Let me say this up front – I hate to check luggage. I lived out of one suitcase for three weeks in China, two weeks in the United Kingdom and a week-long Caribbean cruise. Call it the impatience factor: When I arrive somewhere, I want to escape the airplane and be on my way, no stopping for interminable baggage carousels or worrying that my suitcase went to Los Angeles instead of Los Cabos. And I never, ever, want to pay a fee for checking my bags.
Over the years, I’ve developed multiple techniques to cram as much stuff into one wheeled suitcase and an over-the-shoulder, oversize carry-on. Don’t like seeing me in the same outfit twice? Tough. As long as my underwear and socks are clean, I’m a happy traveler.
Still, I have encountered overhead storage issues. Flight attendants beg passengers to load their suitcases in the overheads wheels first. Great in theory. Unfortunately, many bins still lack adequate depth and suddenly your bag is taking up the space meant for two — sorry, seat mates — because it had to be stored sideways.
Now, travel goods manufacturers including Briggs & Riley, Samsonite, Travelpro and Eagle Creek have come up with a solution: the wide body. These wheeled bags still stay under the 45” inches maximum dimensions (height x width x depth) required by airlines to qualify as a carry-on by shaving an inch or two off the height but adding them back to the width. The result? A more square-shaped suitcase that squeezes into most overhead bins and, Eureka!, the bin door closes.
So when Briggs & Riley offered me the chance to test-fly one of its Baseline Wide-Body models, I was game, especially because my next trip was a week in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’m a sucker for Briggs & Riley bags: They stand up to just about anything, the wheels never fall off (I had a ugly incident with a “high-end” suitcase made by another brand whose wheels actually disintegrated as I walked through Los Angeles International Airport) and they have a lifetime warranty for damage, even if the damage was caused by an airline.
A week before my trip, the 20” Carry-On Expandable Wide-Body Upright arrived on my doorstep. It didn’t look smaller than my older 21” Briggs & Riley model, but a side-by-side comparison proved the wide-body is a tad shorter and less deep. I loaded it up. What I liked: With the handle attached to the outside, the case has a flat packing surface. The broader shape means most clothing needs only to be folded in half to fit; I had a lot of extra room around the sides and corners to stuff in extras like socks. It’s very lightweight and the encased wheels with steel bearings are tough enough to be dragged over concrete curbs or down a flight of stairs. And, as I discovered, with a few pulls on zippers, the bag expands its depth another two inches.
What I didn’t like so much: This model has a built-in garment bag. One panel can be removed and left behind, but not all of it, a waste if you are headed on a leisure trip and aren’t taking a dress or jacket that needs to be hung. Also, the new Baseline models have eliminated the handy-dandy elastic shoe cubbies. I liked them not only for keeping my soiled footwear away from my clothing, but they were also a perfect place to toss small items — think computer plugs and travel alarm clocks — that one searches for upon arrival. And I’ve yet to figure out what should go in the “convenient” outside pocket between the rear handles.
How did it stand up to a week in Argentina? Very well, thank you. Not only did all my clothes, toiletries and other gear fit, but I had enough extra space to squish in a full-size pillow for that 10-hour flight without deploying the extra two inches. When I swung the bag into the overhead bin wheels-first and saw for myself that it would fit with a few centimeters to spare, I was sold.
The bag has one more use, which undoubtedly the airlines will frown upon: The 20” wide-body fits perfectly between your seat and the one in front of you, making a comfy footrest, just about level with the height of the seat.
Bottom line: From now on, for travel purposes, it’s better to be short and broad than tall and skinny.