October 4, 2022

The FLATED Air-Carrier sounds too good to be true – almost gimmicky. I mean, come on: a big, lightweight, rugged rooftop cargo box that installs easily in minutes? And then packs down into a duffel bag when not in use? All possible because it’s… inflatable? However, the Air-Carrier is that rare product that immediately proves itself far better than the competition.

The Air-Carrier fills an unexplored territory in-between hardshell rooftop cargo boxes and structureless rooftop cargo bags, functioning as an elevated hybrid of the two. But, put plainly, the Air-Carrier is a far more practical and accessible alternative to most hardshells and an undeniable upgrade over rooftop 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; Large versions are ten and four inches longer, respectively. Both sizes are 20 inches tall. Both fold down into duffel bag-sized packs when not in use; when needed, they’re easily inflated and installed by one person in minutes with no tools whatsoever (aside from the included air pump). Thanks to a dialed-in combo of engineering and materials, the inflated Air-Carrier is shockingly robust and sturdy; it is quiet at highway speeds and even looks great.

I’ve spent several weeks with the Air-Carrier, using it atop my old Jeep Cherokee to haul furniture, luggage and more. I honestly can’t recall the last newly introduced product I was this geeked about testing and subsequently profoundly impressed by. Before meeting FLATED founder Ryan Guay, who introduced me to his inventions, I assumed rooftop cargo box innovation had reached its logical conclusion. Yet the Air-Carrier is a starkly successful evolution of a product category I’d long-assumed “finished.” Make no mistake: Air-Carrier is not an iterative “disruptor” product. It is a unique car-top cargo solution. While I’m tempted to say it’s perfect specifically for city-dwellers like me, I can’t help but acknowledge that any rooftop cargo shopper would benefit from taking a very, very close look at one.

What’s Great About the FLATED Air-Carrier

It couldn’t be easier to use.

If you don’t have room to remove and store a hardshell cargo carrier but need a rooftop cargo solution, you might as well stop reading this review and buy an Air-Carrier. It’s easier to manage than a hardshell carrier, more stowable when not in use and likely less expensive.

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Inflation/installation is a straightforward process. Simply unfold the Air-Carrier and inflate it with the included manual pump. Once fully inflated, it’s easy for one person to lift the Air-Carrier onto a car roof and latch it down. If the car has a roof rack, two built-in straps slip around the rails and cinch tight; alternatively, straps can be passed and secured through the car’s doors. The process to remove and store the Air-Carrier is the same but in reverse; the manual pump will also deflate the Air-Carrier. Once empty, Air-Carrier folds into an included storage bag – depending on the size you buy, at most, the “stored” Air-Carrier will weigh 23 pounds.

Nick Caruso

The Air-Carrier installation/removal processes are simpler and more comfortable than dealing with a bulky, awkwardly sized hardshell carrier (which folks often refer to as “coffins,” by the way). One person can do it all with no tools. If you drop the Air-Carrier, it will bounce; if you drop a hard shell, it may break itself or your toe and/or damage your car.

Storing the Air-Carrier is easy – slip it onto a garage shelf, into your trunk or under your couch. Further, the Air-Carrier’s protective, accessible and dependably aerodynamic structure wins out compared to cargo bags, which essentially amount to glorified, amorphous tarps.

flated air carrier on top of a jeep

Nick Caruso

It has an air of quality

The Air-Carrier is constructed of tough-as-hell 420D DWR-treated nylon canvas. The material has a hardy ruggedness that immediately inspires confidence – it’s neither thin, tent-like fabric nor cheap-feeling. The zippers that open and close Air-Carrier’s side panels are oversized and lockable. Once inflated, the “rails” inside Air-Carrier’s skeleton structure are rigid. The fully-inflated structure can handle a surprising amount of weight. (I didn’t officially test this, per se, but it supported my reasonably average adult weight with zero signs of strain.)

Inside, Air-Carriers boast up to 23 cubic feet of storage space, accessible from both sides via massive zipper-open windows. There is minimal built-in storage, comprising only a few simple side pockets.

It’s almost too quiet…

Because I daily drive a brick-shaped money pit that is old enough to purchase alcohol and refuses to go a week without new problems, my ears are attuned to unfamiliar noises on the road. I say this because I assumed the Air-Carrier would make moderately unpleasant wind noise – truthfully, I’d have it considered a more than fair tradeoff. But even traveling on the highway at 75 mph, I literally did not hear so much as a squeak.: no extra wind noise, no moving around, no nothing. Reader, I was astonished. Your mileage may vary, of course (literally, I hope). It’s possible that the wedge-shaped Air-Carrier made my Cherokee more aerodynamic, but suffice it to say, the thing is delightfully, unexpectedly quiet on the road.

What’s Not So Great About the FLATED Air-Carrier

(Obviously) It’s Not (Quite) a Hard-Shell

When compared to hardshell rooftop carriers (I’m not ready to casually call them coffins), in most respects, I think the Air-Carrier is the better choice. Lighter, stores easily, often less costly, etc. But there are some situations where a hardshell will be the right choice. First and foremost, hard shells are inherently more protective in certain circumstances. They can absorb and deflect shocks and hard bumps – and, I dunno, crossbow attacks? – better than a “soft” alternative like the Air-Carrier.

Hard shells are also arguably better looking and definitely more aerodynamic. Slippery hardshells may net 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 hard shell will probably serve you better.

Lastly, Air-Carrier outer length maxes out at 72 inches, meaning it’ll be tough to fit many skis inside. Furthermore, if you’re transporting something like a surfboard, there are rooftop boxes specifically designed for you. The Air-Carrier is more of a general-purpose cargo solution; folks with specialized needs should get out the measuring tape before purchasing.

flated air carrier on top of a white jeep cherokee

Nick Caruso

The $130 arm-saving electric pump is sold separately

FLATED sells an electric pump for $130; it’ll save you from doing 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 this is a small complaint – the pump is simple but efficient, and, again, the entire setup takes only a few minutes. Plus, you could use the exercise.

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Simple though it may be, I had trouble understanding one crucial step in the written instructions, which I clarified by watching one of FLATED’s handy videos. The built-in straps that fasten to the roof rack crossbars need to loop once around each bar to secure the Air-Carrier in place. (To be fair, if I were a smidge less dense, I’d have figured it out without the video.) On that note, however, it was not immediately apparent, and never quite intuitive, how the Air-Carrier packs into its carrying bag. Ultimately, some wrestling is involved, but it’s straightforward enough and quite repeatable once you’ve done it the first time.

Alternatives

For a complete list of alternatives, check out our Best Rooftop Cargo Boxes buying guide. If cross-shopping hardshell rooftop carriers, 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 and thus can handle skis and such. The Amazon Basics Rooftop Cargo Carrier Bag ($50) is a highly rated rooftop cargo solution that does not hold a candle to the Air-Carrier. It is, however, stupidly affordable. Amazon’s bag has only 15 cubic feet of storage, and an adult human cannot lay atop it without squishing what/whoever is inside it.

The Verdict on the FLATED Air-Carrier

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 to no storage in your home but need to haul stuff on trips or around town, buy a FLATED Air-Carrier. If you need a rooftop cargo solution for gear that’s longer than about 70 inches, buy something else. It’s so damn easy to set up, tear down and store that almost no other general-purpose cargo option makes sense. Despite its flashy looks, premium feel and competitive specs, the Air-Carrier is easily my favorite totally new product in recent memory – and one I wholeheartedly suggest considering – for one basic, practical reason: it is better than 90% of its competition in almost every way.

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