United Airlines CEO Has Big Misunderstanding About Small Carry On Bags

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has been touting his carrier’s new interiors. The United NEXT cabin includes internet that finally works, catching up to the rest of the industry, as well as larger overhead bins like many other airlines offer.

They’ve committed to seat back entertainment screens, something he eschewed when he was President of American Airlines. First class has wireless phone charging, and every seat has bluetooth connectivity. While the seats in coach are still too thin, the cabins are beautiful. While new delivery aircraft like United’s Airbus A321neos feature this cabin, they’ve been slow to retrofit the rest of their domestic fleet as-promised.

What’s striking to me, though, is how Kirby describes these new overhead bins because he – or whomever wrote this for him – does not know what the full sized carry on bags (which they ban passengers on basic economy fares from bringing onto the plane) are called.

Our first Airbus A321neo took its inaugural flight from Houston last night. Our new aircraft are the best customer narrowbody aircraft anywhere in the world with large screens with seatback entertainment with Bluetooth connectivity in every seat, large overhead bins that can accommodate a roller board for every passenger on a 100% full airplane, and faster Wi-Fi.

According to CEO Kirby, passengers bring small wheeled bags on board that are called “roller boards.” What on earth are those?

Like those people who thought Elton John sang about “my old goat Teddy and a place in Bayonne” in Crocodile Rock he’s clearly thinking about – and misheard – “rollaboards.” They “roll” because they have wheels. And they’re brought “aboard” the aircraft.

It’s not only the correct, coherent name – rollaboard is in fact the original trademarked name for a rolling suitcase, owned by Travelpro whose first use dates back to 1987. (Similar ‘Roll-Aboard’ was first used in 1985.) On the other hand a roller board might be a scooter made out of plywood? As best I can tell, its use as a reference to a wheeled cabin bag began as a way for knock off bags to get around the trademark.

Kirby isn’t the only senior airline executive to get basic terminology wrong. American Airlines Chief Operating Officer frequently refers to “lay flat” business class seats, instead of “lie flat.” Seymour used to work under Kirby at American Airlines and US Airways.

(HT: Andrew G)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I usually use roller carry-on or roller bag but the luggage industry has been using the term roller board a long time.

  2. What’s next? A guide to eat healthy and lose weight while traveling?

    If you’re going to mock others for their writing, you would do well to learn the difference between whoever and whomever.

  3. I often call them roller boards. Enough people seem to call them that and enough others seem to know others call them that that frequent travelers know understand the language in context.

  4. I’m with you Gary, Rollaboard was the Patented name by the original inventor, and Roller Board most likely was the name adapted by all the knock-offs. From my point of view, a Rollaboard/Roller Board technically refers to 2-Wheeled Luggage only, with the new 4-Wheeled Luggage simply called “Spinner Luggage” or “Spinner Bag”.

    There’s a meme out there apparently authored by some FA’s who insist that Rollaboards/Roller Boards are vastly superior to Spinner Luggage, and I’m inclined to agree: The 2 wheels are generally tucked into the body of the luggage, and far less likely to get abuse when checked. In addition, because of this there’s more internal volume as well.

  5. I could care less. Um, I mean I couldn’t care less.

    @TexasTJ. I used to agree with you until I had to get my bags down the aisles of trains. Spinners can go sideways and roll. Even a medium side 2-wheeler has to be picked up and carried sideways, banging against your knees or legs with each step.

  6. About two wheels vs four wheels, I probably like four wheels better for several reasons. They seem to roll easier, even when using only two of them. The four wheel bags seem to be less likely to fall over when loaded. I can use my four wheel carry-on for easy storage of things when traveling and just pull it close to get something out (works best on tile floors.) The four wheels have some redundancy if one is damaged or quits working.

  7. I find two-wheel roller cabin bags to work better and last longer for me than four-wheel roller bags. The four-wheel ones work well enough when I am sticking to mostly/exclusively indoor, very smooth surfaces, but otherwise I prefer to use two wheeled cabin bags or backpacks or duffel bags that can be transported as if a backpack.

  8. Can I get those 5 minutes of my life back? Absolutely no point or humanitarian credit to this article…..,

  9. While it’s true that the seat lays the passenger flat, I do think it’s more accurate to say the seat itself lies flat

  10. How about a system that does not text me three times overnight to remind me to check in for the morning flight that i am not eligible to check in for. Then have angry staff yelling at the people who were not eligible to check in on line for not checking in on line, after of course waking us up three times throughout the night!

  11. I’m definitely a language reactionary, deploring the common trends that reduce the expressive richness of English. However, I grudgingly admit that the “correct” spelling or pronunciation of a word is whatever people use. Sure, those items were originally called “roll aboards”, but that doesn’t stop people from changing their pronunciation. Many people say “Imonna” (pronounced “eye-mon-ah”) instead of “I am going to”. People say “arrogant” to mean “proud”. The word “bus” is a shortening of its original form “omnibus”. And on and on and on…

  12. Hawaiian Airlines should have a special promotion about their lie-flat seats when traveling business class to Hawaii.

    Enjoy our lie flat seats on your business trip to Hawaii and get leied in a way you will be able to share in the office!

  13. I am a flight attendant and the industry uses the term roller board in discussing luggage that rolls. I believe the word Rollaboard may be registered or trademarked from what I can tell. So yes the term roller board IS correct!

  14. I have only one issue with United. They are far to lenient on allowing people to bring a large amount of “personal” stuff onboard in addition to a carry-on.

  15. “ They’ve committed to seat back entertainment screens, something he eschewed when he was President of American Airlines.”

    Gary, for better or worse, Scott has publicly said that isn’t true. The change to remove seatback came after he left AA. Scott was the proponent for seatback screens at AA

  16. Any airline employee knows what roller boards are even though it’s not technically correct. Jetway is also another term that’s inaccurate. And don’t even think of saying cockpit.

  17. Scott Kirby will be most remembered, whether he wants anyone to remember it or not, for being the architect of giving one-quarter of the slots at LGA to Delta for $60 million after the DOJ ordered divestiture of the DCA slots that DL traded and the international slots that DL was able to replace.

    What Kirby says goes in the overhead bins or what he said or did about seatback entertainment pales in comparison to the strategic failure that was the US slot giveaway.

  18. There is no such thing as grammatically correct. Grammatically, correct is what people except as the common way to communicate over time. That changes with generations. If they keep saying these terms, and if people keep listening, then eventually they will be grammatically.

  19. Roller board? Really? I have know idea what you are talking about. Worked for airline industry 25 years. Always referred to them specifically as just a roller bags… as in part of the “carry on bags” ensemble.

  20. @GUWonder – Agreed on the two wheeled bags. I use them because the four wheelers just can’t take the heavy use, both as carryon (sorry Gary) and checked bags.

  21. Love the new storage space, but it doesn’t hold my 24″ roller in the sideways configuration.
    I travel Internationally with a 22″ roller for International regulations and a 24″ for Domestic travel.
    It’s good to be fat and happy !

  22. I’m not up all night asking crazy questions- it’s 10am here………
    Does anybody know how my United 1K status 70lb checked bag limit can include a 46 × 28 x 11 bike case weighing 46 pounds ?

  23. @MaxPower – the decision to eliminate seat back screens was made while he was President. That it actually *happened* after he left is beside the point.

  24. @Stanley Ford, as long as it is not battery assist powered, it is under the maximum of 115 liner inches (L+W+H) so it should fly with a $200 fee according to United’s website. Make sure it is packed well. I suspect that fee is both ways and could apply to once per segment on certain types of ticketing. I got out a yardstick and measured one of my bicycles. I came to the conclusion that there is no way to get down to the standard 62 linear inches by disassembly. Maybe that is possible with some bikes with small frames and small wheels.

  25. So will these new “large overhead bins” accommodate a a 24 x 16 x 10 bag like Southwest and Frontier or are we still stuck with 22 x 14 x 9?

  26. If you’re going to offer a grammar dig—lie vs lay, you’re moving yourself into a glass house by using “whomever wrote this for him.” There is a clear and easy distinction between when you use who/whoever and whom/whomever. “Wrote” needs as subject, so whoever is the correct form. I am not normally part of the grammar police, but I do get mildly annoyed at Glass House examples. What the quote is illustrative of is that it uses insider terminology with outsiders. This, to me, is far more interesting than noting possible vocabulary and grammar errors.

  27. So if I’m understanding correctly there’s nothing wrong with the new interior and the writer is upset with a minor grammar error.

  28. There are plenty of 110 plugs available for all to receive your shock for the day! And now you can LIE flat on your backs on the luxurious pillow top memory foam provided to cushion your immediate travel away from the circuit, and into logic way of being. Lets get electrified! Hmmmmm?

  29. I once asked a Flight Attendant if my roll on (22x14x9) was ok to take on board? She told me that as long as it fit in my quart size bag I could take it on board. Never asked another question to FA – ever!

  30. A rollerboard is a type of skateboard. I checked dictionaries for either version of the term, and came up short. So I consulted the ultimate arbiter, and searching for a rollerboard on Amazon brought up skateboards. Further research shows manufacturers of such carry on items using the term for decades, so it definitely comes with a lot of baggage.

    Personally, I call it a carry on bag. Or if it’s in particularly bad condition, and peeling and rotten looking, it’s a carrion bag.

    I’m pretty sure that I heard an announcement on the PA system at the airport a few days ago referring to rollerboards, but I saw nary a skateboard. so perhaps it’s time to carry on…or roll on.

  31. Meanwhile, many European cities are passing ordinances
    Against ALL things roller. These noisy suitcases will need to be carried, and not rolled anywhere with histórica cobblestone street, as they are a noise nuisance and erodes the ancient street.

  32. The true value of this article is to remind us that Scott Kirby is is out of touch in general, doesn’t care about the customer, makes bad decisions, and should be removed from CEO of the airline.

  33. I call ’em “dead raccoons”. As in : A vulture brings 2 dead raccoons on board. Stewardess says, “Sorry, sir, only one carrion is allowed per passenger “.

  34. I’m a flight attendant of 17 years and we did used to call them roller boards meaning rolling bags that can board the aircraft. He’s just stating old school verbiage.

  35. If you cant carry your bag either you need exercise or lose some junk. And carry ons beyond backpacks should be forever banned.

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