Carry-on luggage can be torture to tote through a crowded airport if the bag is not comfortable to carry. Comfortable handles and convenient shoulder straps make the load easier to lug.

The engineers of Consumer Reports recently tested 38 models of carry-on luggage for carrying comfort, packing ease, durability and rain-resistance. Included were soft, floppy bags; semisoft, lightly framed models (the most popular type of carry-on luggage); bags with rigid frames and flexible sides; expandable bags; and some under-the-seat garment bags.

Most airlines now limit carry-on underseat bags to an overall measurement (length plus width plus height) of 45 inches. Nearly all the models tested fell within that limit.

Many of the bags tested have two strap handles that can be joined together by a wrap-around flap secured by snaps or Velcro. While a flap of leather or thick plastic generally provides a better cushion than a cloth flap, the width of the flap is more important than the material. A flap that isn't as wide as your palm may dig into your hand.

Strap handles that can't be joined with a flap will fall to the sides of the bag when you put it down. Every time you pick the bag up, you must first gather up the handles -- a seemingly minor detail that can get on your nerves.

When your hands are occupied with tickets, reading material and other accouterments of modern travel, you'll appreciate a bag with a shoulder strap. Those with wide straps or a wide pad on the straps aren't likely to cut into your shoulder. A textured surface on a shoulder pad will prevent the strap from slipping off your shoulder.

A bag with a fairly stiff floor means neater packing and better weight distribution of the bag's contents. A floor that's attached to one side only can be folded up so the bag collapses for compact storage.

Plastic zippers operate more smoothly than metal ones. Double-pull zippers that go around three sides of a bag let you open just one side to fish something out, or unzip all three sides for easy packing and unpacking. Large pull tabs make the zippers easier to use.

Nearly all the bags tested proved to be durable enough to provide good service for many years. But they didn't turn out to be impressively rain-resistant. The best allowed just a little water to seep in around the zippers. The worst let water in everywhere.

Four semisoft bags were judged excellent in construction and above average in rain resistance. In order of increasing suggested retail price, they are the Sasson LeConcorde 5202, $40; Oleg Cassini Montego 440092, $60; American Tourister Cross Country II 5321, $100; and the Banana Republic 6030, $275, plus shipping.

Expandable bags are designed to increase in capacity as the need dictates. The four expandables tested met the airlines' 45-inch rule in their compact form. But when expanded to full capacity, they'd have to go in the cargo hold. The Lark CO-X Series 150, $225, was on par with the four semisoft bags listed above; it was excellent in construction and above average in rain resistance.

Make sure you price-shop. Luggage is heavily discounted and sales are common.

1987, Consumers Union