Packing luggage for a flight can be a stressful experience.
There are some items, like clothing, wallets, and cell phones, which are obviously allowed to pass through the security gate.
Other items, like weapons and flammable liquids, are clearly banned from airplanes.
But whenever I pack for a flight, I am amazed by the number of things that “might” be allowed, but I ought to check the rules to be sure. Bottle openers, various food products, and cosmetics like shampoo and toothpaste always leave me a little nervous that I will be stopped by airport security and forced to dispose of the item.
Portable speakers are another item that can be a source of confusion. On one hand, most similarly-sized portable electronic devices (like cell phones and smart watches) can pass through security checkpoints with ease. On the other hand, they contain lithium-ion batteries and sometimes have a design that appears suspicious or unfamiliar to travelers and gate security.
Continue reading for guidance on whether or not you can bring a portable speaker on an airplane. While it seems like an easy question to answer, there are key differences between carry-on and checked luggage regulations, removable versus non-removable batteries, as well as batteries with 100+ Wh capacity.
We will cover each of these topics so that you can pack for your trip confidently.
Short Answer: Is a Bluetooth/Portable Speaker Allowed on a Plane?
The shortest answer we can give is that a typical bluetooth speaker is allowed on a plane, as long as it doesn’t exceed the size limits set by the airline.
According to TSA (Transportation Security Administration), a U.S. government entity that regulates airport and airline security, portable speakers are allowed on both carry-on luggage and checked luggage, provided that they aren’t too large.
However, there are a few caveats here.
For speakers with removable lithium-ion batteries, the rules differ. Removable lithium ions batteries must be taken in carry-on, rather than checked luggage. And for battery packs over 100 Wh, airline approval is needed. For these larger batteries, only two per person are allowed, and they must be for personal use.
Further Discussion on Lithium-ion Batteries
Speakers are a confusing item for TSA rules because they often contain a lithium-ion battery. Because low quality lithium-ion batteries are an explosion risk, nobody from TSA or the flight crew is very excited about bringing lithium-ion batteries onto a plane.
The key distinction here, at least as far as TSA is concerned, is whether the battery is installed or uninstalled.
For installed/non-removable lithium-ion batteries
This is the category that most portable speakers fall under. For the majority of bluetooth speakers, the battery is installed inside the device in a permanent fashion.
Per TSA, portable speakers “should be carried in carry-on baggage when possible.” This is due to the fact that they contain lithium-ion batteries. This is also the case for laptops, phones, tablets, and other devices that contain lithium-ion batteries.
If you must place a speaker in your checked baggage, it “must be completely powered off and protected to prevent unintentional activation or damage” (again, this is TSA regulation).
For uninstalled/spare lithium-ion batteries
Again, most speakers fall into the earlier category. However, some speakers are available which have removable batteries, in which case you might carry a spare.
These spare lithium-ion batteries are “always prohibited in checked baggage and must be placed in carry-on.”
This also applies to power banks and charging cases.
Can I Bring a Speaker in My Carry-on?
As mentioned above, this is the preferred way of flying with a speaker (as long as you don’t start cranking tunes at 35,000 feet…).
Because most portable speakers contain a lithium-ion battery, TSA would actually rather that you have this device in your carry-on rather than checked luggage.
The only restrictions are that the speaker needs to be small enough to comply with airline regulations. For almost all of the speakers that we review, this shouldn’t be a problem. But for larger amps and party speakers, you will want to verify that your “carry-on” speaker is small enough to comply with the rules on your flight.
Additionally, don’t forget that different airlines have different rules for carry-on luggage and personal items. So, you want to be sure that your speaker can either:
- Fit inside of your carry-on or personal item
- Be carried as your personal item, or
- Be carried as your carry-on
Ideally, your speaker is small enough to throw inside of your carry-on, purse, or backpack. In this case, it won’t count as either a carry-on or personal item.
For larger speakers, you may need to carry your speaker as its own item — in this case, the speaker will generally count as your personal item.
And for speakers that are too large to be counted as a personal item, you will have to designate this as your carry-on item. Generally, airlines limit your number of carry-on items. So be sure that you factor this in when you pack for travel.
Can I Bring a Speaker in My Checked Luggage?
As mentioned above, TSA (as well as FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration) prefers that you carry speakers in your carry-on baggage “when possible.” Again, this is due to the fact that they usually contain lithium-ion batteries, which present an explosion risk.
If you do place a speaker in your checked luggage, there are a couple things to remember.
First, TSA, FAA, and your flight crew all prefer that you keep speakers in your carry-on rather than checked luggage.
Next, that the device (if checked) needs to be entirely powered off, as well as protected to “prevent unintentional activation or damage.”
And lastly, remember that checked luggage is frequently mishandled, often resulting in damage. This is why it is also recommended that you not check things such as car seats or fragile items.
Even beyond the mishandling, there are many stories of airline passengers reporting items missing from their checked luggage. Although the luggage handlers are mandated to notify you if your bag was opened, most experts agree that this system is imperfect, and recommend that you not check jewelry or valuable items.
Due to the risk of damage or theft, along with the recommendation to keep speakers in your carry-on, it just doesn’t make sense to place a speaker in your checked luggage unless you absolutely have no other choice.
If I am traveling with a bluetooth speaker that cost hundreds of dollars, I would much prefer to have it by my side. This minimizes the risk of theft, for starters. And I can also ensure that the speaker is being handled properly without risk of being damaged.
And again, if you are traveling with a spare or uninstalled speaker battery that contains lithium-ion, you are not permitted to place it in your checked luggage. Instead, it must be placed in carry-on.
A Caveat on Large Spare Batteries
To make matters more complicated, there are different rules for large (101 to 160 Wh) capacity batteries.
Thankfully, these rules won’t apply to many of us. Most of the speakers that we review here at Swift Moves have batteries between 10 Wh and 40 Wh. These speakers can follow the rules discussed above — carry-on if possible, checked luggage if not.
However, for spare (removable) batteries with 101-160 Wh capacity, the rules are as follows:
- These batteries are not permitted in checked luggage
- These batteries can be carried on by passengers with airline approval
- Even with airline approval, no more than two of these batteries can be carried on
In almost all instances, a portable bluetooth speaker is allowed on a plane as long as it meets size requirements.
To minimize the risk of damage or theft, you should keep your speaker on your person or in your carry-on, rather than in checked luggage. FAA & TSA both prefer to keep these items out of checked luggage, also, due to the explosion risk of lithium-ion batteries (which, we should add, is minimal in properly-constructed batteries).
If you have a removable battery, spare battery, or power bank, this must be kept in your carry-on rather than checked luggage. And if the capacity is quite large (101+ Wh), you will need airline approval to travel with this item.
Hopefully this guide was able to answer all of your questions and help you to travel confidently. Thank you for reading!