Why Pilots Only Travel with Soft-Sided Luggage

The answers may surprise you!

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Finding the right carry-on luggage that fits the restrictions for major airlines is hard enough as a traveler. But what if traveling is your day job and you need to find a strong, dependable bag for your trips? The debate between hard-sided versus soft-sided luggage has been in contention for a long time. But which carry-on luggage do pilots, who spend a good portion of their time traveling, prefer? In case finding the right carry-on luggage wasn’t hard enough, here are 19 of the scariest moments pilots have experienced while on the job.

According to Consumer Reports, the majority of the U.S. market is comprised of soft-sided luggage, which is typically made of woven nylon fabrics—fabrics that have some give to them but are still long-lasting. “Almost all U.S. airline crew members use soft-sided roll-aboard bags,” Patrick Smith, airline pilot, air travel blogger, and author, tells Reader’s Digest. “My roll-aboard of choice is a 24-inch model from Luggage Works, a specialty luggage company that caters to airline personnel. The company’s bags are attractive and extremely durable. They’re not inexpensive, but they can last ten years or more even with heavy use.” According to Smith, the majority of people who buy products from Luggage Works are pilots and flight attendants, but anyone can buy a bag from that brand. Looking for inspiration on how to pack smart before your next trip? This is how a savvy traveler packed all of her belongings into her carry-on bags.

“I prefer soft-sided luggage as it’s less heavy. My boyfriend loves his hard-sided luggage,” Madeleine Schneider-Weiffenbach, a licensed pilot from Munich, Germany, told Reader’s Digest. Schneider-Weiffenbach is now a jet-setting travel and lifestyle blogger, writing about her experiences on her Instagram account, @PilotMadeleine. Since Schneider-Weiffenbach travels with her boyfriend and baby, her favorite travel bags are more versatile—for instance, her go-to travel bag is her baby’s GUCCI diaper bag. “As a carry-on suitcase, I love the one by TUMI,” she says. Schneider-Weiffenbach is always on the go, so she tends to buy new suitcases every two years.

“For many travelers, the four-wheeled roll-aboard, sometimes called the ‘spinner’ bag, has become increasingly common,” says Smith. “The problem with these bags is that people have a tendency to hold them off to one side, sometimes at arm’s length. Every person walking like this now takes up the lateral space of two people.” While it’s important to be polite while on planes, that courtesy extends before you even get on the plane. “Airport corridors are crowded and narrow enough as it is. Add thousands of passengers into such congested spaces, each hauling their little outstretched sidecar, and you’ve created the worst kind of obstacle course,” Smith explains.

Swedish pilot Maria Pettersson prefers “half soft-sided” luggage, which offers a bit more support than the typical soft-sided luggage, but provides more flexibility than hard-sided luggage. She’s still looking for the perfect carry-on bag but has found a few items that work for her in the meantime. “My pilot bag at the moment is a backpack from Samsonite and when traveling as a passenger I use one from a Swedish brand called Douchebag (yes that is their actual name @douchebag on Instagram).” Pettersson tends to buy new luggage each year because despite reviews stating the best quality, sometimes bags don’t hold up under the pressure of a high-travel lifestyle. These are our picks for the best luggage brands.

And, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for—sometimes spending more and making an investment could be better in the long run. “Brands like TravelPro also are popular, but you won’t get the same durability,” says Smith. Whichever bag you choose to go with, make sure you know what to pack in your carry-on bag.

Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a former associate editor and writer at RD.com whose work has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, Golf Channel and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her writing can be found on her website, madelinehwahl.com.