The Perfect Flight Bag



Back in 2013, a few years into my commercial pilot career, I ditched my aging IBM messenger bag that had served as my flight bag ever since getting rid of my original nylon slab-sided pilot case. The messenger bag had done a good job but I needed more room so after a lot of research I ended up buying a BrightLine B16 Contain. 

A photograph of the BrightLine B16 Contain flight bag.

A BrightLine B16 Contain which is a B10 (the forerunner of the current BrightLine B7 Flight) with a five inch centre section (CS5) zipped into the middle for extra space.

I remember loving this bag and used it for a number of years, even adding an eleven inch centre section (CS11) option for longer trips. Then, for some reason that I no longer recall, I gave up on it and it was consigned to the bin and my personal history book. 

Several cheap and unmemorable bags filled the flight bag void for short periods of time until I ended up with an American Tourister City Drift 3-Way Boarding Bag, which did a great job. In fact, it was good enough that my wife even bought a second bag for me as a backup. This proved prudent because over time the zips on the American Tourister couldn’t handle the strain that I put on them and gave out. By then this model of bag had been discontinued so the backup was pressed into service.

A photograph of an American Tourister City-Drift 3-Way Boarding bag.
American Tourister City Drift 3-Way Boarding Bag

When the zips on the backup bag also started to give up I decided that it was time to re-invest in a decent flight bag designed for the job.


A bout of Covid left me stuck at home with time on my hands and, after the first couple of days, I was feeling well enough to list out what I needed in a flight bag:

  • Key items need to be easily accessible with the bag by the side of my seat – in essence this means that there must be some form of top opening.
  • The bag must have plenty of pockets for organising the contents – my wife has been known to call me ‘somewhat particular’ in this respect.
  • It must have space for all the miscellanea that I carry on a regular basis, including a MacBook, two iPads, a charging cables case, headset, hi-vis vest, glasses, licence, passport, keys, flight paperwork a kneeboard, crew snacks, a.k.a biscuits, et cetera.
  • It needs to fit down the side of the seat in a 737 Classic and equally importantly it needs to fit under the seat for positioning as a passenger (usually on an A320).
  • It needs to be hardwearing.
  • It needs the ability to attach it to my larger wheeled bag (an Eastpak Transverz M) which generally travels as checked luggage or in the forward belly hold when I am operating crew.
  • It should be a shoulder bag not a back pack since I’m not a fan of back packs.

With my requirements listed, I fired up a browser and started looking in the obvious places i.e. the big pilot stores and online pilot publications. What I found was a plethora of bags from ASA, Transair, Jeppesen, Air Classics, Design4Pilots and many more. 

Some of these are beautiful looking bags. Take, for example, The Markham from Lightspeed, or The Bush Pilot from Flight Outfitters – bags that ooze quality and look like they’ll last a lifetime, but tempting though they were, they didn’t tick my requirements boxes.  

Lightspeed Markham Flight Bag

Flight Outfitters Bush Pilot Flight Bag

Many were clearly marketed at student pilots and recreational pilots of light aircraft with dedicated pockets for radios and fuel testers or room for a weekend’s worth of clothes. Some had minimal organisation, some were clearly too large and many were way too small for my requirements.

I dug deeper; I looked at eBay, Amazon, I trawled the internet, lurked on pilot forums, took forays into the world of photography and medical bags and followed links to obscure recommendations.


After a few days, yes seriously, I found I kept coming back to a handful of bags which piqued my interest. To save you some time, if your requirements list is similar to mine you could do worse than start your search with one of these:

The Aerocoast Pro Crew I

The Aerocoast Pro Crew I didn’t appear in many of the pilot stores and certainly none of those in the UK but it got quite a few mentions on some of the pilot forums and I was able to find an excellent video review of the bag by FlyLore737. I liked the numerous pockets in this bag along with the quick access (orange) top pocket, but I wasn’t so keen on the lack of internal organisation features in the main pocket.

A photograph of the Aerocoast Pro Crew flight bag.
Aerocoast Pro Crew I Flight Bag


  • Multiple pockets for organisation, including a very useful side organiser pocket.
  • Quick access top pocket for glasses, torch and suchlike.
  • Online reviewers indicate that it fits comfortably in the B737 flight deck and is able to fit under the seat when deadheading.
  • High quality YKK zippers.
  • Ability to add a water bottle holder to the MOLLE system on the side.


  • Only a single laptop pocket in the centre section, no other organisational pockets.
  • Water bottle accessory looks like an afterthought.

BrightLine B7 Flight

This bag got a lot of comments across the board, mainly positive, although it had its share of detractors as well. There are several manufacturer videos available as well as a handful of third party video reviews like this one from Aero Nerd. 

During the search I came to the conclusion that I must have ditched my previous BrightLine because it was the early version of the Flex system. This version didn’t have separate end caps and therefore was less flexible on size, an issue that has been vastly improved with the newer version of the system. For much of my search this became my front-runner although I would probably have swapped out one of the centre sections for an alternative.

BrightLine B7 Flight


  • Huge number of pockets for organisation with colour coded access.
  • Quick access top pocket for glasses, torch and suchlike.
  • Many different configuration options.
  • Ability to replace individual modules rather than the whole bag if sections wear out.
  • Centre sections can have dividers and additional organisational features if required.


  • Expensive.
  • some concern as to whether the B7 (let alone my intended B8) would fit beside my seat in the flight deck.
  • Very unlikely to fit under the passenger seat when commuting unless reconfigured as the B4 Swift.
  • Some question mark about the quality of the zippers.

Briggs & Riley Large Expandable Briefcase

Briggs and Riley generally got good reviews because of their excellent life-long repair policy and the fact that their bags looked professional and were thought to be good quality.

Although I liked the look of the large expandable briefcase, I quickly ruled it out because it didn’t look to me to have any section that could comfortably accommodate any significantly chunky items like a large headset, my charging cable case or a large packet of biscuits and a bottle of water. What it did appear to have was ample space for electronics generally so it certainly ticked my boxes for carrying a laptop and two iPads.

Briggs & Riley Large Expandable Briefcase


  • Lifelong repair policy.
  • Professional look.
  • Easy bag for commuting.
  • Unlikely to have any space issues with the bag on the flight-deck.


  • Expensive.
  • No obvious section for storing bigger items.
  • No bottle holder.

Contrail FL390P or FL410P

I hadn’t heard of Contrail until I started digging into the pilot forums and Reddit.  Once I took notice of them, I realised that they are well-regarded by the pilot community.  The differences between the two bags I have listed are few: The FL390P is the older model. It is smaller than the FL410P, but has a document slip pocket on the back which is missing from the FL410P. Both bags allow the attachment of (separately sold) inserts via Velcro in the main compartment, which was an attractive option. On the flip side, however, I felt that the secondary pockets were lacking, and other organisation options were limited.

Contrail FL410P


  • Good internal organisation.
  • Largely positive reviews.
  • Well sized for flight-deck and deadheading.
  • Good quality zippers.


  • No side pockets for additional organisation.
  • No external water bottle holder.
  • Relatively expensive.
  • No quick access top pocket.

GES 15.6” Laptop Bag

The cheapest bag on the list by a long shot, this is an Amazon bag rather than a flight bag, which scored highly on my list due to its price and quantity of pockets. In addition, at least one side, probably both, has a MOLLE system to allow the addition of accessories such as a water bottle or extra pockets. Reviews were generally good although there were some indications that the bigger version of this bag was better made. I ended up ruling out the bag due to the lack of a slip pocket for attaching it to a roller bag.

GES 15.6″ Laptop Bag


  • Inexpensive.
  • Lots of pockets.
  • MOLLE system on the side to allow addition of accessories such as a water bottle.
  • Good size.


  • Personally, I dislike the buckle on front pocket.
  • Low expectation of build quality (some reviews have indicated issues with the shoulder strap and stitching).
  • Lack of passthrough slip pocket for attaching to roller bag.

Stealth Premier Multi-Purpose Cube

Everywhere I looked I kept seeing references to Luggage Works Stealth bags, although many of these references were to the larger roller bags rather than the flight bags. Nonetheless I found a lot of love for the Stealth flight bags and was quite taken with the features of the multi-purpose cube. Among other qualities, this bag had a decent number of pockets including side pockets, a dedicated padded section for a laptop and an iPad and a main compartment split into a small section and a larger cooler section.  On the other hand, the bag lacked a quick access top pocket (one of my key requirements), and other aspects of it seemed gimmicky.

Stealth Premier Multi-Purpose Cube


  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Good number of pockets for organisation.
  • Dedicated padded area for laptop and iPad.
  • Dedicated headset pocket in the main bag.


  • No obvious space for a second iPad.
  • The inclusion of a torch seems like a cheap gimmick.
  • No quick access top pocket.
  • Don’t need the cooler functionality.
  • No obvious place for a water bottle although one of the external side pockets might perform this function.

Tom Bihn Tri-Star

I’ve known about Tom Bihn for a while although never owned a Tom Bihn bag. My attention was first caught by the Tom Bihn Night Duffel, which seemed to tick a few of my boxes, but on further investigation not only was it not suitable, but it was also discontinued or out of stock. Instead, I looked at the Tom Bihn Tri-Star which is available in a cool burnt orange as well as a more sedate black. This bag was pretty large at 33L, which would be more than adequate, and comprised three main compartments and four front exterior organisational pockets. I think I could have made this bag work, but it is an expensive bag to start with, even without the packing inserts and additional organisation accessories which add to the cost.  At the end of the day, I just couldn’t justify the expense.

Tom Bihn Tri-Star


  • Colour options.
  • Build quality and company reputation.
  • Potential for organisation.
  • Capacity.


  • Very expensive.
  • Would probably require additional accessories for my organisational requirements.
  • Possibly too big to fit under the seat whilst commuting.
  • No quick access top pocket.
  • No water bottle holder.


Over the course of several days, I looked at many bags. I considered their size, their perceived build quality, the number of pockets, their means of organisation, their relative costs and many more factors, and ultimately, I drew up my shortlist, no doubt discarding many great bags along the way. 

All the bags on my shortlist had some great qualities and all had some things that I didn’t like so much. In some cases, it came down to something indefinable that I didn’t like or that I found important to me. One of the issues that I did find is that all the best bags appear to be from American companies which is an issue for me, as a United Kingdom resident, as I incur additional shipping costs and warranties and repairs become more problematic. Ultimately, I had to decide and, rightly or wrongly, I decided on the Aerocoast Pro Crew I. Was it the right decision? I don’t know, I haven’t received the bag yet and I am already suffering buyer’s remorse: I almost went with the BrightLine, why did I change my mind? The Contrail bag is a proven bag in the B737, which I fly, and got almost exclusively positive reviews. Would that have been a better choice? I ruled out the Stealth Cube on a feeling but writing this article has made me examine it again and wonder whether I did it an injustice.

Only time will tell whether I made a good decision. Add your comments and sign up to my blog to get a notification when I do my Aerocoast Pro Crew I review.