Why does our luggage get so beaten-up when we fly?

Airport baggage systems have changed in many ways since 2001. In most major airports, all checked luggage is carefully security screened using special baggage X-ray systems. Although this activity has greatly improved the safety of the flying public, it has been very hard on our luggage.

As if we didn't have enough to worry about with airport security and the baggage handling system beating-up our luggage, in some airports, dishonest baggage handlers have learned the simple trick of how to open a zippered suitcase with only a ball-point pen! As a result, theft and smuggling are a very real threat to anyone who checks-in a bag.

It is not widely publicized but organized crime has a presence at most major airports in the USA! (not to mention around the world) The degree of illegal activity is much more wide spread in less developed countries. Ironically, these countries often have much more severe penalty for things like drug trafficking and smuggling. Even with straps around your zippered luggage, the "bad guys" can still open any zippered luggage and remove your valuables or put contraband inside. There are many stories about innocent people going to prison (and worse) for someone else's crime. Don't be a victim, buy hardsided, non-zippered luggage!

Why Should You Buy Hard Sided Luggage?

Because new baggage handling systems treat every bag like they are very heavy!

In years past, you could have been correct in blaming damage to your checked luggage on the baggage handlers but this i6 not so true today. The main reason for baggage damage is the actual airport baggage system that transports your luggage from the baggage check-in counter through the securit5 screening and on to the carousal deep inside the airport where baggage handlers load the container that are loaded into the aircraft.

Without giving away too many security secrets, you luggage is considered "unknown" until it has been "cleared" by the airport baggage security screening X-rays. If you baggage needs extra screening after the X-ray it is considered to be "rejected" and is delivered to another higher level of search - usually it is opened and searched by hand.

Some people still do not realize that every checked bag is security screened using X-rays so your bag will go through these kickers too!

As the baggage system is moving these two different types of bags around, it needs to separate them and move the cleared bags onto a separate belt system (and then on to your aircraft) and the rejected bags must be rerouted to a second layer of screening. In some cases, the designers of these systems need to use "luggage kickers" to literally kick your cleared luggage from one belt to another. (You aren't going to kick a bag that might have a bomb in it are you?)

(Kicker mechanism redirecting "cleared" bags to airplanes and sending suspect bags to next level of search)
(Kicker mechanism redirecting "cleared" bags to airplanes and sending suspect bags to next level of search)

Why Should You Buy Non-Zippered Luggage?

Because the only tool that you need to open a zipper is a ball-point pen!

It's true! Just watch this amazing video...

You are legally responsible for the contents of your checked and carry-on luggage. If left unattended or once your traditional zipper-sealed luggage enters the airport's baggage handling system, anyone can open your luggage (even if it is locked), place something in/or take something out and then easily reseal your luggage so that no one knows that they were there!

The safest way to avoid being victimized is to buy luggage that does not rely on zippers to keep it closed! Some of the leading luggage manufacturers like Samsonite are aware of this security problem and now make zippered luggage where the zipper-pullers/handle are locked in place. This makes it more difficult for the "bad guys" to open the suitcase. It also makes it almost impossible for them to cover their tracks by simply closing the case by running the zipper-pullers over the zip to close it.

(Learn how to open zippered luggage with just a ball-point pen!))

So what kind of luggage should you buy?

View our in-depth comparison of hard and soft sided luggage here.

It's all well and good for us to tell you about the dangers of using zippered, soft-sided luggage but we'd be wrong to not discuss the various "safe luggage" or "secure luggage" options consumers have today. Protecting yourself against theft, smugglers and damage is quite easy. All you have to do is shop around for a suitcase that:

1) Is constructed with a hard shell (not just a frame) that contains PVC, Aluminum, Polypropylene or Polycarbonate.

2) Does not have zippers anywhere on the outside of the bag. (Even outside zippered pockets can be used by smugglers)

What to look for in a safe suitcase

Keep in mind that with the added security that a zipperless hardsided suitcase provides, there are a few downsides that you should be aware of:

1) Not really a downside but more of a caution, some people assume that hardsided luggage is more expensive than fabric or soft-sided suitcases. This is simply not true. Just think how time consuming it is to sew and glue all of the various component pieces of a fabric bag. Hardsided suitcases are generally stamped out of molds and then fastened together using screws or rivets. It takes far less time and expense to build these bags. Plus, in the long run, hardsided bags tend to last longer than the cheaper soft sided equivalents.

2) Hardsided luggage can be slightly heavier than fabric/soft sided cases. That means that you must pack a little less or risk going over your airline's weight allowance. Even fabric suitcase can get quite heavy so just be aware of the weight of any bag that you purchase.

3) The lighter the side wall material, the easier it is to flex. The really lightweight Polycarbonate bags can be very flimsy so beware. At least the "bad guys" are less likely to try to stash something in your bag.

4) Hardsided luggage is usually loaded at the bottom of the luggage containers loaded into aircraft. That means that, in its' lifetime, hardsided luggage will get a lot of stuff stacked on top of it.

In the beginning... there was the Samsonite Oyster

Samsonite Oyster lineAaah, the Oyster... I have had two of these. Correction, I have two of these suitcases. The first one joined my family in 1989 on a business trip to Belgium. Yes, it's almost 30 years old and still going strong. I have had to replace a couple of latches over the years but it is still the best case I have ever owned!

Unfortunately, Samsonite has stopped making the Oyster line. It was replaced by the F'Lite, Scure and Cruisair lines. I do miss the square lines of the Oyster. It did have it's drawbacks. It can feel unstable and wobbly when you were rolling it on the wheels. My wife and I have two of the F'Lites and we love them but somehow they are not as great as the old Oysters. Must be a case of nostalgia.

Not to worry, even though by comparison most suitcases made today are what you could consider unsafe, there are a good number of choices still available from well known companies like Samsonite, Delsey, Zero Halliburton, Mancini Leather Goods, Heys, Lojel, Rimowa, Roncanto and Traveler's Club Luggage. We have put together a few pages with links to where you can buy them.

Your Top Picks:

We see which suitcases people choose when they buy through our site so we can tell you exactly which ones sell the most. Here are the top sellers to date:

Delsey Belfort Plus
Delsey has been in business since 1911 and all of there products are made in France This suitcase is by-far our top seller. It is fully lined and a gorgeous case. It is available in three colors and all three are very popular.
Samsonite S'cure
From the world's leader in luggage, this suitcase is our second most popular case (a very close second). It is partially lined and like its name, a very secure suitcase. It is available in three colors and the black seems to be most popular.