Damn The Spinner Bag!

November 19, 2018

NOW THAT SELFIE-STICK MANIA has petered out, it was only a matter of time, maybe, before some other travel trend filled the annoyance void.

I’m talking about the proliferation of four-wheeled roll-aboard bags. Not the traditional, two-wheeled bag, which the traveler tows behind. These have been around for years and we’ve gotten used to them. Sure, they’re hogs of the overhead bins, but it’s hard to argue the merits of the bags themselves: useful, unobtrusive, pedestrian-friendly. But now, over the past year or two, we’ve seen the massive spread of the four-wheeled version.

They are sometimes called “spinner” bags, as they can move easily in all directions, and the problem is the way that too many travelers use them, holding them well off to one side, sometimes at arm’s length. Every person walking like this now takes up the lateral space of two people. Airport corridors are crowded and sometimes very narrow. Add thousands of passengers into such congested spaces, each hauling their little outstretched sidecar, and you’ve created the worst kind of obstacle course.

Yes, the two-wheeled bag is towed somewhat offset, not directly behind you. But it basically follows in your shadow, and the footprint difference acts across the flow of traffic. The other day I was at terminal 4 at Kennedy Airport, which has very little pedestrian space as it is, and here came two people walking side by side, a cell phone in one hand and a spinner in the other, at full arm’s length. Add a bit of a safety margin on each end, and that was two people taking up, probably, thirteen feet of real estate in a corridor barely that wide — a human wall, basically.

The next time you’re at the airport, watch for a while. Notice what a high percentage of spinner users hold their bags way, way out there. When a person is walking like this, opposite-direction passengers are forced to maneuver around, sometimes by a wide distance. Tow-behind luggage doesn’t restrict flow this way.

I’m not sure why this had to happen. The basis behind the spinner’s design, and its subsequent popularity, I think, is that they’re easier to roll and maneuver. But if anything, they’re too easy. I received one from the Travelpro company last year as part of a promotion, and used it for a few weeks. Not only did I feel that I was in everyone’s way, but the bag was so nimble, and rolled so smoothly, that it was difficult to control, constantly veering and pulling. I felt like a little kid trying to walk an agitated pit bull.

And unlike the traditional roll-aboard, which rests upright on a plate when you’re not walking, the four-wheeled bag just keeps on rolling. If you’re on any kind of incline, or you give it the slightest nudge, you’d better be ready. I lost count of the times I reached for the handle only to find it wasn’t there — the bag having wandered ten feet away on its own.

And not for nothing, you’ve now got twice as many wheels and their associated hardware. And because they spin, they’re mounted on exposed struts rather than inset. That’s more moving parts; more things to break.

And a thirty-pound suitcase moving at four or five miles per hour generates a significant amount of momentum. I’m surprised more people aren’t flattened by these things, particularly considering how many travelers simply aren’t paying attention, yammering on their phones as they sweep down the concourse.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, the ways in which we — and our gadgets — conspire to annoy the hell out of each other?

Spinners are everywhere, and they aren’t going away. If you insist on using one, try to be considerate. Keep it close, elbow in, and make room for your fellow passengers.



 

Meanwhile, I wish that airline workers would stop referring to roll-aboard bags, regardless of how many wheels they have, as “roller boards.” I’ve been hearing this sloppy mispronunciation more and more. most often from flight attendants: “Ladies and gentlemen, please place your roller boards into the bins handle-first.”

My what? You mean ROLL-ABOARDS.

I’m being told that the great Gary Shteyngart, one of our best and funniest authors, whose books I’ve read and loved for years, makes frequent reference to “roller boards” in his latest novel — and not facetiously. Could this be? Gary!

Pilots, by the way, long resisted wheeled luggage on principle. The thinking was that rolling your belongings was, like, too effeminate for the macho pilot (take me for example). And so pilots would hand-haul their 40-odd pounds of clothes and flight gear through the airport, toning their tough-guy biceps and making many a chiropractor happy.

Not that you asked, but I typically go to work with two carry-ons:

The first is a roll-aboard from Luggage Works (with two wheels, needless to say). At the moment I use the 22-inch LW with the metal frame. My gripe with LW bags is their very high empty weight. To make mine lighter I’ve retrofitted the stainless steel handle with an aluminum one. Over 95 percent of LW users are airline crewmembers, but anybody can order one. They’re attractive and durable. And expensive.

Many crewmembers use Travelpro bags instead (I’ve owned a couple over the years), but that brand is more popular with flight attendants than with pilots.

My smaller bag, hung from my roller board using a hook that I engineered myself, is an offensively overpriced Tumi briefcase that I bought about five years ago and quickly learned to hate, with its useless, miniature exterior pockets that I can barely squeeze my fingers into.

I have several patches and stickers on my roller board. My favorite is this one:

Joe Strummer

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52 Responses to “Damn The Spinner Bag!”
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  1. Stacey Rain says:

    I had surgery on my elbow which makes pulling the traditional 2-wheeled bag behind me painful. I’m grateful for the spinners, as they allow me to lock my elbow in a position away from my body that doesn’t aggravate my injury.

  2. Roman Chodowiecki says:

    Be a pilot, stop being a bloger..

  3. mart says:

    It seems we have a really serious problem here.

  4. Green says:

    Poor the passengers of your last flight 🙁

  5. Richard Stanford says:

    I use a TravelPro spinner, but it has nice little magnets in it that keep it aligned at a 90 degree point; I also roll it so that its perpendicular to me, quite close to the body. Even looking back, I’d be amazed if it took up more than an inch or so more than a conventional roller would.

    Some people, however, are just unthinking jerks and take up amazing amounts of space (or sound, or whatever the common resource is) no matter what gear they’re using to do it.

  6. FGS says:

    I very much enjoy your blog, but in this one you are acting like the usual airline employee: blame the passenger. Airports are crowded by design, since they are not built with the passenger in mind (when was the last time there was adequate space in the waiting area of a gate), boarding a plane is an exercise in crowd control, and getting on a plane is an absolute hassle with the narrower space every day. Why are you complaining about a few folks wanting to use a different kind of bag? I use both, and believe me my shoulder appreciates the four wheel kind.

  7. Kevin A says:

    For the record, I don’t like spinner bags, mostly because in my experience they don’t work. We can never agree on which direction we’re going. And within a couple trips, one wheel breaks rendering it an unstable tripod that seems determined to smash my foot.

    One of the funnier things I’ve heard from the cockpit seems appropriate here (maybe some of you have heard it)
    “Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. The machine that breaks the wheels off your luggage is broken and we’re having to do it by hand today. We’ll be on our way in just a few minutes.”

  8. Vulcan WIth a Mullet says:

    Patrick, I LOVE you and love your blog, nobody does airliner news and details better or more entertainingly.

    But boy… you’re getting crankier with every day. In the last few months you’ve railed against rolling bags, casual English pronunciation, entertaining safety videos, children, people wearing shorts, selfie sticks, dental floss, noisy airport lounges, airline jargon, public service announcements, 90 percent of redesigns of airline logos or plane livery, Elvis Costello, Sudoku…

    Take a deep breath and relax. Positivity extends lives 😉

    (btw I can’t stand Elvis Costello either)

    • Rod says:

      Aaaahhh! My view: With age comes a certain right to curmudgeonry — you’ve knocked your head against that brick wall often enough, you deserve it.
      Not that one should disparage Buddhic Calm, if individualy achievable. Both can be enhanced by the passing years. Sometimes a good Archie-Bunker rant clears the air, then you can sit back like a sage and intone “‘Twas ever thus.”
      (Costello has put out some right crap, but some pretty good songs too. Bit like life itself.)

  9. Jennifer says:

    You will pry my spinner bag from my cold, dead hands. You should run an aviation trivia contest to give away the TravelPro one you so disparage.

    Two boneheads walking side by side can clog up any right of way, no spinner bag needed. Spinners don’t delay people, people delay people.

  10. Eric says:

    The last time I bought a suitcase, the only option was the spinning form of “roller boards”. I begrudgingly bought one, but I have been happy with it. I use it just like its predecessor, tilting it and dragging it behind me rather than to the side. I think the problem here has less to do with the type of luggage than it has to do with the overall cluelessness and lack of self awareness of the world’s population.

  11. stephen says:

    yeah people are on there damm phones, and don’t give a shit about anyone else! but they are nice bags for movement.

  12. Sean says:

    Patrick, your bag is slightly too big in order to be in compliance with all international carriers for carry on. I had an experience with Swiss (in business) where I was told that my tried and true domestic carry on was too large, and thus began an education on carry on bags. To be safe, using the imperial system of measurement, you need to max out at a length of 21 inches. 22 would be too large for select airlines, and some of them are quite stringent.
    For example: https://www.briggs-riley.com/baseline-commuter-expandable-upright-u119cx

    The above is 19 inch, with wheels and handle. Will get you on all airlines internationally.

    • Patrick says:

      Yes, Lufthansa and KLM both made me check my 22. But those were rare exceptions. It works almost all the time, on carriers both in the US and overseas. So for now I’ll stick with it.

      Besides, $500 for one of those B&R roller boards…. that’s a little more than I’d want to spend.

  13. Chuck says:

    Beg to differ. As a frequent but aging traveler, the 4 wheel carry-ons are a blessing. I think you need to make a distinction between boorish behavior and convenience. I have the traditional 2 wheel (a Swiss Army version) and a Rimowa 4 wheel. Navigating the km of corridors at most modern airports and the two wheel version takes a real toll on my arms and shoulders and believe me I don’t overpack my carry-on. I’ve also found when shopping for 4 wheelers that the quality of the bag makes a huge difference in tracking smoothly right at your side. A quality bag doesn’t wander so I have no problems keeping by corridor profile in control. I also agree that a 4 wheel manages the ever narrower aisles more easily than with 2 wheel version, especially when moving through the business class section with those odd juttings and bolsters.

    • Richard Rees says:

      Patrick,
      I’m with Chuck on this one. As a seasoned citizen, retired airline captain and frequent traveler, I find the “spinner” or four wheel casters to be a godsend. As to your comment about their profile when walking through the terminal, I find that the bag parallel to my side takes up less room than the old bag drag two wheelers and it’s a breeze to spin around when getting on and off the escalator. As Chuck points out, boorish behavior causes most of the problems so mind one’s manners and I’ll continue to enjoy my 4 wheel drive! One man’s opinion.

      • Terry says:

        I’m surprised that someone hasn’t engineered a mechanism that will lock the wheels when the suitcase isn’t being towed. Some kind of dead-man switch located on the bag handle; when it’s depressed the wheels can move freely, when it’s not they lock. Bags tend to be loaded/unloaded on their sides or flat (and are on conveyor belts most of the time anyway), so this shouldn’t interfere with baggage handling at all.

        • Jennifer says:

          I retrofitted my spinner bag with locking casters at one point (after the original wheels broke), but with the brakes the wheels were really heavy and bulky and caused more problems than they solved, so I went to plain casters after a few trips.

    • Andrea says:

      Another “with Chuck” writer here. As a short woman, I don’t even consider using the handle of my large size 4-wheeler. I guide and glide it with the top handle so it’s always in sight. One long, uphill walk through JFK was enough to convince me to trade in the old drag-along. Fortunately, JetBlue managed to tear a wheel off it on the return flight, providing me with enough cash to purchase the new “spinner.”

  14. Don’t call me Shirley says:

    They are also a problem on sloping loading bridge floors. Especially on regional jet flights with a bunch of valet checked bags rolling downslope.

  15. Wol says:

    Bingo!

    These four-wheel bags are a pet hate of mine. I resisted getting one for years because of the pretty obvious problems they have, but wifey insisted and one day in Costco we emerged with two – one each Antler and Samsonite.

    The fundamental problem is as Patrick says, they are too unstable in azimuth – not helped by the fact that the handle is at the very edge of the case so you are always pushing it along from an off-centre vector.

    Then there’s the issue of the floor: airports are usually tiled or carpeted with regular surfaces, but you also have to negotiate kerbs, roads, gaps in elevator doorways and worst of all those *****y raised pimples that they insist on placing along rail platforms and kerbs. Try pushing over small obstacles like these and there’s a 50-50 chance that your case ends up on the ground. And when you have wifey’s as well the chance is 100%.

    I’ve gone back to the conventional two wheeled bags and sanity.

    • Dave says:

      Those raised pimple things, interestingly enough, are an aid for visually impaired people.

      The shape and pattern identified different types of obstacles, and are felt as a cane is run over them.

  16. Eric Rush says:

    “My smaller bag, hung from my roller board…”

    Gary Shteyngart has to be laughing now.

  17. Lindy says:

    I have been sick with severe chronic pain and fatigue for two years. I was able to travel last month for the first time
    since I’ve been sick. I never would have been able to manage a regular roll-aboard
    I had to use a spinner and was also in a wheelchair sometimes. I’m sorry my absolute
    need for this inconvenienced you. I usually love this blog, but
    WOW, this one hurt. I can only imagine how much
    space I was taking up. And don’t even start about
    my need to preboard and all the eye rolling gate
    agents who must have thought “She doesn’t look sick”

  18. Rhys Evans says:

    You make a good case (sorry!) here Patrick. I just got a Travelpro 4-wheeler this summer, but it is a check-in sized bag. I almost always pay for check-in luggage, if only to free myself from lugging through connecting airports (like Franfurt, for example. Don’t get me going about that kilometer long underground tunnel from one terminal to another! Just so, if you come and go in Schengen, you can take a bus back to your original terminal)
    However, on that trip to Canada this summer, i broke my knee. Fortunately after the first week of a month-long vacation, i could retire the crutches and just use one cane. This made me learn to love my 4-wheeler. When you only have one free hand, and are lurching across the pavements, four wheels makes sense.
    I haven’t thought about the extra-displacement issue, and i see what you mean. Having never had a 4-wheeler before, i didn’t know you are supposed to drag them behind/beside you. What i found worked best was to push it along in front of me — more control, and, given the issues you raise, a smaller footprint, i suspect.

  19. Robert says:

    It’s true about Shteyngart & “roller board”. I finished the book last week and couldn’t figure out exactly what he’d meant by that term – and he uses it a LOT, too! It’s used exclusively to describe the only bag carried by the protagonist, which he uses only to carry his watches, so I thought it was a watch-related thing. Thank you for explaining!

    (BTW, Patrick – it’s an excellent book, but is still my least favorite of his fiction. I’d rank his work this way: 1) Absurdistan; 2) Russian Debutante’s Guide; 3) Super Sad True Love Story; 4) Lake Success; 5) Little Failure.)

  20. Joanne says:

    I’m curious…in the book it would be obvious, but how do you know people are saying “roller boards” and not “roll-aboards”? Is it an accent thing… I’m English and the two sound identical however I say them.

  21. Alan Dahl says:

    When traveling alone I like my Rick Steves backpack style bag. It’s soft so you know it will always fit in the overhead bin plus you can carry it as backpack, sideways with a handle, with the shoulder strap or when going down the aisle by the strap on the top. They are tough too so you don’t worry if you have to check it.

    However when traveling with the family we usually end up with two large checked bags with spinners because my wife doesn’t like to pack light and we need enough room for all three of us. But since we only have the bags for a short time before checkin I don’t feel I’m causing anyone an inconvenience.

  22. Ryan says:

    I thought it was “roll-aboards” not “roller boards”. “Roll-aboards” make a lot more sense. At least to me.

  23. Bruce says:

    I’m not convinced by the argument here. Maybe it’s different in America, but in China – where I spend more time in airports than any other country – people with four-wheel bags take up less room than people with two-wheel bags. Maybe the thing is that people are shorter, so a two-wheeled case is pulled at a greater angle from vertical than it would be if a tall American were pulling it. But people tend to cut corners and crash into people, unaware of the bag that’s turning with them. Because the four-wheeled case sits vertically, it takes up less space and causes fewer accidents.

    As for people who like to travel with just a laptop bag…. I envy you. I’d love to do this. But a history filled with missed connections, vomiting babies and other such incidents means that while I’ll put most of my stuff in checked luggage, I will always bring a change of clothes (lighweight – shorts and a t-shirt), as well as things I can’t live without while I’m waiting for lost baggage, like contact-lens paraphernalia and laptop cables.

    • Matt says:

      Agreed. The pull-behind bag takes up at least one person-space behind the puller, usually even more, because of the low angle. Sure, there are the inconsiderate travelers who spread out their spinner bags sideways down the concourse as Patrick describes, but when it comes to lines at the gate I far prefer being around spinners kept to heel, rather than two-wheelers being towed around me like trailers.

      I like to travel with a CabinMax bag. It’s a backpack, so easy and unobtrusive to lug around (as long as I remember not to turn around too quickly and clock someone!) And it mushes into overhead bin spaces which rigid rollaboards can not.

      • Carol says:

        They do! Most people don’t try to control the bags, just let their arms go slack to full extension behind them and they take up a lot of room and mow people down.

        I have a small spinner bag and I push it along in front of me, right in front of my right hip. It takes no extra lateral room, and doesn’t inconvenience people behind me.

  24. KD says:

    Witness the narrow aisles of the hoardes of CRJs, 10-abreast 777s, 9-abreast 787s and the surging popularity of the spinner suitcase becomes clear.

  25. Simon says:

    I think you once again you allude to the fact that we are failing be sufficiently considerate and polite in public. In overcrowded areas (such as almost everything that has to do with aviation these days) this is particularly grating.

    What I don’t like about wheels on bags is that they allow people to take much more stuff. A bag you have to carry and lift up on your own is one you wisely pack. And not only do we tend to have too much stuff in general, especially in the US we also believe we need to take as much of that junk with us on flights.

    I believe the solution would indeed be quite simple. If airlines were smart, they’d charge for carry-ons. That would instantly lighten the luggage people bring along, it would open up more overhead storage, and most importantly, it would make boarding and deboarding just so much less of a hassle.

    Airlines can solve it. They just don’t want to, I suppose because they’re afraid of the backlash. Just funny that the same people who have no problem with 17″ wide seats at 29″ pitch, have reservations about charging $15 for an actual added value.

    • Jonathan Johnson says:

      I believe the reason airlines charge for checked bags and not carry-ons is because loading the hold with air freight is much more lucrative than stowing your dirty laundry.

      • Patrick says:

        Planes, on average, are considerably smaller than they used to be. There simply isn’t enough room in the holds for everybody’s carry-ons, checked bags, and mail and cargo.

        • Simon says:

          So maybe that’s an indication airlines are indeed packing too many people into space not designed for that load. 😉

          Stepping back, regardless of where people put bags, the fact that some bags can be brought along for free creates an incentive to bring along more stuff. Assuming airlines indeed do not have enough capacity for everything, they’d be wise to create an incentive for people to bring along less. Charging for carry-ons would do exactly that. And since it would make boarding/deboarding a whole lot more pleasant, it’s an extra value for all customers, those with and those without luggage.

  26. I hate big carry-on bags anyway and do my best to come up with the extra money to pay for a checked bag. Frontier usually has an upgrade package that’s pretty reasonable and it includes a checked bag and extra legroom. So nice dumping your bag off and only having a laptop/tablet in the cabin. But then again I can work an hour of OT or whatever to come up with the funds.

  27. Mitch from Boston says:

    Just finished “Lake Success,” by Gary Shteyngart. There the main character talks about lugging his “rollerboard” on a Greyhound bus. Took me several pages to realize that he was not talking about some variant of a skateboard.

    • Mamjja, J.F. says:

      Mitch, I just finished “Lake Success” also, and Shteyngart’s constant references to Cohen’s “rollerboard” drove me crazy. Spoiler alert – I was glad to see it go!

  28. Nicole says:

    But these bags fit down the aisle of Southwest and JetBlue, right in front of me! This makes disembarking faster, rather than having to drag something behind or carry it, bumping into the seats.

    We’ll be extra mindful about keeping the bags next to us, but they’re much more fun and easier overall—when they’re carry-on size.

    • Chris says:

      It seems to me that a bag too heavy to carry from the boarding door to your seat is categorically too heavy to be carried on at all and should instead be checked.

      • Nicole says:

        It’s not too heavy, not even close. Carrying a bag does tend to bump the seats. It’s faster to disembark while rolling it in front. While boarding, it’s likewise easier not to risk bumping anyone’s armrest. Perhaps you are very tall so can hold the bag higher? At 5’5”, I find they bump the seats. Or the personal item does. This way, nothing is in anyone else’s way.

  29. Jesse says:

    Hold on a second. Just after complaining about people who mistakenly call them “roller boards”, you slip into calling them roller boards in the last couple of paragraphs. I honestly can’t tell whether you are trolling us, making a joke, or whether you slipped into the same grammatical/pronunciation error in the last couple of paragraphs that you just finished complaining about. If the latter, that might explain why others tend to do the same.

    • Mamjja, J.F. says:

      LOL!!!
      A true case of “…that which we hate in others…”.
      Cut Patrick some slack though, we’ve all done it,
      and it’s really funny!

  30. Gary L. Mullen-Schultz says:

    RIP, Joe. We miss your voice.

    • Clark says:

      “I’m the all night drug-prowling wolf, Who looks so sick in the sun
      I’m the white man in the Palais, I’m only lookin’ for fun.”