Suitcases have come a long way since the early days of airline travel. Back then, a suitcase was a heavy burden to tote. The more you packed, the heavier your suitcase would be — and the harder it would be to lug from home to the airport, on a plane, off a plane and to your final destination.
Until, that is, an unlikely innovator tried adding a small suitcase feature that would make a huge difference for travelers — wheels!
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the invention of the Rollaboard® suitcase, an invention that transformed the lives of those traveling for business and pleasure. At JTB Business Travel, we welcome the opportunity to celebrate anything that makes work-related travel more efficient and less stressful. With that in mind, here’s a look at how the Rollaboard® came to be, as well as a look at the future of luggage.
A Simple Solution to a Huge Problem
Who knows air travel better than a pilot? It was Northwest Airlines pilot Bob Plath who finally got so tired of lugging a heavy suitcase around that he decided to do something about it.
In 1987, Plath turned his garage into a workshop and started a project that would eventually become the Rollaboard® suitcase. At that time, passengers largely had access only to traditional suitcases that had to be carried by a handle, or rolling suitcases that laid horizontal and the owner pulled by a strap — which wasn’t always convenient or practical.
These traditional suitcases weren’t just difficult to carry, they were also prone to tipping over. Falling suitcases often created roadblocks in terminals, and they sometimes triggered the dreaded “domino effect” of tipping over every other suitcase in the vicinity.
The original rolling suitcases left the owner zero control — when the owner would stop, the suitcase would just keep on rolling until it clipped the owners ankles or the ankles of some other unsuspecting passenger.
Commonly used suitcases in the mid-1980s were neither practical nor convenient.
But Plath’s version of a rolling suitcase was different. He designed a suitcase with two wheels at one end and a collapsible handle on the other. This allowed the bag to be pulled vertically rather than dragged horizontally. Also, because the suitcase featured a handle rather than a strap, it was easier to pull and control than strap-pulled alternatives. Perhaps best of all, Plath’s rolling suitcase fit nicely into an overhead compartment, allowing passengers to use it as a carry-on.
Plath first started selling his invention to other pilots and flight attendants. Then passengers started asking about the Rollaboard®. By 1989, Plath had moved his little suitcase manufacturing business out of his garage and into a 185,000-square-foot warehouse. By 1991, he had retired from Northwest Airlines to focus on his new business, called “Travelpro.”
The Rollaboard® Today
Travelpro is still around and still selling the Rollaboard® today, even though Plath has retired. And the impact Travelpro’s Rollaboard® made on the industry can’t be overstated.
Today, overhead compartment space is always at a premium in part because the Rollarboard® led to a “culture of carry-ons.” Can you imagine: Airlines once offered plenty of overhead space because so many passengers chose to check their bulky, difficult-to-carry baggage. Of course, checked bag fees have also contributed to the culture of carry-ons, but it’s rolling suitcases like the Rollaboard® that have made carrying on so feasible for all passengers.
The spirit of innovation that led to the Rollaboard® also continues today. You can now find connected suitcases that feature USB ports for charging devices. You can find customizable suitcase options that allow you to add the features you most want. And you can even find mobile suitcases that let you zoom through airport terminals rather than walking.
So here’s a toast to Mr. Plath on the 30th anniversary of his Rollaboard®! Now if only someone could find a sensible way to lift and stow that bag in the overhead bin without knocking out the passenger below.
A Business Travel Agency Focused on Common Sense
When Bob Plath recognized a problem with the suitcases of his time, he created a common sense solution. And that’s exactly how we approach our work at JTB Business Travel.
As a comprehensive corporate travel agency, we serve organizations large and small with common sense solutions to business travel problems. Our services are designed to increase the return on investment that companies enjoy from travel, as well as to enhance the travel experience for team members.
Interested in learning more about JTB Business Travel? Contact us today and learn more about our common sense approach to corporate travel.