartments that allow you to open your suitcase while it’s upright without anything falling out, and a small hidden latch on the top of the suitcase for toting a purse or second small bag. If you prefer a zippered version, the Rimowa Salsa line comes highly recommended by Food52’s Senior Lifestyle Editor Hana Asbrink. “It’s even better than the traditional model,” she says. “So lightweight and wheels like a dream.”
Bags are serious business, but that doesn’t mean they have to look so serious. Case in point: This popsicle-plastered roller, which has all the features you want—ample space, lightweight durable construction, smooth rolling wheels—and a sense of humor. Says one reviewer, “I was able to pack 5 days worth of clothes, 3 pairs of shoes, plus my everyday travel items, a travel blanket, and a box of granola bars even!” Can’t forget the granola bars.
What’s something you do to make air travel easier on yourself? Let us know in the comments!