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Get the best luggage for more crowded planes

October 8, 2008

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Checked-bag fees ($15 for the first bag on many airlines; $25 or more for the second) make it tempting to cram your stuff into carry-on luggage. But among the 12 small rolling suitcases CR tested, there were differences in durability, capacity and convenience. And four don't quite meet the carry-on size limit for many airlines, so you might have to check them after all.

The Tumi Alpha 22 inch, at $595, bested CR's ratings, but CR paid just $77 for another top rated model: The Delsey Helium Fusion.

How CR tested

CR's testers filled suitcases until they weighed 20 to 25 pounds and tumbled them up to 1,000 times to mimic rough handling. In addition to the tumbler test, six staffers pulled each suitcase over tiled and carpeted floors, up and down stairs and ramps, and through a zigzag course.

What CR found

Most carry-on luggage survived CR's tumbler with no more than scuffs, dents, small rips or lost zipper tabs. But two of three Kenneth Cole Reaction Lite Altitude 21-inch bags, $120, had severe rips or a broken zipper, so the contents could have spilled out.

Most bags CR tested meet a common carry-on size limit (as a rule, length, width and height total 45 inches), but the Victorinox Mobilizer NCT 4.0 22-inch, $400; Hartmann Stratum 22 inch, $350; Liz Claiborne Marina 21-inch, $85; and Kenneth Cole are bigger.

Most bags weigh nine or 10 pounds empty. The Heys XCase 20, $67, weighs just five pounds. The Hartmann was hardest to tip over.

All the carry-on luggage had comfortable handles and were easy to pull, panelists said. But four of six panelists said the Heys' pulling handle is too short.

Bottom line

Best overall was the Tumi, $595, with more room than most and a garment bag. Several very good choices cost far less. A solid plastic exterior, as on the Heys and Titan, looks sleek but could get scuffed.

Other flight concerns

The airline industry's largest trade group says that financial woes will probably mean more crowded planes, which can make you not only cranky but also sick. Here are some tips from Consumer Reports on how to minimize problems:

Any travel in which you remain immobile can be unhealthy, particularly if it lasts more than eight hours. The result could be deep vein thrombosis (DVT), an uncommon but potentially fatal blood clotting. At increased risk are older passengers and those who smoke, have cancer, are pregnant or are obese.

Drink lots of fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Try for a seat near a bulkhead or exit row. Walk around and stretch your legs and arms regularly. People who have had recent surgery, are taking oral contraceptives or hormone-replacement therapy, have restricted mobility or have blood-clotting problems should consult a physician before long-distance travel. Some passengers might need support hose to prevent leg swelling.

Jettison jet lag

Anyone traveling across more than one time zone can suffer from jet lag, but it's often worst when passengers fly east.

Again, drink plenty of liquids. On super-long trips, try for a stopover. And avoid large meals. An animal study released in May by the Harvard Medical School suggests that long-distance travelers may be able to reset their body clocks by fasting for 12 to 16 hours, then eating at their destination's breakfast time.

Some evidence suggests that taking the supplement melatonin at bedtime might help. If you're going eastward, seek bright light in the morning; westward, in the afternoon. Spend time outdoors, and consider short naps.

To stay healthy, comfortable

¢ Carry antibacterial wipes or a small container of hand sanitizer.

¢ Drink water to counteract dry cabin air.

¢ To avoid earaches, swallow often, suck on lozenges or chew gum. Taking an oral or nasal decongestant 30 minutes before flying might help.

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