Why you should care

Because snapped ankles and head trauma suck.

My friend John turns white four days before any flight — and green two days later. But an MIT scientist once explained to me that I’d have to fly every day for 10,000 years to be in with a real chance of crashing, so it’s not the flying that fuels my fear so much as the thought of going down … before the flight. I’m afraid of the bombs gliding along floors of airports around the world, just waiting to trip up some 3 billion passengers a year. Air and railway terminals are full of them, and yet nobody runs screaming.

The objectionable horror? The rolling carry-on bag.

I’m declaring a shoulder-strap revolution and demanding that millions of time bombs get rolled out from underfoot.

Yes, I know. They’re cute, colorful — sometimes polka-dotted — and ever so handy. A few of the kiddie varieties even light up. And they carry everything, from clothing, laptops and books to my cousin’s dumbbells and divers’ weight belts. They’ve replaced the modest purse, backpack and briefcase, enabling us to schlep heavy loads at breakneck speeds inside their 14-by-22-by-9-inch frames. Which would be fine if these vehicles hung harmlessly from hands, shoulders or even teeth. But, instead, their 2-foot handles put their wheels far away from their owners and in closer contact with countless others, who have no control over how, when or where they swing.

This, says Virginia lawyer Doug Landau, who specializes in transport injury, “makes them dangerous because they’re moving wrecking balls.” Rugby players know they must aim low to take out opponents, and OZY’s own martial arts expert, Eugene Robinson, agrees, noting that “anything from the knees on down … [means] someone’s going to be hitting the floor.”

Travelers are starting to speak up about the danger, with a third of British passengers admitting that they’ve been hurt inside airport terminals — half of them by luggage, some of them by tripping over bags. Airports, after all, are confusing places, where everyone’s wandering around with their chins cast skyward, staring at acres of digital signs overhead. And they’re prone to change direction at a moment’s notice, with their bags flying around like loose trailers on a lawless interstate.

Requests for injury figures from the big airports — Heathrow, Dulles, Atlanta, the NYC hubs — and even London’s King’s Cross railway station didn’t get me far. But Landau agrees that I may be on to something. Though he hasn’t had any cases related to in-terminal tripping over other people’s suitcases, it “probably happens much more frequently than is reported,” he says, noting that airport incidents go undocumented a lot. Folks don’t stop to fill out reports “because they’re trying to catch a plane, a connection or a ride home,” Landau says. Or because they’re embarrassed. And to bolster my case, he offers, “I’ve seen them cause near-falls several times recently.”

New York City injury lawyer Abram Bohrer agrees that rollerbags are hazardous, but not for trip-and-fall reasons. “I think that the bigger health hazard … is bags falling from overhead,” he says, referring to the “dozens and dozens of calls a month” his firm receives on the subject. Landau admits this makes up the bulk of his cases too, along with airline staff injuries linked to helping passengers hoist their luggage. Thirty years ago, he says, it was tray and drink carts causing the most injuries; today it’s the ubiquitous rolling bag.

Flight attendants have been concerned by such injuries for years, and while sizes were reined in slightly by some airlines last year, they’ll do little to stop grandma from filling her carry-on with photo albums and then asking for a bit of help lifting the bag. Worldwide, there were an estimated 3.2 billion air passengers in 2014, up from 2 billion just six years earlier. Multiply all those dive belts and photo albums by the skyrocketing passenger rates, and we have ourselves an epidemic. As volume increases and we “pack more people into the same space, invariably more injuries occur,” Bohrer says.

So it’s time to start packing the old-fashioned way: lighter. Carry-ons should include pill boxes, diapers and crosswords — not 30 pounds of dumbbells, several changes of clothes or buoyancy aids. Dust off your backpacks, duffels, satchels and giant handbags, because I’m declaring a shoulder-strap revolution and demanding that millions of time bombs get rolled out from underfoot. Today. And I don’t want to hear about your aching back.

Tell us: Are rollerbags a scourge?

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OZYImmodest proposal

Propositions that fall on the continuum between controversial and utterly insane. Sometimes we're tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes, dead serious.