The FLATED Air-Carrier sounds too good to be true – almost whimsical. I mean, come on: a big, lightweight, sturdy roof box that easily installs in minutes? And then stows away in a gym bag when not in use? Everything is possible because it’s… inflatable? However, the Air-Carrier is that rare product that immediately turns out to be much better than the competition.
The Air-Carrier fills uncharted territory between rigid roof-top cargo boxes and frameless roof-top cargo bags, functioning as an elevated hybrid of the two. But, to put it plainly, the Air-Carrier is a much more practical and accessible alternative to most hard cases and a definite upgrade over roof bags.
It comes in two sizes: Medium ($599), which I tested, and Large ($629). Medium Air Carriers are 62 inches long and 30 inches wide; Larger versions are ten and four inches taller respectively. Both sizes are 20 inches tall. Both fold into duffle-size bags when not in use; when needed, they are easily inflated and installed by one person in minutes without any tools (other than the included air pump). Thanks to a combination of engineering and materials, the Inflated Air-Carrier is incredibly tough and sturdy; it’s quiet at highway speeds and even looks great.
I spent several weeks with the Air-Carrier, using it on my old Jeep Cherokee to haul furniture, luggage and more. I honestly can’t remember the last newly introduced product that I was so geeky about testing and afterwards deeply impressed with. Before meeting FLATED founder Ryan Guay, who introduced me to his inventions, I assumed that the rooftop cargo box innovation had reached its logical conclusion. Still, the Air-Carrier is a frankly successful evolution of a product category that I had long assumed was “finished.” Make no mistake: Air-Carrier is not an iterative “disruptive” product. It is a unique car roof loading solution. While I’m tempted to say it’s perfect specifically for city dwellers like me, I can’t help but agree that any rooftop cargo shopper would benefit from taking one very, very close look.
What’s Great About FLATED Air Carrier
It couldn’t be easier to use.
If you don’t have room to remove and store a hard-shell rack but need a roof-top cargo solution, you might as well stop reading this review and buy an Air-Carrier. It’s easier to manage than a rigid carrier, easier to store when not in use, and probably less expensive.
Inflation/installation is a simple process. Simply unfold the Air-Carrier and inflate it with the included hand pump. Once fully inflated, it is easy for one person to lift the Air-Carrier onto the roof of a car and lock it into place. If the car has a roof rack, two integrated straps slide around the rails and tighten; alternatively, straps can be passed and secured through car doors. The process for removing and storing the Air-Carrier is the same but in reverse; the hand pump will also deflate the Air-Carrier. When empty, the Air-Carrier folds into an included stuff sack – depending on the size you purchase, at most the “stored” Air-Carrier will weigh 23 pounds.
Air-Carrier installation/removal processes are easier and more comfortable than dealing with a bulky, awkwardly sized rigid carrier (which people often refer to as “coffins”, by the way). One person can do it all without tools. If you let go of the Air-Carrier, it will bounce; If you drop a hard shell it can break or break your toe and/or damage your car.
Storing the Air-Carrier is easy: slide it on a garage shelf, in your trunk or under your couch. Additionally, the Air-Carrier’s protective, accessible, and dependable aerodynamic structure trumps cargo bags, which are essentially glorified, amorphous tarps.
It looks like quality
The Air-Carrier is constructed from heavy-duty 420D DWR nylon canvas. The material has a rugged sturdiness that immediately inspires confidence – it’s neither tent-thin fabric nor has a cheap feel. The zippers that open and close the side panels of Air-Carrier are oversized and lockable. When inflated, the “rails” inside the Air-Carrier’s skeletal structure are rigid. The fully inflated structure can support surprising weight. (I haven’t officially tested this, per se, but it supported my reasonably average adult weight with no signs of strain.)
Inside, the Air-Carriers offer up to 23 cubic feet of storage space, accessible from both sides via huge zippered windows. There’s minimal built-in storage, comprising just a few simple side pockets.
It’s almost toh calm…
Because I drive daily through a brick-shaped money pit that’s old enough to buy booze and refuses to go a week without new problems, my ears are tuned in to unfamiliar noises on the road. I say this because I assumed the Air-Carrier would make a moderately unpleasant wind noise – truth be told, I’d consider it a more than fair compromise. But even while traveling on the highway at 120 km/h, I literally didn’t hear a squeal: no additional wind noise, no shifting, nothing. Reader, I was amazed. Your mileage may vary, of course (literally, I hope). It’s possible the wedge-shaped Air-Carrier made my Cherokee After aerodynamic, but suffice to say the thing is delightfully quiet on the road.
What’s Not So Great About FLATED Air Carrier
(Obviously) It’s not (quite) a hard case
Compared to hard-top roof racks (I’m not ready to casually call them coffins), in many ways I think the Air-Carrier is the better choice. Lighter, easy to store, often cheaper, etc. But there are situations where a hard case will be the right choice. First and foremost, hard cases are inherently more protective in certain circumstances. They can absorb and deflect shocks and hard bumps – and, I don’t know, crossbow attacks? – better than a “soft” alternative like the Air-Carrier.
Hard shells are also arguably better looking and certainly more aerodynamic. Slippery hard shells can provide better overall fuel economy, especially depending on the type of vehicle. If you plan to leave your rooftop storage installed more or less permanently, a hardshell will probably serve you best.
Finally, the exterior length of the Air-Carrier maxes out at 72 inches, which means it will be difficult to fit many skis inside. Plus, if you’re carrying something like a surfboard, there are roof boxes specifically designed for you. The Air-Carrier is more of a general purpose cargo solution; people with specialized needs should take out the measuring tape before purchasing.
$130 arm-saving electric pump sold separately
FLATED sells an electric pump for $130; this will save you from making an oil rig impression every time you inflate the Air-Carrier. Especially when it’s hot and humid, the process isn’t super pleasant. But that’s a minor gripe – the pump is simple but effective and, again, the whole setup only takes a few minutes. Additionally, you could use exercise.
As simple as it sounds, I struggled to understand a crucial step in the written instructions, which I clarified by watching one of FLATED’s how-to videos. The integrated straps that attach to the roof rack crossbars must wrap once around each bar to secure the rack in place. (To be fair, if I was a little less dense, I would have figured it out without the video.) On that note, however, it was not immediately apparent, and never quite intuitive, how the Air- Carrier fits into its carrying bag. Ultimately, some struggle is involved, but it’s pretty simple and fairly repeatable once you’ve done it the first time.
For a full list of alternatives, check out our buying guide to the best rooftop cargo boxes. If you’re buying hard-top roof racks, consider the Yakima Skybox series. The Skybox 16 Carbonite ($718) is more expensive than the Air-Carrier, but it’s also longer than FLATED’s product so can handle skis and the like. The Amazon Basics Rooftop Carrier Bag ($50) is a popular rooftop cargo solution that doesn’t hold a candle to the airline carrier. It is, however, stupidly affordable. Amazon’s bag only has 15 cubic feet of storage, and an adult human can’t lie in it without crushing what’s inside.
The verdict on the air carrier FLATED
If you need a rooftop cargo solution for anything that isn’t very long and narrow, buy a FLATED Air Carrier. If you live in a city and have little or no storage space in your home, but need to transport items when traveling or around town, buy a FLATED air carrier. If you need a rooftop cargo solution for gear longer than 70 inches, buy something else. It’s so easy to set up, take down, and store that almost no other general-purpose charging option makes sense. Despite its flashy looks, premium feel and competitive specs, the Air-Carrier is easily my favorite brand new product in recent memory – and one I wholeheartedly suggest considering – for one fundamental and practical reason: it’s better than 90% of its competitors in almost every way.