Smart Luggage: what you need to know

Smart luggage is growing in popularity. What’s smart luggage? In essence it’s the addition of technology to suitcases and bags, allowing you to do things like charge your devices via an on board battery pack, weigh the bag, and even track a suitcase’s location almost anywhere on earth. These smart properties can be quite handy, but trouble is afoot for bag owners: some US airlines are banning smart luggage if the batteries can’t be removed.

Tips for travel with smart luggage

I recently had the chance to test out and review some smart luggage for TechGadgetsCanada.com. There’s a lot of choice when it comes to smart baggage and each one may have different features.

smart luggage carry on baggage battery banWhat is Smart Luggage?

Smart luggage has either electronics, like cables or batteries, or some kind of brains inside it.  The electronics may or may not be easily removable.
Examples of other smart luggage include features like:
• Lithium ion battery and motor allowing it to be used as a personal transportation device,
either as a stand-up scooter, or sit on vehicle.
• Lithium ion battery power bank that allows charging of other electronic devices such as
mobile phones, tablets and laptops.
• GPS tracking devices with or without GSM capability.
• Bluetooth, RFID and Wi-Fi capability.
• Electronic baggage tags.
• Electronic lock/s.
• Lithium ion battery, motor and tracking device (GPS) allowing the bag to self-propel and
‘follow’ the owner.

What to look for in a Smart Suitcase

Before you choose a smart bag, consider a few things:
Do you regularly fly one airline? If so check their smart baggage policy to see if they have any bans. What smart features do you most want? A charging option? A scale? GPS tracking?

Make sure battery is removeable

While you can weigh the features and benefits that you’ll use most, one thing you should definitely make sure you have in your smart suitcase is an easily removable battery. Some smart cases say their batteries are removable, but they require unpacking the suitcase, opening the lining and unscrewing the battery pack from the frame, as with the Away smart suitcase.
Others, like G-RO smart luggage use freestanding power banks slipped into a dedicated pocket or sleeve (and often with cabling woven through the bag), which are much easier to take out if you need to.

smart luggage carry on baggage battery ban

Away luggage has a battery that can be removed with an included screwdriver.

Why are airlines banning smart luggage?

It’s not that airlines are nixing the luggage, it’s the batteries.  In particular, Lithium Ion batteries. This type of battery can be a fire hazard, and has been blamed for causing plane crashes including a UPS cargo flight   and an Asiana Airlines flight near South Korea in 2011.
The concern is that a potential fire in the cabin could be extinguished more easily than one inside a plane’s belly, should the smart bag end up checked into the hold.
“Any mishap you have in that checked luggage could cause a small fire, but trigger and light up these flammable materials” such as hair spray or nail polish packed in the luggage, said Michael Mo, CEO of KULR Technology, which is developing technology with NASA to prevent lithium batteries from overheating. “A much bigger fire in the cargo space is nothing that anybody wants,” as Mo told USA Today.

What are the rules on smart luggage?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it’s introducing new rules that take effect in January 2018:
smart luggage carry on baggage battery banThey say, “Any spare lithium battery, including power banks that are designed to charge other electronic devices, installed in a baggage item must be able to be removed from the bag so that the passenger can carry the spare lithium battery / power bank into the cabin. No lithium
battery contained in a bag may be considered as “installed in equipment”. The lithium ion batteries must have a power rating of not more than 100 Wh unless the passenger has approval from the operator, in which case the lithium ion battery must not have a Watt-hour rating exceeding 160 Wh.” (Read the full rules here.)
Bottom line: make sure you can remove the battery, especially if it’s Lithium Ion, and all the better if it’s not attached to the suitcase semi-permanently, as with screws. You’ll also want to double check with your airline about any specific requirements they have for smart baggage too.