Airlines restrict 'smart luggage' that uses lithium batteries

08 December, 2017, 01:19 | Author: Terri Saunders
  • Scott Olson

The airline is placing restrictions on so-called "smart luggage" due to concerns that the lithium ion batteries that power some bags could pose a fire risk.

The bags generally have USB ports where customers can recharge their phones and other devices.

One of the primary reasons consumers purchase smart luggage is their Global Positioning System capability, which makes the bags easy to locate if they are lost. Some even a motor to propel the bags so that they can double as a scooter or just follow their owner around the airport.

Airlines fear the batteries may spark a fire if they're allowed to fly. "If the battery can not be removed, the bag will not be allowed", American said in a statement on Friday. If the bag will be traveling in the cabin, the battery can remain installed as long as it is powered off. Per CNN, Delta and Alaska's policies will even apply to carry-on bags, and will go into effect on January 15th, 2018.

Tim Ryan, chief marketing officer at Chicago-based smart bag-maker Modobag, said its batteries are removable, though the company may consider making batteries easier to remove in an upcoming line of smart bags that are created to be checked.

One company that manufactures smart bags, Bluesmart, said the batteries in its luggage are not removable. It announced plans to meet with airlines to seek exemptions for its products. Between them, those five airlines handle more than 80% of US air traffic.

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As with the hoverboard ban, other airlines, including American Airlines, have also implemented a smart bags ban. The problem is, its lithium batteries cannot be removed.

"We are saddened by these latest changes to some airline regulations and feel it is a step back not only for travel technology, but that it also presents an obstacle to streamlining and improving the way we all travel", Bluesmart said in a statement.

These were the findings of the Federal Aviation Administration after extensive testing, which prompted a reversal of the security-based requirements to check laptops and large electronics on some flights earlier this year, and instead resulted in a ban on checking large electronics in luggage. But Delta points out that regulators have not specifically approved any company's smart bags.

The concern is that lithium ion batteries, used in computers, tablets, phone chargers and other devices, can explode and catch fire when damaged.

"Spare (uninstalled) lithium metal and lithium ion batteries are always prohibited in checked baggage and must be placed in carry-on".

In an emailed statement, Laura Brown, a spokeswoman with the FAA, said the airlines' actions are "consistent with our guidance that lithium ion batteries should not be carried in the cargo hold". The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects to industry-wide "guidance to be issued potentially this week", a representative said in a media hearing.


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