Who buys luggage at the airport?


Bag 4 Travel – courtesy Orlando International Airport


Whether it’s a quick business trip or a two-week vacation, most every traveler leaves for the airport with a carry-on bag or suitcase to be checked that is filled with clothing, toiletries and other items that might be useful on the trip.

So who’s buying all that luggage for sale at airports?

Travelers like Los Angeles-based freelance writer Sue Facter.

When the zipper on her tote bag broke on the return leg of a business trip, she planned to just “wing it” until she got home and had time to transfer her travel essentials to another bag. “However, I was in an airport gift shop buying a newspaper and a gorgeous leather tote with lots of pockets caught my eye,” said Facter. “Not only was it chic, it was on sale for $75. To this day, it is my favorite tote. I use it so much, I just replaced the zipper.”

Susan Facter with bag she bought for $75 to replace a tote with a broken zipper

Susan Facter with bag she bough at an airport for $75 to replace a tote with a broken zipper. Courtesy Susan Facter.



While travelers with broken bags can often be spotted in airport hallways trying to re-arrange their belongings in a newly purchased suitcase, at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, “staff repacks luggage right in the store so travelers can immediately put their new luggage to use,” said Karen Pride, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Aviation.

“We sell just as much luggage to people returning from trips as leaving for them,” said Lee Barrett with Hudson News at Houston’s Hobby Airport. “A lot of times their luggage is just worn, but we had one man come in who had all of his clothes in Walmart [shopping] bags. He couldn’t believe the airline wouldn’t let him check those bags.”

The weight restrictions airlines have set for checked baggage – and the hefty fees faced by passengers whose bags exceed those weight limits – also drive luggage sales at airports.

Lindsey Slater, a meteorologist for KSPR News in Springfield, Mo., paid $30 to buy a new bag at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wis., when she learned that the bag she had planned to check weighed in at just over 50 pounds. “Instead of paying an enormous fee of 90 buck or so, I decided it was actually cheaper to buy a smaller bag and check it for an additional 25 dollars. Crazy.” said Slater.

Lindsey Slater bought this bag at the airport in Milwaukee to avoid paying an overweight bag fee

Lindsey Slater bought this bag at Mitchell Int’l Airport in Milwaukee to avoid paying an overweight bag fee. Courtesy Lindsey Slater.


When American Airlines ticket counter worker Chris Lancaster informed a passenger at Arizona’s Tucson International Airport that her 60-pound suitcase was 10 pounds overweight and would incur an extra $100 fee, “she elected to visit the gift shop to buy an inexpensive carry-on bag for those extra 10 pounds to avoid the charge,” said Lancaster.

“Open luggage strewn across the lobby floor, with the owners repacking overweight bags into new bags purchased at the airport, is a familiar sight out here in Honolulu,” said Bill Payne. “Overweight charges can be $200 and more, so it can be a good investment to pay $50 for a bag that will accept 50 pounds of belongings and cost $25 to check.”

And then there are travelers returning to the airport after vacation shopping sprees

“Many international travelers heading home fill a carry-on with merchandise from the United States that they can’t buy in their home countries,” said Laura Samuels of Hudson Group, which operates branches of the Travel + Leisure Travel Store and Tumi luggage and accessories shops at various airports.

At Orlando International Airport, “we had to open a luggage store for all the travelers who come to our city to shop,” said Carolyn Fennell of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. “Bags 4 Travel opened in 2011 and the bestsellers are duffel bags, items from the nostalgic Pan Am line of luggage and “luggage for international travelers to use; sometimes to pack up large-screen televisions.”

At times, passengers simply see a beautiful bag in an airport store and buy it, whether they need it or not.

That’s how Earlyne (Lena) Alexander ended up with a colorful suitcase sporting a design by pop artist Romero Britto. “It was just pretty,” she said. “I saw it in the Travel + Leisure Travel Store in JFK Terminal 2. I had a carry-on at the time and stuck my luggage into the new one and checked it. In fact, I’m traveling through JFK again this weekend and thinking of purchasing the matching carry-on piece.”

Earlyne's luggage

Earlyne (Lena) Alexander couldn’t wait to tweet a photo of the luggage she bought at the airport.


The Tumi store on Concourse E at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is a regular stop for Benjamin Pendry. “My wife and I travel through ATL quite a bit and I always try to talk her into letting me go,” said Pendry, who reports buying more of his luggage at airports than anywhere else. “If your mind is set on traveling and you are in the middle of a trip, sometimes it’s the most convenient time to grab something new.”

Like Pendry, many travelers just have “luggage on the brain” when they’re at the airport, said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association. “Travelers take notice of what others are rolling or carrying. So for travel retailers, airport locations are smart business” And, of course, “you’ve got a captive audience with time to kill.”

(My story “Who buys luggage at the airport?” first appeared in my “At the Airport” column on USAToday.com.