Which Smart Bags Make the Cut and Which Will Soon be Banned From Airlines?
Two weeks ago, three US airlines announced they'd be banning certain "smart bags" from airplanes effective January 15, 2018. First to announce the ban was American Airlines, with Delta and Alaska Airlines following later the same day. Then, this Thursday, Australian airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia introduced similar bans. Other US airlines such as United and Southwest still haven't announced a "smart luggage" ban.
All of the bans focus around non-removable lithium batteries. Following FAA guidance to eliminate these batteries from checked luggage, these airlines will require that "smart luggage" have removable batteries — even if the passenger intends to carry the bag in the cabin.
With the ban just under a month away, here is a look at which bags make the cut and which you're going to have to leave home.
Will Be Banned
Bluesmart Smart Carry-On
Bluesmart, which we reviewed in late 2015 — and do not recommend — is the only major brand of smart bag without a removable battery. The company's website lists a "10,000 mAh built-in battery," and a few reviewers on Amazon confirm that the battery isn't removable, which has already caused quite a few issues even before this new ban:
- "[The bag] was destroyed by Qantas security in November 2017 as it didn't have a removable battery."
- "Since I was unable to remove the battery for them to see I ended up being questioned by security officers three times."
- "This bag would definitely not fit into [regional jet] overheads. Without a removable battery, I would have no option but to leave the bag at the gate."
The rideable Modobag was funded with an Indiegogo campaign launched in mid-2016. The 20-pound bag is now in production and on sale for $1,495 (plus $40 shipping).
Neither the User Manual (caution: PDF link) nor the website tells users that the battery is removable, much less how to remove it. The only indication we have that it's possibly removable is one quote: Tim Ryan — chief marketing officer for Modobag — told the Chicago Tribune that "its batteries are removable, though the company may consider making batteries easier to remove in an upcoming line of smart bags that are designed to be checked." However, without guidance from the company, it's unclear how easy this process would be or how much damage removing the battery might cause the bag.
Bags That Meet the New Rules
When we first heard about the ban, we wondered what the impact would be on one of our favorite smart bags: Away. The bag passed with flying colors in our review this summer. But would it need to be left behind on trips after January 15?
Steph Korey, the Co-Founder and CEO of Away, says "all Away Carry-Ons have batteries that can be easily removed. It's a feature we thoughtfully designed, in part, because customers were asking for a charger that could be kept with them and used during flight." Away bags start at $225 and have a 10,000 mAh battery pack.
While we haven't reviewed the Arlo Skye line of smart luggage, we might have to give it a look. The stylish bags start at a steep $375, but boast being the the "only US-based brand in the market that has a built-in charger that pops out with one click." The company sent us a GIF showing that process.
The bag was originally designed with this feature so the owner could keep the 10,050 mAh battery when gate-checking the bag. As Arlo Skye CEO & Co-Founder Mayur Bhatnagar notes about her competitors:
In case of a gate-check, the concept of having to actually open your suitcase, removing your belongings, unzipping the lining, then using (in the case of some other brands) a screwdriver to remove the battery is, well, a little impractical.
Another bag that we haven't yet reviewed — but were impressed with when it first came out in 2016 — and might be worth a look is the Barracuda Carry-On Luggage. The 8.7-pound bag comes with an "easily removable" 10,000 mAh battery. That said, there's no indication on the website about how to remove it.
The bag typically costs $349 without luggage tracking or $399 with tracking. However, for the holidays, these bags are available for $259 or $284, respectively, with free shipping. If you're looking at getting one at this price, note that most of the color options are currently sold out.
The $399 G-RO Carry-On is quite distinguishable due to its massive wheels. Although it's currently sold out in all colors and varieties, currently owners might be curious if they'll be able to carry-on their bag starting January 15. A banner at the top of the company's website proclaims "Worry Free — 100% Complaint With New Airlines Smart Luggage Regulations." Sure enough, the 23,000 mAh battery pack can be removed.
As the company's video shows, the battery is easily removable — as long as you don't have anything in your bag. Smartly designed for balance purposes to be at the bottom of the bag, the battery pack isn't going to be as easily removed if your bag is packed.
TPG has reviewed the non-powered bag from Incase: the Novi 4 Wheel Hubless Travel Roller 22. The newer $299 NoviConnected 4 Wheel Hubless Travel Roller version comes equipped with an "app controlled, 10,050mAh battery bank." The website notes that the "battery was designed to stay right where it is, but if you need to remove it, it’s quick and easy."
Maybe, or maybe not. Starting December 27, the company is "shipping TSA-approved screwdrivers and simple step-by-step instructions" on how to remove the battery. Needing to use a screwdriver isn't a great indicator of easy removal.
Making our list of the Best Gifts for the Extravagant Traveler, the Raden A22 carry is another smart bag with a removable battery. The $295 bag comes with a 7,800mAh battery which the website notes is "easily removable."
That said, this is another bag with a battery that might not be so easy to remove if you're having to gate-check your bag. The website lists the following instructions for removing the battery:
To remove your battery from the case, unzip the interior lining and locate a small black pouch. Unzip the pouch to locate the battery. Take out the battery and use it like any other portable charger!
Most of the popular smart bag brands do have a removable battery, which means they won't be banned from American Airlines, Alaska and Delta staring January 15, 2018. However, there are only a couple bags where the removal process seems easy.