You know that carry-on suitcase with an expanding handle and wheels? What do you call it? I’ve always called it a roller board, but apparently the topic is up for debate. I wrote a story last week called Amazon’s Huge Luggage Sale (btw, there are still great deals available if you click here) and mentioned that “you can grab a new rollerboard for cheap!” I had no idea I’d be stirring up controversy with the sentence but Joseph N. wrote a comment to set me straight: “One small correction: the luggage is a roll-aboard, not a roller-board, in your first paragraph.” Had I been calling something by the wrong name my whole life? Was this my very own travel version of the people who think Jimi Hendrix sang “Excuse me while I kiss this guy”??? I had to find out.
Roller Board/Rollerboard/Roll Aboard/Rollaboard
The first step in any nomenclature investigation is a quick Google search. In this case, I Googled “rollerboard.” The very first result was a FlyerTalk forum from 2012 entitled “Roll Aboard vs. Roller Board.” The original poster showed two photos, one of a carry-on suitcase with wheels and the other a scooter for children to use in gym class. The first was said to be a roll aboard, the second was a roller board. Just like that, everyone on the thread accepted that this was gospel. The post continued with people sharing their own word and grammar pet peeves, but just because someone posts photos on a message board doesn’t make it true. I trudged on in search of more definitive answers.
The next major discovery came via a USA Today article from the halcyon days of 2003. In “Taking the ‘lug’ out of luggage changed everything,” writer Bruce Horovitz extols the virtues of the rolling suitcase, which he calls… a rollerboard. In fact, he even cites the original model and its’ trademarked name: the Rollaboard®, an invention of luggage giant Travelpro founder Robert Plath. Horovitz goes on to highlight how rollerboards completely changed both the airline and luggage industries by creating a new category of suitcase that needed to be accommodated by enlarged overhead bins. The article is definitely worth a read.
My takeaway from the story is that both roller board (or rollerboard) and roll aboard (or Rollaboard®) are acceptable in everyday use, with one being the generic term and the other being the trademarked version.This holds up with what fellow BoardingArea blogger Road Warriorette found when she conducted a poll about the two words. The results were split with 53% of people saying they preferred Rollaboard, 31% of responders going with Rollerboard, and 15% of votes going to “I have no idea.”
What Do the Luggage Folks Say?
Since word usage changes significantly over time, though, I wasn’t satisfied with the answer coming from an article that’s twelve years old. Frankly, I don’t trust twelve-year-olds for anything. So I went straight to the source. I contacted the top luggage companies in the world: Samsonite, Travelpro, and Tumi. Here’s what they had to say:
Stephanie Goldman (Director, Marketing Communications) for Samsonite was clear that her company doesn’t use the term at all because of the registered trademark.
“Rollaboard is a registered trademark of Travelpro so it’s not a term we use at all at Samsonite. We use Carry-On.”
Scott Applebee, VP of Marketing for Travelpro International provided more historical context:
“Travelpro company founder, Bob Plath, coined and trademarked the term Rollaboard® to describe his invention of upright wheeled luggage back in 1987. Travelpro has used this word to describe their 2-wheel rolling luggage ever since. The term, Rollaboard®, originally caught on with airline pilots and flight attendants who were the first users of this new invention. Today, many travelers use the word generically to describe wheeled carry-on luggage.”
Tumi was extremely polite in response to my request, but declined to participate.
The Bottom Line
A trademark search reveals that Rollaboard® was first officially trademarked in 1991 while Rollerboard® is actually owned by Rollerboard International, a skateboard company out of Wisconsin. That said, since Rollaboard® is trademarked, you can’t actually use it to refer to anything other than a Travelpro product. I think that makes “roller board” perfectly acceptable as the generic term for a wheeled carry-on suitcase. Personally, I’m fully comfortable with both terms being used interchangeably.
Where do you fall on the roller board vs. Rollaboard® debate? Tell me in the comments.
Photos courtesy of Travelpro.