Ride on smart luggage — A complete overview


Back in the dark days of the history of suitcases they didn’t even have wheels! When the Rollaboard suitcase was invented in 1970 it revolutionised suitcases, but ever since, how we use suitcases has remained remarkably similar.

That was until Modobag…

The idea struck him when he was pulling the kids on his suitcase at the airport, and wondered, “Why can’t we ride our luggage and get to where we’re going faster with less stress?”

Modobag inventor Kevin O’Donnell

Over half a million pounds raised on indiegogo later, arrived the Modobag — the world’s first rideable luggage. This was shortly followed by Airwheel with their SE3 powered scooter luggage. For those of you who want your luggage rideable but without the battery tech Micro Scooters have a suitcase fitted to a scooter!

micro scooter ride on luggage
modobag ride on smart luggage

But what’s the deal with ride on smart luggage?

Is it legal? Does it work? What’s the downsides? As a smart luggage fanatic, these were all questions I asked myself when I first heard about ride on luggage for adults. Here is a complete overview, with all you need to know.


Who invented ride on smart luggage?

While there are now several variants, the original inventor of ride on smart luggage is Modobag. The company began in 2015 with a kickstarter campaign, and the brand has continued to develop its product, with a 2nd generation upgrades shipping to the latest orders.

Riding royalty — ride on smart luggage makes headlines

If it’s good enough for The Duchess of York its good enough for us!


Riding smart luggage: The Rules

All the legal stuff, you need to know.

  • What laws regulate ride on smart luggage?
  • Where is it legal to ride?
  • Can you bring ride on smart luggage on planes?

What law does ride on smart luggage fall under?

In the UK motorised suitcases fall under a category of vehicles known as Personal Light Electric Vehicles (PLEVs). This is the same category as E-scooters and mobility devices.

Despite their slow speeds and small size, the PLEV category technically means that riding smart luggage is classified in the same way as motor vehicles, and you would need tax and insurance to ride them on public roads.


Can I ride motorised luggage to the airport?

No. At the moment only one type of PLEV is allowed on the roads in the UK — E-scooters for hire.

Countries around the world have differing laws on powered electric devices like ride on smart suitcases but in the UK all devices that fall into the PLEV category are undergoing a 12-month trial period to determine your ability to ride on roads — and hence to the airport.

The only place a privately owned e-scooter or ride on smart luggage can be used is on private land.

As an aside, e-scooters for hire are legal — as of the 4th July 2020 — but not privately bought e-scooters. The theory is that it is easier to ensure large hiring firms devices are regulated.

E-scooters highlight the legal problem of powered ride on luggage: commonality and adherence to existing regulations, something that no current ride on luggage complies with.


Can I use ride on luggage inside the airport?

While this may seem like the entire point of ride on luggage, unfortunately the answer is, not really.

This is a pretty major flaw and was noted by Reuters back in 2016.

At present, airport operators all seem to outlaw the use of personal wheeled transport devices within terminal buildings for safety reasons, which means that for self-propelled luggage to become a thing the developers will need to either lobby for changes in the rules or look for alternative uses.

Reuters Travel

This is the case at many other airports, all of whom are strict with their rules on powered transport devices from hoverboards to ride on suitcases.

But the manufacturer shows me zooming through airports? I saw it on the news!

While it would be wrong to suggest you won’t ever be able to ride your motorised luggage through airports — obviously you can — there is a reason why airports and the manufacturer are keen to not talk too much about the subject, or explicitly approve you doing so. Liability.

01. Training

Some airports like Munich actually use e-scooters and devices that look similar to ride on suitcases for their staff to get around, however the rules make clear it is only for trained personnel and not passengers.

We have a policy concerning bicycles, hoverboards and so on: they are actually not allowed in terminals. Modobag would fall into the same category

Dieter Hulick — Frankfurt Airport’s spokesman

Reuters highlight a number of European airports that prohibit the devices. Airports are worried about liability from injury or risk, so they mitigate the risk of their employees using similar motorised devices like electric scooters through training.

As anybody can purchase ride on smart luggage, it is difficult to classify the level of ability — and hence risk — for each rider without mandatory training.

02. Device compliance

The second reason Airports aren’t keen on riding smart luggage, is that all the brands have different safety features, speeds and styles. This means it is difficult to risk assess the activity — you don’t know the level of danger as each device is different.

This is partly the reason why Airports regulate mobility scooters — to ensure each device is checked to be safe. Here’s an example from the UK:

  • Birmingham airport asks disabled passengers travelling with an electric mobility scooter to have it checked over before they allow you to use it in the airport
  • If your device is not up to scratch they will provide you a substitute.

When you arrive at Birmingham Airport for your departure flight, please proceed to the OCS reception desk located on the ground floor. From this point, OCS staff will assess your needs and will ensure that your electric mobility aid is safe for travel.

Birmingham Airport — Special Assistance

03. Turning a blind eye

As a result of Airports inability to risk access, and hence quantify the safety of riding around on smart luggage, buried in the terms and conditions is a blanket ban on all devices.

You may not get stopped, you might be able to use your Modobag or Airwheel SE3 without hassle in many airports, but that is because they are turning a blind eye, and not because it is legal.

There have been reports on Modobag’s facebook page suggesting that customers have been asked to stop riding them in airports.

In the UK the police stopped me and wanted to know if I am handicapped, I said no, and then said I should stop riding it and walk.

If this happens, unfortunately there is no recourse.

Airports will not explicitly give you permission to ride your smart luggage, even if you ask in advance.

At thrillofthecase we contacted three international airports: London Heathrow, Dubai and JFK. All three of which responded that they couldn’t guarantee use and it would depend on the individuals working in the airport on the day.


Can I bring ride on suitcases on the plane?

Yes. By design virtually all ride on suitcases: including Modobag, and the Airwheel SE3 are airline compliant. Will it be easy? That’s a different story.

Compliant is a very different word to approved, and as with all niche items it is best to allow more time for passing through security as there have been reports of differing interpretations and delays.

  • Unlike e-scooters or electric wheelchairs, ride on luggage have much smaller lithium-ion batteries that comply with current FAA and IATA regulations
  • Both regulations state that for carry on luggage, batteries must be less than 100 Wh
  • Airwheel remain compliant with the regulations by providing a lower powered 74Wh battery — under the limit — but advertise for daily use and the higher range advertised you should buy an additional 185Wh battery pack
  • Modobag use a 96.3 Wh battery pack, also remaining under the 100 Wh limit
  • Both bags have the ability to remove the battery if the luggage needs to be checked in, therefore you can travel with the battery in your hand luggage

Flying with a crash helmet

While most people won’t wear a crash helmet when using ride on luggage due to the slow speed involved, if you do choose to use a helmet — or make your kids wear one — it’s worth checking with your airline beforehand.

Airport security doesn’t prohibit crash helmets, however some individual airlines don’t allow you to travel with helmets in your carry on luggage, and you may have to check it in.


The positives to ride on luggage

Genuine use for disabilities

It’s quite telling that on both the AirWheel SE3’s amazon reviews, and the Modobag reviews, both feature comments from people who have appreciated the bags from a mobility standpoint.

Wow! I don’t know what I would have done had I not had this riding carry-on!! Because of a recent Achilles’ tendon surgery, walking was painful. Flew from Cleveland to Charlotte, then to Seattle, then back to Charlotte, then on to Cleveland. I would have never been able to walk those terminals and this bag saved me from asking for someone in a cart to take me to the gate.

Modobag Customer

These bags can provide a cheap alternative to fully fledged mobility scooters. With airports continuing to expand in size, they help people that would otherwise struggle with walking long distances but don’t want the lengthy queues that often accompany airport wheelchair services.

A need for speed

Despite the dubious legality of it, it is almost like airports are designed for four-wheeled fun!

In these ideal conditions the small electric motors can really build up speed:

  • Modobag features two settings:
    • a 5mph limit on “indoor mode”
    • A pretty quick 8mph limit for when you hit the open airport!
  • And the Airwheel SE3 has a top speed of 6.3 mph.

Over the years airports have morphed from small and convenient terminals — with the excitement of the golden age of flying — into vast soulless hangers, and the rise of low-cost airlines! What better way to get your journey off to a fun start and kill some of the monotony that a ride on suitcase?

Modern airports provide endless acres of super smooth flooring and plenty of space make airports a perfect place for scooting along.

The downsides to ride on luggage

With any niche product, there will be downsides. We’ve looked at two of the most popular ride on suitcases for adults: the Modobag and Airwheel SE3 and compared them to more traditional smart luggage.

Heavy

Motors, batteries, brakes and steering columns — alongside the strengthened shell needed to support an adulting riding on the luggage — means that ride on suitcases aren’t light.

Looking at the two most popular smart riding luggage, the Modobag and the Airwheel SE3 they weigh over 9.07 kg and 14.5 kg respectively.

Modobag reports only a dry weight — so without batteries — and in reality this is likely to add up to nearly the 14.5 kg of the Airwheel SE3.

Looking at hand baggage weight limits, both models would only be allowed on 4 of the 21 airlines listed in this by weight alone. Traditional smart luggage, ranging from ultra-lightweight Samsonite Prodigy to the feature packed Plevo Runner weigh 3-5kgs.

Lack of packing space

Another obvious downside to smart ride on luggage — it doesn’t leave a lot of space for, you know, the luggage.

While this might not be too inconvenient for travellers that pack light, it does limit your options. As an example, the Modobag has a volume of 2772 cubic inches, but only 65% of that is useable. It is a similar story with Airwheel’s SE3.

That leaves both bags with 29.5 and 29.3L for packing. While it’s still a very reasonable amount of space, it is considerably less in comparison to more traditional carry-on luggage like Samsonite’s Prodigy which has an interior volume of 40L.

Uncomfortable to ride

While the idea of zipping through airports seems great, ride on luggage exists in that space where the idea seems better on paper than in reality.

With airlines increasingly moving towards absolutely tiny seats — in an effort to squeeze as many people on planes as they can — I’m not convinced there are many people who after a cramped flight decide the want to fold themselves onto a ride on suitcase.

Maybe I’m wrong — it’s a personal preference after all — but after sitting for 8 hours hunched over an IFE screen with my knees at that awkward angle, I actually look forward to stretching out and a brisk walk after the flight.

Summary

Smart luggage is meant to be about solving problems — providing easy access and charging for your devices, locating your lost luggage etc — but I can’t help feel like ride on luggage creates more problems than it solves.

Dubiously legal, over most airlines luggage weight requirements, and with significantly reduced space to fit luggage, ride on smart luggage has quite a niche appeal.

However, for those that pack light and need a helping hand getting through the airport — or even those who just have a need for speed and want to brighten up their travels — ride on luggage could be for you.

And proving ride on smart luggage isn’t just for kid-sized adults, even 7 foot Shaq O’Neil can fit, just.