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Travellers pack for safety, speed and efficiency

Heightened security, tougher regulations mean new trends in luggage choices

Tuesday, October 15, 2002
CATHERINE MULRONEY
Special to The Globe and Mail

With heightened security and tougher regulations, travellers wanting to get through airports and in and out of planes quickly, efficiently and safely have been forced to rethink their luggage choices. Manufacturers are responding with everything from upscale backpacks to a garment bag that rolls up like a sleeping bag.

For travellers wanting to keep their luggage with them, a popular choice is the Briggs & Riley Travelware carry-on, which meets the smaller requirements (21 inches by 16 inches by 9 inches) introduced a couple of years ago, says Ted Schlosser, co-owner of Evex Luggage Centres in Toronto. At about $550, the expandable briefcase holds a suit and can then be compressed for a more professional look for business meetings.

Many women travellers are opting for a Samsonite carry-on with wheels that move in all directions, to make manoeuvring through the airport easier, Mr. Schlosser says. The $260 bag also comes with a zipper in the middle, which divides packing space to help with organization.

A colourful line by Le SportSac Inc. is also popular with women because the nylon bags are lightweight but roomy, says Allan Lackstone, owner of The Travel Stop, a travel-accessories store in Toronto. SportSac's extra-large weekend bag, for example, sells for about $130.

More road warriors are also turning back in time and selecting backpacks. But not just any backpacks: A bag like McKlein's $300 leather backpack carry-on not only holds a laptop, files and clothes, but also includes wheels that can be unzipped so that the bag can be taken into a meeting.

Some of the higher-end bags come with features like lifetime warranties, or, in the case of lines like Briggs & Riley, in-line skate wheels to make for smoother bag-pulling. Some of the higher-end suitcases also have details like self-repairing zippers and ballistic fabric, the weave of which is dense enough to compensate for small punctures or the wear and tear luggage suffers.

Given that hanging garment bags are no longer allowed in many airplane cabins, sales of traditional hanging bags have dropped about 40 per cent, estimates Mr. Schlosser. In their place are new alternatives, such as the SkyRoll, which rolls up like a sleeping bag so that it can be stowed in an overhead compartment. It holds enough clothes for two to three days and, because the clothes are rolled, not folded, they stay neat. Mr. Lackstone sells the Skyroll for $239.

For business travellers adding some leisure time, Eagle Creek, for example, makes a line of cargo bags, some with wheels, to stow ski boots or hockey equipment which are a definite step up from the old hockey bag. The Travel Stop carries a model for $330.

Though North American travellers overwhelming choose soft-sided luggage for full-size bags to check through, there is still a place for hard-sided cases, Mr. Lackstone says. A salesman, say, travelling with breakable products might be interested in a hard-shell suitcase such as Samonsite's 26-inch model with wheels and a pull-up handle, which retails for under $400.

Boyt's carry-on bag, at $329, includes a web strap designed to slip over the pull-up handle of the accompanying full-size $900 suitcase to make working your way through the airport less cumbersome.

There are also other products designed to speed -- and ease -- the traveller's way. A leather case by Derek Alexander, selling for $130, includes space for tickets, passport, cell phone and other key items. That way, everything that is needed for check-in -- or to be set aside during security checks -- is in one place.

Other convenience details include locks with big numbers to eliminate the need to drag out the bifocals to unlock a case. There are even a host of disposable items that can simply be left behind, such as eight-ounce throwaway galoshes, which Mr. Lackstone sells for $12.80, or a package of five disposable briefs for $11.95. A line of plastic bags selling under the brand name of PackMate allow travellers to compress air in a suitcase, cutting space by a third; they run from $11 to $20.

But it's not just the luggage that matters. It's also what goes inside, as many a recent traveller who's had a pair of nail scissors or a razor confiscated has found. "When it comes to toiletries, travellers need to be careful of everything," says Mr. Schlosser. Given the carry-on ban on many such items following Sept. 11, many travellers now opt to check through such items in a suitcase or buy whatever is needed at their destination, he says.

Since the average business traveller makes eight or nine trips a year, anything that can trim wait time is wise to make use of, advises Audrey Adams-White, a spokeswoman for Amex Canada Inc. The company's travel division advises customers to take advantage of check-in kiosks if travelling light.

"It used to be you could walk right through but now you have to remove batteries [from PDAs], take out your cell phone, and go through added measures. Business travellers are learning to pack their carry-on bags astutely and are moving away from last-minute arrivals," Ms. Adams-White says.

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