Road Warrior

More Products Make Travel Rules a Breeze

Charisse Jones, USA Today

Frequent business traveler Joe Harvey says passing through airport security can be a breeze — if you have the right accessories.

Suitcase on bed in hotel room.
Johannes Kroemer | The Image Bank | Getty Images

His backpack allows his laptop to be screened at checkpoints without his having to take it out.

"I simply unfold it," says Harvey, a software consultant who lives in Lafayette, La. "My backpack holds everything I need to travel with. Nobody ever has to wait for me to disrobe … or empty my pockets. Ever."

If you're looking for a nice gift for the business traveler in your life, you've got plenty to choose from. A cottage industry has sprung up for products that help frazzled fliers deal with the myriad rules and fees that come with air travel.

There are checkpoint-friendly laptop cases and ultra-light carry-on bags that help avoid checked luggage fees. There are digital scales to make sure you don't get penalized for overweight luggage, and even solid shampoo bars that get you around restrictions on liquids.

"These new categories have literally mushroomed because they're removing all the pain points associated with travel," says Lopo Rego, an associate professor of marketing at Indiana University.

Escalating airport security following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to a dizzying array of new do's and don'ts when flying. Laptops have to be removed from bags.

After al-Qaeda operative Richard Reid tried to light an explosive in his shoe on a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001, fliers had to start walking barefoot through checkpoints. In 2006, passengers could not carry on more than 3 ounces of liquids following the discovery of an unsuccessful plan to detonate liquid explosives on planes from London to the USA.

The security requirements and the advent of airline fees to check bags or get a pillow have amounted to a "perfect storm," for businesses offering ways for fliers to save money and aggravation, Rego says.

The Transportation Security Administration doesn't endorse products, according to Kawika Riley, a TSA spokeswoman. But the agency does recognize certain items, such as luggage locks and laptop bags, that meet certain criteria.

Bags and miniature-size beauty products are two of the main products targeted to fliers. But there are other items billed as coming to a traveler's rescue.

The Container Store chain, for instance, began selling a digital scale after airlines imposed a 50-pound limit on luggage, with high penalties if it's overweight.

"It's one of our best sellers," says Brooke Minteer, the stores' senior buying director.

The store also began offering "3-1-1" packs to help meet the requirements of carrying just over 3 ounces of liquids in a 1-quart bag.

And when pillows and blankets began being offered for a price — if at all — on airlines, the company introduced a pillow and blanket pack.

From online pitches to catalogs and store teams, Minteer says, the company makes pointed appeals to passengers.

"If you walked into a store and asked our salespeople what's 3-1-1, they could tell you," she says. "We talk to our customers about … all the tips and tricks."

Scott Applebee, vice president of marketing at Travelpro International, says that when checked-bag fees swept the airline industry in 2008, sales of his company's carry-ons surged.

While business travelers gravitate toward sturdy carry-ons, he says, vacationers are more concerned about bags that won't tip the scales. For the past two or three years the company has focused on designing super-lightweight bags. It recently introduced the Maxlite 2 carry-on, which weighs only 6.3 pounds.

"It's all driven by the fees," he says of the demand.

In some cases, the products aren't new, but the marketing pitch is.

Beauty products company Lush has been making its Godiva Shampoo and Conditioning Bar for over 20 years, says Brandi Halls, the company's North American spokesman. But when the restrictions on liquids began, sales shot up, and the company seized an opportunity to market it and other solid products to fliers.

"We certainly started touting these as travel-friendly to our customers," Halls says.

Despite the array of products aimed at them, some travelers don't bother getting too fancy.

Glyn Thorman, a consultant who lives in Osceola, Wis., still carries a scrunchable duffel bag that he's used for years. He never has to check it, he says, and "my bag always fits somewhere."