What Are Smart Bags?

Stay charged, remotely track luggage, and even prevent identity theft

  • Smart luggage contains a battery and circuit board to power a variety of high-tech features, which vary from bag to bag.
  • Most smart bags are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which must be removable if plan to travel by air.

This article explain what smart bags are, limitations involved, and tips for traveling with one.

What Is a Smart Bag aka Smart Luggage?

In its simplest form, smart bags are any type of luggage that contains high-tech capabilities. Usually, smart luggage is hard-shelled and can contain any combination of features which can include:

  • Device charging
  • GPS tracking
  • Electronic Locks
  • Remote, app-enabled controls
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Electronic scales
Smart luggage is one way travelers can track their bags between destinations.

Maurizio Pesce / Flickr

These features make travel easier by allowing you to charge mobile devices, control TSA-approved locks from a smartphone, weigh the bag, and track it by proximity and/or GPS location. 

Some smart bags even feature solar recharging capabilities, RFID-blocking liners to prevent identity theft, and portable Wi-Fi hotspots, in case you're in an area where you can't connect.

The Challenges of High-Tech Luggage

While it's comforting knowing that you can travel across the country or around the world with the assurance that you can find and protect your belongings, there is one problem: Airlines aren't as excited about your new smart suitcase as you are.

The problem is that most smart luggage is powered by lithium-ion batteries, which are known to be fire hazards, especially on airplanes. As a result, aviation governing bodies such as the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) and the U.N. International Civil Aeronautics Organization (ICAO) recommend that lithium-ion batteries not be stored in the cargo hold of an airplane. There are fewer controls in the cargo hold and unattended batteries can catch fire and cause devastating damage.

To reduce risks, the IATA recommended in 2018 that airlines stop allowing the use of smart luggage with non-removable lithium-ion batteries. The ICAO followed suit in 2019. Many airlines, including American Airlines, American Eagle, Alaska Airlines, and Delta Airlines, have moved on their own to ban these smart bags.

What to Know About Smart Bag Batteries

While stricter regulations against smart luggage have been implemented, they mainly target smart bags with lithium-ion batteries that cannot be removed. That still leaves options for some of the coolest luggage that lets you track, charge, and manage your belongings. The new requirements mean that lithium-ion batteries must be removable, even from carry-on luggage.

Smart luggage with removable lithium-ion batteries is still okay for travel, so long as the battery can be quickly and easily removed. When checking the bag, you'll be required to remove the battery. If you choose to carry on your luggage, the battery can remain in place, as long as the suitcase is stored in an overhead bin. If the luggage needs to go into the cargo hold for any reason, you'll have to remove the battery and keep it in the cabin.

Some manufacturers, such as Heys, have begun creating smart luggage that uses triple A batteries that are safe to check. These suitcases don't have auxiliary charging for your other smart devices, but they do allow you to track your baggage, control locks remotely, and set proximity alarms. So, if you get too far away from the bag you'll receive a notification on your phone.

When in doubt, check the website for the airline you're traveling with, and remember to check other airlines you might be transferring to during your journey. Each airline lists requirements for both checked and carry-on luggage, usually on a page that has specific baggage information.

GPS Luggage Tags Are a Great Option

Travelers also have the option to forgo the smart luggage completely with smart luggage tags. These luggage tags allow you to track your baggage using safe, battery-powered sensors that can be monitored via a smartphone app.

Dynotags are a great example of a smart luggage tag: They can hold personal emergency medical information, detailed owner and travel information, and can be used on almost anything you need to track. The tags do not use batteries but do send information to a cloud service so you can retrieve your information at any time as long as you have internet access.

Traveling With the Coolest High-Tech Luggage

Smart luggage is an improvement in travel technology. When you're looking for the right smart bag, choose one that has an easily removable battery. That means no tools are required.

If you have questions about whether an airline allows smart luggage onto their planes, and what the restrictions are, check out the airline's baggage policies on its website.

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