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Shopping for a Travel Bag

A luggage guru suggests how to select a bag that will survive the rough and tumble world of airline travel.

illustration of a man carrying a bag bursting with clothes, image
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Pick the right piece of luggage for you—the right type, the right style, and the right size.

Looking for luggage that can take the predictable knocks of airline travel? Ed Johnson, Southwest Airlines’ damaged-bag specialist for a decade, offers these tips.

  • Don’t bet on a hard shell Good soft-sided bags endure abuse better than cheap hard-sided ones,  Johnson says.
  • Avoid dainty quilted bags The toughest fabrics are ballistic nylon, invented for flak jackets, and Cordura, a nylon used in motorcycle duds.
  • Choose recessed wheels The exposed, rotating “spinners” that let bags roll in any direction can snap off easily.
  • Look for a grip that hides A locking handle or a grip that’s covered by a zippered flap stays safely in place.
  • Favor clean lines Pockets, metal emblems, and strap handles can snag on conveyor belts and luggage carts.
  • Get real Your bags bulge? Overstuffing stresses zippers and seams, setting the stage for mishaps. Get a big enough bag.

Illustration by Michael Klein

This article was first published in November 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.