Did Rollaboards Destroy Air Travel Civility?

Discussions about carry-on allowances, etiquette, annoyances are a dime a dozen. I haven’t counted, but I would confidently say there are literally thousands such threads on various travel communities.

So why, oh why, would I highlight a thread in which travelers discuss carry-on allowances, etiquette and annoyances.

Fair question.

The answer: there were a couple of bits that caught my fancy (and I thought might catch your fancy too), and several references that made me think of something I never thought of before.

On that last point, several travelers posting in the thread, beginning with the original poster, specifically referred to the wheels on many fellow travelers’ carry-on bags.

I am now in the minority having a hand baggage bag rather than a wheel along ‘mini’ suitcase. ~slippeddisc

My wheeled case that goes in the overhead bin is barely 19inches ~Riff M

Flying back last month from LAX, the woman across from me carried on a wheelie bag, backpack and tote bag/purse ~BooKat

I travel with an 18 inch wheeled carry-on ~SeattleSophie

(Emphasis added)

These references, combined with a recent re-watching of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” reminded me that it wasn’t all that long ago that wheeled luggage simply didn’t exist – or at least didn’t exist in any practically useful form.

Back in the 80’s and early 90’s you carried your luggage.

Generally speaking, people tend to claim that it was the airlines that shaped travelers’ behavior and encouraged more carry-on through increased checked baggage fees, lax carry-on enforcement, and lost luggage. But all of this talk of wheels makes me question if that is, in fact, true.

If you are of a certain age and are someone who tends to have a lot of carry-on luggage, would you say you started this practice because of the airlines’ actions or because wheeled luggage simply made it easier to bring bigger bags with you?

Or, put another way, if luggage didn’t have wheels do you think you would utilize check-in more and carry less of it with you?

Personally, I blame Bernard D. Sadow and Robert Plath for the carry-on issues we all struggle with today. And I thank Mr. Sadow and Mr. Plath for initiating thousands of online travel discussions 🙂

Now for the parts of the conversation that struck me funny.

In tongue-in-cheek reply to kitap’s following suggestion:

I feel carry-ons should not be larger than my checked suitcase.

froggyEngland writes:

Whereas I agree with your sentiment, I feel a general rule saying ” carry on must not be larger than kitaps checked bag ” will cause only confusion 😀

And I got a kick out of Dubai_Phil_64’s recollection of the good ole days of checked luggage:

I missed the good old times when I was stationed in Russia. There you would load your carry-on yourself in a special compartment (back of airplane or downstairs) and then proceed to the seat. So everybody was relaxed about hand luggage.


And yes of course, once we were in the air you could smoke.

Read the thread in its entirety: now in the minority carrying on a bag instead of a suitcase

suitcases” by Harry. CC BY 2.0.


  1. There were issues even before rollaboards. But yes they made things worse. We had plenty of problems pre-2008 when checked bags were free.

    One of the most civilized moments of travel was in 2006 during that ban on carry on liquids, which meant just about everyone checked in their bags. No fights for bin space then. But a lot of extra waiting time…

  2. They also make terminals more challenging to get through – gate lice with their bags angled behind them pushing out into the walk-space, folks with two wheelies that take up more than twice as much aisle width, etc.

  3. Look at major European carriers – the ones that don’t charge for bags. Rolling luggage exists for them, but there’s still bin space and boarding is much more civilized because only the road warriors actually bring their lives aboard.

  4. My rule for carry on hasn’t changed since college (1990-1994) when I carried a small-medium sized duffel bag on board with about 5 days worth of clothes.
    So no, even without wheels for short trips I wouldn’t carry on.

    What drives me to check bags is usually one of two things:

    1. I’m traveling with a lot of items so I have a bigger bag.
    2. I’m traveling with prohibited items (I travel for work and do construction type work)

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