Tag Archives: Travel

What bag to carry on a Regional Jet

As a part of my job, I get to do a good bit of travel. I suspect that some people who don’t fly a lot imagine this is glamorous like Jennifer Aniston’s A380 Emirates advertisement!

In reality, a good amount of it is being crammed into a 50-seater Regional Jet, especially when doing short 90-120 minute hops in the USA. In fact, American Airlines uses American Eagle as its regional carrier, and has 290 small jets which were acquired in a spree of consolidation over the last 20 years.

Many passengers hate them, but I’ve come to quite like them. However, they don’t have any WiFi and they can’t take a full size 22″x14″x9″ (2772 cubic inches) carry-on bag in the cabin.

The Gate Check

If you’ve been in Zone 5 in an American Airlines flight, you will have experienced the loathed Gate Check, where they take your bag off you at the plane entrance, and you pick it up at the baggage carousel at your destination. For frequent flyers this is highly frustrating, because we hate waiting for anything. This is one of the major reasons that keeps flyers loyal to an airline: if you fly more than 50,000 miles a year with that airline, you start to get perks like priority boarding, so that does’t happen so much.

The Regional Jet

The Regional Jet, or RJ, is a set of planes with 50-60 seats, usually, like the Bombardier CRJ-200, configured in a 2+2, or like the Embraer ERJ-145, a 2+1 seat config. Some, like the Bombardier CRJ-700 and CRJ-900 (formerly Canadair) and Embraer ERJ-175, have a 1+1 first class at the front, but most are all economy. The bin sizes vary on all these jets, and if you want to get really specific, there is a nice thread here which discusses the varied overhead cabin sizes… but the short version is that 19″x14″x8″ (2128 cubic inches) is the largest bag that will fit in these jets – and that is tight.

Also note that they will almost always valet check any rollaboard bag, regardless of size (unless it’s really small, see later on). That’s dependent on the cabin crew, who have final say.

The Valet Check

The valet check first appears similar to the gate check, but instead of a full luggage tag, you get a valet-like cardboard receipt when you give the bag to the luggage handler when boarding your flight.

 

When you get off the flight, you line up on the jetway and wait for your bag to be returned to you. This typically takes 5 minutes or less and is pretty convenient. But for some reason I don’t like to valet check. When I get to my destination, I want to get out the airport and on with the day.

So what do you do if you don’t want to valet check? You find a bag which works for you! Here are my top suggestions.

Tom Bihn TriStar

These two bags from Tom Bihn are designed for the 1-3 night flyer. The TriStar is a really tight fit on a CRJ-200 at 1976cuin and they have the Western Flyer (1812 cuin), which will fit easily.

The TriStar is not inexpensive at $315, but frequent flyers seem to love it.

Tom Bihn TriStar

The TriStar has 3 fold-out pockets and can take a spare set of shoes and gym kit on one side, shirts on the other, and a laptop in the middle. Don’t believe it? Check out this video. It also converts into a backpack. Tom Bihn bags are made in the USA and only available on their website.

Red Oxx Air Boss

I was in JFK airport a few months back and saw a guy carrying two of Red Oxx’s signature bag, the Air Boss. Honestly, he looked like he was going to collapse under the weight, because these things overpack to be huge! At 21″x8″x13″ it is on the high-end of being able to fit in a CRJ-200, and if you overpack it then it just won’t fit.

But if you want a full-size carry-on that can carry anything, this bag might be a good fit. At $255, it’s a little less expensive than the Tom Bihn option, and also made in the USA.

Air Boss Carry-on Bag Designed for 1 Bag Business Travelers by R

Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag

I don’t know that I love the design of the Gate8 bag, but it’s a cool invention. It fits a suit and clothes in the main bag, and it has a zip-off laptop bag.

Gate8 TriFold Cabin Bag

When fully packed (watch this video to see how), you can’t fit both into the overhead bin of a Regional Jet. Instead – just unzip the laptop and put it under your seat. This makes it a super-convenient option and at $235, it might be considered good value since you get two bags for the price of one!

Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia

The Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia has been replaced by the Norwich, and I own the older model, which I bought deeply discounted (the original $1000 retail price is insane).

At 17.5″x16.5″x8″ it is a very tight fit in the smallest Regional Jets, and you have to remove the laptop and put it wheels out! I assume that the Norwich would also fit (it’s the same, but has spinning wheels), but you’d need to check this, and they have a 30-day returns policy in-store.

Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia

Incredibly, it will fit a spare pair of shoes, gym clothes, 3 shirts, jeans, underwear, washbag and a laptop, when packed to a bulge. It’s the bag I use for 2 night trips, when a single suit will suffice.

The nice thing about this bag is that it looks like a laptop bag, so you don’t get challenged when boarding the flight (remember to fold the handle and carry it on, not drag it!), and it also looks quite nice with its leather and chrome. The latest version is generally available on discount for $700, but deeper discounts are available periodically.

Lat56 Red-Eye

The Lat56 Red-Eye is the latest addition to my collection. It’s an interesting bag because it has a unique feature – a supposedly wrinkle-free suit carrier which fits in the lid.

Lat56 Red-Eye

Here it is, filled with a 4-day trip of clothes (Spare suit, 3 shirts, spare shoes, t-shirts, jeans and gym kit).

 

Lat56 Red-Eye

At a claimed 21.5″x10.5″x7.5″ it should neatly fit in a regional jet (I reckon it’s closer to 22″x11″x9″) and because it’s so light at 2.4lb, you can easily carry it fully packed.

It does require a separate bag for your laptop, and since it doesn’t have external pockets, it’s necessary to put your wash bag in your laptop bag (no big deal for me). If you want a wrinkle-free spare suit with you, there are precious few options. It looks indestructible and at $299, it’s pricey but not insane.

Packing

This requires a whole separate blog, but oftentimes, people ask me how I can pack in such a small bag. The short answer is by packing only what I need. There are several themes here:

  • A 3-day trip only really needs 2 changes of clothes. I wear Monday’s clothes, and pack for Tues/Weds.
  • Personally I like to carry gym clothes and casual clothes for the evening (jeans and a t-shirt).
  • Transfer things like hand creams into 1oz containers or less. This way you can fit all you need for a week of travel into a small TSA-approved cosmetic case.

I never carry anything I don’t use, so everything in the bag has a purpose. I’ll blog on this in more detail some time!

Final Words

I am aware that all this time spent on the humble travel bag could be considered a little neurotic, but traveling efficiently has become a bit of a fun obsession for me. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this and if you fly frequently on the Regional Jet (dubbed the flying sewage pipe by many customers) then you might consider putting away the full-size carry-on rollaboard and go lighter.

Also if your preference is to check a bag, or valet-check a carry-on, then that’s all good. The world is made up of preferences!

Happy Travels!

The Shrinking Airline Seat and Expanding Passenger Dilemma

I saw sat next to a very large person on a flight some years back. I was jammed into a seat, and the passenger next to him sat down. He splutters and coughs:

That’s disgusting. When did you last smoke! You stink!

Without skipping a beat, she responded:

When did you last eat?

He didn’t have anything else to say.

The shrinking airline carry-on

When standing waiting for a flight, airlines will measure that your luggage fits inside a metal cage. If your luggage is deemed to be oversized or overweight, they’ll ask you to pay to check the baggage, and it will go in the hold.

Airlines started to charge for checked baggage, and this led to a decrease in carry-on sizes. Airlines realize that they can derive greater revenue from more checked baggage, and also that 200 passengers with carry-ons and gate-checked baggage increases the time to board the plane. In the airline industry, time is money.

I don’t mind these rules because in the US there is a pretty clear set of rules – a carry-on is up to 22″x14″x9″ or 2700cuin, plus a personal item of 16″x14″x8″ (this depends on an airline, but it covers a handbag or laptop bag). If they run out of space, they will gate-check the bag for free. Yes, these sizes vary by airline but those sizes are a good guide to fit on any flight.

In Europe this is much rougher, with a lot of airlines offering only one item sized 19″x14″x8″ and a 16lb limit.

Either way, whether you like it or not, you know where you stand, and if you need more space, you can pay for it in the hold of the plane at agreed rates.

The Shrinking Airline Seat

Incredibly, airline seats have been shrinking over the last 10 years as they try to fit more passengers in a plane. I’m currently sat in a standard 18″ economy seat with a 32″ pitch. It’s cosy, but some international flights have 17″ or even 16.5″ wide seats.

Now the average male shoulder width is 18″. I’m a little above average and that means that my shoulders extend past the seats, which is fine, so long as I have an aisle or a window seat. In addition, the 32″ pitch is fine for my 34″ legs, so long as the person in front of me doesn’t want to recline.

But yes, many airlines have reduced the seat width now to be smaller than the average male.

The Expanding Waist Line

In parallel with the shrinking airline seat is the expanding waistline. A Gallup Poll reports that self-reported weight has increased 20lb since 1990. If you believe the CDC, Americans are 1″ taller and 25% heavier than in 1960.

This means that expanding passengers are stuffed into narrower seats that are smaller than the average person.

The seat sizes are driven by the economies of flying, as well as the fact that an increase in seat sizes would mean fewer seats, thereby dramatically driving prices up during peak periods. During quiet periods, center seats are often empty, solving the problem.

What size person is fair to sit in a seat?

If you buy a seat on a plane, you should feel entitled to have that seat. But since the seat is smaller than the average person, if you put three average, 5’9.5″, 195lb males in three adjacent seats, they will be very uncomfortable.

I’ve been in a flight wedged between two very big men and I can attest it is very miserable. There’s no room for elbows, arms, shoulders.

Should we have people size cages?

One solution to this would be to have size cages but for people. If you can fit in, then you’re on the flight. Otherwise you have to pay for a seat (or seats) that can fit the larger passenger.

Writer and director Kevin Smith was thrown off a SouthWest flight for this reason, though it’s not clear just how big he was. As an aside, he has since lost a load of weight.

Some people would argue that weight is a personal choice, and therefore if you choose to weigh more, you choose to need to buy a more expensive seat.

What about for those who are genetically taller? The average American is 5’9.5″, but there are many that are 6’3″ or even taller. Should those people who don’t have a choice on their size also have to buy a bigger seat?

Difficult ethical questions.

What about the person next to them?

As for the person next to them, they also paid for their seat and rightly feel entitled to the space they paid for. Unfortunately, since the seats are only sized for an average-sized person, any above-average size person will eat into the seat next door (or the window area or aisle).

That person probably feels understandably cheated of the space they paid for, and as friend Leonardo De Araujo said:

And what about recliners

Whilst we’re there, we should discuss recliners. British newspaper The Telegraph makes the case for banning them altogether.

I’m actually in favor of this because there’s always some poor person who has an exit row or back seat that won’t recline, and they are the ones that suffer with even less space. Since reclined airline seats are lower than when they are upright, the average number of cubic inches per passenger reduces when all the seats are reclined. And if the person in front of you reclines, you are more or less obliged to.

Free Market Economies

The capitalists amongst us would argue that in a free market, consumers will buy tickets from those airlines who provide comfortable seating, but in reality, consumers buy tickets based on a number of factors, including price, convenience and available routes, loyalty programs, overall customer satisfaction. In many cases there is no choice of carrier, and where there is a choice, there are other factors that may affect a purchase.

What should be done?

One thing is for sure – something has to change. Some advocate regulation of airline seat sizes and there is some sense in this, when a market is unable to self-regulate for the overall best interests of the customer. Others advocate that customers should pay for a whole seat and get a whole seat. This would drive passengers that don’t fit into a regular seat into obesity seating, which presumably would attract a charge, as you would get only 5 seats wide instead of 6, so would cost (at least) 20% more. Steve Rumsby put it simply with:  

In parallel with this needs to come a pragmatic seating policy from airlines. There are aways bulkhead seats available, and many airlines now offer “premium economy seating” for domestic flights which have 2-3″ of extra leg room. Why not use these seats to the best interest of the overall traveling populous?

What do you think?

How British Airways broke this camel’s back

I’m not sure why but the straw has broken the camel’s back. I am currently crammed into a centre economy seat. To the left is a passenger with no concept of personal space and a serious case of halitosis. To my right is another passenger who has ordered the fish menu and has opened it up for me to enjoy the smell.

In front is someone I know that works for BA, who has been given an upgrade to business class. The plane is packed and somehow I feel jilted that BA look after their own employees rather than rewarding their frequent flyers.

I fly a lot with British Airways. Somewhere in the region of 250k miles a year. Mostly economy with a mix of premium economy, business and the occasional first class ticket, depending on who is paying.

By contrast I fly much less with US Airways, though enough to be a frequent flyer. And they treat me curiously well. For instance on a trip to Costa Rica some months back, both myself and my partner got complimentary first class tickets both ways – including a 6’6″ flat bed. In fact I’ve had some sort of upgrade on over half of the US Airways flights i have flown this year.

Because I fly a lot, I get some problems. This is more or less expected and these problems in the last year have included:

  • Destroyed luggage
  • Theft from my luggage
  • Items left in planes never returned to me
  • Crashed planes causing serious delays
  • Being downgraded
  • Flights booked on the wrong dates by agents who refused to change them

What shocks me, and continues to shock me is threefold:

First, I know that BA have a policy of trying to retain their top customers. I’ve been told on multiple occasions that I am such a customer. However the behaviour that they display is in complete conflict with this.

Second, much of the time there are spare seats in a cabin ahead. What is the opportunity risk of upgrading your loyal customers to reward them for their loyalty? I buy the best cabin I can afford and by not upgrading me, BA will not make me contemplate paying more.

Lastly, when there is a problem, there is no worse resolver group than BA Customer Relations. I have contacted them multiple times, filled in surveys and complaints. And never, have they ever offered me compensation, good will, or anything else. They just ignore it.

By contrast I have had equivalent problems with US Airways and Qantas, and both airlines have been helpful and offered me something for my inconvenience.

So I have resolved to do something today. I am going to post this blog and then fill out one last customer survey. BA, you have one last opportunity to do something about it and I am expecting a big gesture. Otherwise, you have lost me, and everyone I have influence over, as a customer for life.

There it is, I have thrown down the gauntlet. On the 1st June, I will post an update, either way. We shall see if BA is capable of engaging its customers.

How traveling by rail has become a disgrace to our nation

I’m sat here in the misery of a First Great Western train carriage. We’re packed into a 35 year old train and I’ve got the armpit from a sweaty teenager in my face. It’s delayed, and everyone is clearly miserable. The cost for this misery: £51 for a one way trip, or £0.80 a mile.

When I first left university, I lived outside of London with my parents; I commuted into London every day and paid £9.80 for the pleasure. That’s approximately £0.17 per mile. It falls in line with what you’d expect: cheap, affordable rail travel. We’ve had a bit of inflation since then, and if you take that into account, you’d expect that journey to cost £13.50 or thereabouts today.

Well if you go on http://thetrainline.com and try to buy a ticket, it will be £45. Pardon, you say? Yes, that’s 333% inflation. But that’s not the full picture of their profiteering. Passenger numbers have soared, 37% in that same period, if you believe this ATOC report. That means that for a given train, they are earning 457% more than they did 10 years ago – in real terms.

Ah, you might say, but they have been investing in the future, building out new shiny trains, wireless access and other amenities. I’m afraid the evidence suggests otherwise. First Great Western are still using the fleet of trains they inherited from British Rail in 1993, and the trains were built some time between 1977 and 1982. Most domestic flights now have wireless internet, but First Great Western operate a Bring Your Own Wireless policy, and stick you in a big faraday cage so you can’t get signal.

How does this make any sense?

Essentially it is an unregulated and anti-competitive market, which is all bad. The monopolised environment simply means that there is no incentive to improve. No incentive to provide a better customer service. No reason not to continue to push prices up.

And the stations?

I think that the stations are more offensive than anything else. I don’t know how many times I have been stood on a cold platform. You see, they used to have waiting rooms, but they realised that this was valuable real estate, so they sold them to minicab companies and rip-off coffee joints.

I was just stood for 20 minutes on a freezing platform with this exact problem. A WH Smith newsagent stands proudly where the waiting room used to be. But it’s OK – I can go and buy a packet of chips there for £0.90, 120% more than a supermarket. Who says they aren’t looking after their passengers?

My local station, Hampton, just retired the station worker that has been there since history began. He wasn’t a spring chicken, but he knew every cheap fare out there. To be fair, one of his replacements is pretty switched on, but the other can barely string a sentence together. It took me nearly 5 minutes to get my ticket today, with a growing line of passengers behind me.

Which brings me neatly to Revenue Protection

My favourite station is Kew Bridge. The ticket office burnt down some years back and for several years it was not actually possible to buy a ticket at any of the stations I went through from home to work. I’d be stopped, periodically, by revenue protection officers (it’s extortion, really). How, I would explain, would you like me to buy a ticket, when you can’t be bothered to have a ticket office at either station in my journey?

Andrew Gilligan wrote a good article on this a few years back. One operator made £32 million out of revenue protection, and financially incentivises its staff based on the amount of revenue they collect from unsuspecting passengers. I have one friend who was actually protected by police at Waterloo by one abusive revenue officer who would not let her buy a ticket, having travelled from the aforementioned Kew Bridge.

What can be done about it?

I really don’t know. Rail operators simply don’t care about customer service. They know that because they operate in a monopoly and most passengers don’t have a choice, they can afford to treat their customers like shit and they will keep buying. And passenger numbers keep rising as roads become more congested, so they keep putting their prices up.

For example, my regular ticket price just went up 6.5% last week, despite UK inflation being around 4%. And more to the point, salaries for most people aren’t increasing so the average person is spending more of their income, in real terms.

Perhaps we can lobby our MPs and our government. But I’m pretty certain they couldn’t care less. My local MP is Zac Goldsmith and I’m pretty certain he doesn’t give a shit. Zac – feel free to prove me wrong by commenting on this blog and tell me what you’re going to do about it.

In the meantime I will be thankful that I mostly travel for work purposes and my employer pays my expenses. Many others are not so fortunate.