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Product review: TUMI’s Alpha pet carrier (or, how the other half lives)

I first heard about TUMI’s new pet carrier a couple of months ago, and posted a wistful link to it on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page — it was a TUMI product, so I suspected it was something special in the world of pet carriers, but it cost $495, so it was out of my price range. The Lord loves a tryer, though, as a waiter in Ireland once told me, so I wrote to TUMI and asked if they’d send me one of their carriers to review and (here I held my breath) give away — and that waiter had it right, because here I am in my living room, turning the carrier around in my hands. I have not been paid for this review, and I did not promise (and TUMI did not request) that it would be positive. TUMI’s pet carrier costs more than $50, so I cannot keep it — what I’ll be doing with it will be revealed here on November 27. Don’t miss that post!!

TUMI has long been a name to conjure with in the travel world — their luggage is exquisitely designed and made. It’s also costly and, at the time I sighed over it, weighty, so I never assembled an all-TUMI suitcase collection. I was thrilled to see that TUMI’s new pet carrier is from their lighter Alpha line (the carrier weighs a very workable 3.75 lbs. on my mailing scale, minus the detachable studded ID tag, accessory pouch, and collar).

Measuring the carrier is a little tricky, since it tapers slightly from top to bottom. The company’s measurements (21.5″ long, 7.25″ wide, 13.5″ tall) are wrong in all dimensions. Here’s what I have in front of me: At its top rim, the carrier is 20″ long and 7.25″ wide, and the rim is 12″ off the ground. However, the area that contains your dog is slightly smaller, since it measures about 17.5″ long at the carrier’s base, and it ends about an inch shy of the top rim. The bag has a substantial pair of pockets on one side, so overall it’s wider than 7.25 inches — I’d call it more like 9″ wide. The internal space is sufficient for 13 lb. Chloe — but although TUMI suggests that it will work for dogs up to 25 lbs., the included dog collar is clearly meant for a significantly smaller dog. I think this carrier would work best for dogs 10-12 lbs. or under.

I’ve left the privacy panel poking out a bit, so you can see how it’s structured — properly stowed, it tucks away completely into the carrier’s base. In this picture, the bag’s top is entirely zipped (I haven’t tucked the zipper end into its securing base). The mesh end panel is halfway unzipped, and until she lay down, Chloe had been poking her head out of it. The two dangling snap tabs secure the privacy panel in place when it’s pulled up. I like how the bag’s design prompts you to turn the outside pocket towards your body, keeping your credit card and phone, etc. more secure (the pocket under my elbow is the luggage slot).

TUMI’s carrier is made of black ballistic twill, with leather trim on the handles. The entire top is a sturdy mesh ventilation panel, with a zipper down the middle; one end, and half of the other end, is also a mesh panel. I approve of bags that allow you to look down at your dog (since she’ll be at your feet when you’re traveling), and reach in to pat her. The end of the bag that is entirely mesh is also a zipped entrance, and has a privacy panel which either snaps into place or tucks away — and you will swoon when you see this — into a slot along the base of the carrier. The zipper on the top panel can be secured, so your pup cannot scrape it open.

The area inside is lightly padded with a (removable, washable) quilted liner that stretches up both sides and halfway up the half-mesh end. I like the coverage, since it allows your pet to be comfortable even if the bag is tilted on its side — but how comfortable is that thin quilting, really? Be sure to supplement what’s provided with a bit of fleece fabric, or a soft towel. [That said, when I invited Chloe to exit the bag, before I packed it back up, she declined, and stayed happily inside the carrier, nose and front paws poking out the side entrance, until I gave up and walked away.]

Other nice features include a pocket on one side that zips open at the bottom to slip over your luggage handle — with a bonus interior pocket, so you can stow your boarding pass on that side even while it’s being used as a luggage slot — and a pair of pockets on the other side that are big enough to hold not only a fair amount of dog gear (leash, poop bags, a collapsible bowl, and treats would certainly fit) but also a fair amount of people gear (the included cell phone and credit card slots help keep things organized).

The company’s attention to detail includes the carrier’s bottom, which is supported not just by feet at each corner (substantial ones, bless ’em) but by an additional foot in the middle of the base, preventing the bag from sagging onto the ground under your pet’s weight. Goofy bonus features include a heavily studded, bone-shaped ID tag and a little zipped pouch that comes clipped onto a tiny lanyard in the side storage pocket — both charming, but I’d lose the ID tag (too heavy, too spiky) and the accessory pouch, using the little lanyard for my keys instead.

Speaking of lanyards, there’s a big one sewn at the top of the carrier, with a clip on the end to attach to your dog’s collar, and while I like the fact that it’s sewn so it needn’t dangle into your pet’s compartment, I wish it were altogether detachable. The carrier arrives with a black leather collar clipped onto the lanyard — very attractive, but way too small for Chloe.

I’ve mentioned a couple of things that are less than perfect (the thickness of the padded liner, the permanence of the sewn-in lanyard), and here are a couple more: While the carrier’s shoulder straps are comfortable (they’re sewn leather, and narrow, but nicely padded), I wish they were just an inch or so longer (they’re workable, and will clear a winter coat, but I found myself tugging the outer one back up more than I’d like); and I wish there was a way to unzip the mesh end panel part way, and secure it in that position. Chloe liked sticking her head out the end, but there’s nothing stopping the zippers from continuing to unzip.

I believe the TUMI carrier would work well as an in-cabin airplane carrier. Its height measurement (12″) doesn’t tell the whole story: Since the carrier’s sides are not reinforced with any kind of structural rod, the bag will, on demand, squish down substantially — at least 4″ — with the happy effect of making the internal compartment wider. You could turn this carrier on its side, but I don’t think there would be any reason to.

Even if you’re not planning to fly with your pet, this is an appealing carrier — it looks like an around-town tote (the side pockets let you leave your own purse at home), and the zipped top allows you to completely enclose your pet (for use on public transit) or, partly unzipped, let just her head poke out the top. If you choose to leave the zipper entirely undone, the sewn-in lanyard, a substantial object with a good-quality clip, comes into its own. The bag will work fine as a car carrier, too, since you can unzip the bottom of the side pocket and pass your car’s seatbelt through the luggage slot.

In short, this is a sweetheart of a pet carrier. According to my rules, since it costs $495 I either have to give it away or return it to TUMI. I’m not quite doing either of those things, but when you find out what the plan is, you’ll be excited. Check back on November 27!

7 comments

  • Montecristo Travels (Sonja)

    I still prefer a bag with structure … with a tiny one like Monte – a bag with a “soft” leather for air travel seems dangerous to me. Poor little guy already gets pushed around enough, but at least his sleepypod protects him. Just my perspective. I do like how pretty this one is. Finally something sturdy that does not look like hiking gear! Yiippeeee!

  • Hey there, Monte! I hear you, but the fault is mine in writing the description, not the bag’s — the only leather in this carrier is the handle trim (and the optional dog collar). The rest of the bag is multi-layer, and therefore very sturdy and structured, ballistic nylon twill. Like the SturdiBag we love so much for Chloe, however, the top will flex down when required to (with a firm push), because the outer rims of the bag are not reinforced (as they are on a Sherpa bag, and so many others) with inflexible tubing. This is a good, solid bag — I’d feel fine taking Chloe onto a crowded subway in it, and that’s the best test I can imagine, protection-wise!

  • Chris in Vancouver BC

    I am on the verge of ordering this from Tumi. I love it. Just hoping my Italian Greyhound fits in it alright as I plan on having the tag monogrammed. I was undecided and I was so thrilled to find your blog on it.

  • Monica @ J5MM

    I just wanted to thank you for your thorough review of this carrier! You were the only review online that was exactly what I was looking for — Chloe’s comparison in size to my Oliver and your height compared to mine. Thank you!! I was wondering about the bone shaped leather fob with spikes — maybe it’s meant to be used as a “brush” ? I tried brushing Oliver with it and he loved it! Anyhow, just a thought.

  • MarcAntonyNYC

    Hi Chris in Vancouver, BC did you ever order the Tumi Pet Carrier for your IG? I love the bag too and wonder if my leggy 12lb IG would fit?

  • MarcAntony La Guerra

    Hi Mary-Alice, I wanted to thank you for your in-depth reviews. I so love your product reviews and have purchased a number of recommended items. Thank you for all the hard work you do to keep us informed on how to best travel with our pet.

    This review is long overdue. I was obsessed with this Tumi Alpha Pet Carrier almost immediately after I read your review. The unfortunate part was I was two years late finding this review and Tumi had discontinued the item. But through sheer luck I haphazardly walked into a Tumi Outlet store a week later and there it was!! The clerk said he only just unboxed and displayed it that morning. I was over the moon. He said it was two seasons old and it was randomly found in the warehouse. They never got one in before. He just kept talking when all I wanted him to do was ring it up 🙂

    Well that was a year ago this month and I must say I LOVE this bag. And I have you to thank for it. Gia LOVES it too!! She is a 2.5 yr old, 12lb Italian Greyhound. As you may know IG’s are leggy and busty and Gia is perfect breed standard (15” height & 18” chest) and finding clothing let alone totes is always a challenge. My girl fits in this beautifully. She’s 16” long from neck to tail and she comfortably sits/lays in the bag. She often pops her head out of the mesh top or side, if I leave it open for her to do so. It’s a GREAT tote-around-town bag. BUT 98% of the time I use it for in-cabin air travel. It suits my needs perfectly and as you mentioned the top of the carrier isn’t rigid, and it collapses on demand to fit any under seat height space. I have flown 20+ times and have never had an issue. The carrier’s storage is great too! Since I also carry a Tumi Sling bag and wear a ScotteVest Tropiformer Jacket, I have ample storage options. The tote is super stealth too. The only time ever anyone knows I have a pet is at TSA when I remove her and carry her through. Not once has anyone noticed her otherwise. Only when I’m exiting the plane and I let Gia pop her head out do people then realize there was a dog sitting near them for the past 4hrs or so!! I guess Gia should get some credit for this too since she’s an amazing travel companion 🙂

    I agree with you on some of the negatives. I wish the leather handles clasped together so they would stay more securely on my shoulder. I added a quilted pad to the bottom for Gia’s comfort. The lanyard is a bit cumbersome but happy it exists. I do wish the mesh side panel rolled down partly and secured but fortunately Gia isn’t aggressive enough to push through. At least not so far, but that’s why I’m grateful for the lanyard. It’ll keep her in the bag should she get ballsy 🙂

    Thanks again for the heads up on this amazing carrier!!

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