Light, stylish, easy to manoeuvre and spacious, yet they slip under aircraft seats or into overhead lockers with ease. At least, that's the theory behind trolley-cases. Our panellists see how they measure up
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The Independent Culture
Trolley-cases, the erstwhile scourge of supermarket aisles, and traditionally brandished as weapons by pensioners, have been upgraded to meet the needs of the serious business person and the seasoned weekend traveller.

The Panel

Putting the latest cases through their paces were marketing manager of Globetrotter David Bloomfield; James Tanner, the luggage buyer for Selfridges; Virgin Atlantic in-flight supervisor David Flanagan; Lisa Balsom, who is the British Airways cabin services director; travel writer Nick Taylor and journalist Catherine Addams.

The Test

As our panellists were, sadly, unable to go away on holiday with each case, they were herded to City Airport instead to give the bags a practical road test of lounges, cafes, escalators and numerous flights of stairs. Each case, packed to capacity, was assessed in terms of style, durability and practicality, as well as how they conformed to the new and complicated airline regulations concerning the size and weight of cabin luggage. The interiors were inspected for the quality of material, accessibility and space. The cases, ranging from the top to the bottom end of the market, were also judged in terms of price.

**Pierre Cardin ODYSSEY 19"

pounds 59.99

This tear-proof polyester case, available in black or blue, was rather deceptive. To begin with our panellists were bickering over who was to parade it around the airport first, but Lisa Balsom was the first to pick up the tell-tale signs. "The stripes don't meet," she exclaimed, referring to the shiny strips coursing down the front which were not properly matched at the seam. Lisa admitted to feeling "thoroughly crestfallen" after her initial enthusiasm and compared the design to "badly pasted wallpaper". On opening the case, Nick Taylor called it "an inverse tardis - considerably smaller on the inside than it seemed on the outside." James Tanner was disappointed to find no lining, though praised the interlocking zips complete with little padlocks and keys. He observed an exoskeletal frame holding the wheels to the case and predicted "an impending disaster of wheels flying everywhere". David Flanagan remained diplomatic: "It wheels around smoothly enough but the frame feels a bit weak. It's good value when compared to the more expensive cases." All had to concede that you could do a lot worse for the price.


pounds 465

Tumi was particularly protective over its cases and requested a detailed account of what the test entailed. One wonders why they should be concerned about durability of a case that advertises its material as developed for bullet-proof vests. This hi-tech, 1050 denier ballistic nylon case is geared towards regular travellers and is designed to fit over and under the seats of most commercial aircraft. In order to compensate for the price, it also comes with a lifetime guarantee. This won over the male panellists who also admired its strength and efficiency, "black and sleek, smooth yet robust," enthused Nick Taylor, adding, "the frame looks like it would withstand anything, and despite its bulkiness it moves around like it's on rails." The padlocked zips impressed the panellists. "I like the fact that it is secure, it's undoubtedly the businessman's choice," declared David Bloomfield. "Bearing in mind how long it will last, it's not even overly expensive." Daniel Flanagan noted that, "It moves beautifully", and summed it up as "the Volvo of the bag world, sturdy and safe, though sadly ugly". All agreed that the "easy-access U-shaped pocket openings proved inaccessible once tucked into a cabin locker since, as James Tanner pointed out, "the opening is too small". The female testers were rather less taken with its aesthetic value. Lisa Balsom contemptuously declared it "masculine, ugly and overpriced". Catherine Addams conceded that it was "surprisingly easy to manoeuvre" but thought it was "monochromatic and bulky, it looks like it should be carrying a Kalashnikov."


pounds 85

This small, soft nylon trolley-case is targeted at the style-conscious business traveller as an overnight bag. Its size guarantees that it will meet the smallest requirement (95cm) for meanest of airlines regarding hand-luggage regulations. Samsonite offers a three-year guarantee and is particularly proud of its "telescopic" handle. Though none of our panellists could fathom this feature they found the handle smooth and easily pulled in and out. The male panellists felt that the case was too small. "It doesn't merit having wheels," said Daniel Flanagan. "It would be better picked up and slung over the shoulder." Nick Taylor decided it was too small to service the needs of a travel journalist "but perfect for those trolley dollies", while David Bloomfield deemed it "the lazy man's case, no good for anything more than a night stop." It was, however, far more popular with the female panellists who were particularly taken with its look and manoeuvrability. Catherine Addams remarked that "it has the appearance of being chic and expensive, the fashionable alternative to the Chihuahua. It's actually quite affordable." She felt that its size and weight was a distinct advantage for those who travel light. She felt more in control of the case than the larger ones, noting the strong, sturdy wheels. Lisa complimented the case on having all the right accessories and felt that this was perfect for a business person making regular short trips: "a decent lock, lovely lining, sturdy straps and good pockets, and it's actually deeper than it looks on the outside. This is the one I would choose for myself."

***Carlton Premiere

pounds 39.99

At the thriftier end of the market, this capacious polyester case adequately served its purpose as a carrier. The three pockets on the front of the case rather perplexed our panellists, but they were more enthusiastic having discovered a startlingly luxurious interior, with an attractive lining, elasticated straps and accessible inside pockets. All found the case light and easy to wheel in a straight line, but sadly they all felt the case was let down by a somewhat flimsy handle which seemed to hamper its mobility. Nick Taylor described the handle as "insubstantial, though it's not really surprising at the price". Lisa Balsom found it impossible to wheel the trolley forwards without causing the handle to bend alarmingly. "It's a good shape - nice and wide," she observed, " but it's a shame Carlton didn't make it more expensive and invest in a better handle." "Less pocket, more handle," agreed David Flanagan.

*****Delsey Helium Plus

pounds 105

This is undoubtedly the safe option. Not too expensive, but certainly not cheap. Neither fussy nor simple. A combination of materials, PVC-coated polyester with splashes of brushed suede, that suggest durability and elegance. It also comes with a five-year guarantee. Lisa Balsom deemed it "a good, attractive, all-rounder. You could cram a lot of stuff in it without it doubling in size. The wheels seem sturdy and it moves very smoothly." David Flanagan ticked off all its winning attributes. "It's a good size, very spacious without all these superfluous pockets, a quality lock, good elasticated inner straps, very accessible and extremely manoeuvrable." Nick Taylor particularly commended the "kitten soft" suede handle as the "ultimate in trolley-travel luxury", though, "its movement was slightly stuttered and awkward." David Bloomfield also had misgivings about the handle: "It doesn't match the excellent quality of the rest of the case." Catherine Addams remained on the fence, "a very practical well-made case, but design-wise it's neither here nor there," she said.

*Hartmann Expandable Stowaway Mobile Traveller

pounds 459

"It's perfect if you're going to the desert," was the almost synchronised response from the panellists to this American-made case, who found the khaki/beige/green (they remained undecided) particularly offensive. "It's a monstrosity!" cried Lisa "I'd rather have the clothes to go in it than spend the money on the case." "What were they thinking of?" said Nick Taylor. "It's good quality, why make it so hideous?" Catherine Addams was unable to exercise control over the handle and decided that it was in danger of removing her fingers, though it was "surprisingly smooth to wheel around". Despite its size and wealth of pockets, James Tanner noted, "the capacity is not as good as it looks, there's too much going on. Very American." It was generally decided that once the Expandable Stowaway was expanded it could not be "stowed away" in any cabin locker as it would be unlikely to meet the airline restrictions on hand-luggage. "All these pockets are completely unnecessary," said Daniel Flanagan. After a lengthy silence David Bloomfield said, "I rather like the colour. In fact I think this is the best case so far, no really, I do."


For Tumi call 0181 208 3080; for Carlton call 0181 805 1111; for Delsey call 0181 232 9895; for Pierre Cardin call 0191 258 4451; for Hartmann call 0171 383 3756; for Samsonite call 0171 538 2075.