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
The TriStar is not inexpensive at $315, but frequent flyers seem to love it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here it is, filled with a 4-day trip of clothes (Spare suit, 3 shirts, spare shoes, t-shirts, jeans and gym kit).
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.
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!
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!