Confessions of a Luggage Tester

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Of course you expect every zipper, strap, axle, and handle on your suitcase to hold up under the pres­sures of flying. But you know who’s really got your back? Mike Mulvey, a quality engineer at luggage brand Travelpro International’s testing facility. Here, he unpacks some of the secrets of the trade.

Q: What does a luggage tester do?
A: Most of Travel­pro’s products carry a lifetime warranty, so it’s my responsibility to run all of our luggage lines and fabrics through a series of exacting tests de­signed to replicate the punishment a bag will face in the real world.

Q: What are your favorite kinds of tests?
A: Lifting a bag loaded with 70 pounds of stuff and dropping it at 24 different orientations at subzero temperatures in less than a minute for our “cold crack” test. We also put every bag (and sometimes those of competitors) on our handle-jerking machine, which we call The Enforcer. I’ve seen the handles and shells of competitors’ $1,000 bags break apart under that pressure.

Q: How should Budget Travelers keep their stuff safe when traveling?
A: After seeing the damage we inflict on luggage during testing, I pack liquids, valuables, and delicate items in the center of the bag to avoid high impact. And I actually prefer to carry on my bags to save time, money, and effort.

Q: Gotta ask: Any packing tips you’ve picked up on the job?
A: Lay out everything before you start packing so you can see what you want to put where. Use the bag space in the smartest way possible. Avoid empty spaces. I even pack stuff inside my shoes, though you should limit the pairs of shoes you bring be­cause of how heavy they are. Roll your casual clothing to maximize space and avoid wrinkling. Put heavy items on the bottom and folded dress shirts in the lid pocket to keep them sharp.

Q: Do you have personal contact with customers?
A: We have visitors to our test lab and repair center in Boca Raton, Florida, and they’re always surprised at how rigorous the test­ing is. Travelpro was the inventor of the original Rollaboard suitcase, so when I’m at the airport, I often approach pilots and flight attendants to tell them what I do and to ask for their “wish lists” for upcoming luggage collections.

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