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Airlines are banning 'smart' luggage

08 December 2017
Airlines are banning 'smart' luggage

Carriers including American, Delta, and Alaska are requiring customers remove lithium-based batteries from the bags and carry them personally before stowing them in their aircraft, citing the risk that the batteries could start a fire that burns through other luggage-with one big problem being that the batteries in many smart luggage lines are non-removable.

If it's not possible to remove the battery from the bag, the bag won't be allowed on the plane.

The bags generally have USB ports where customers can recharge their phones and other devices. The rationale is that if a battery were to catch fire, it can more easily be extinguished in the passenger cabin, versus in the cargo hold. But if you remove the battery, the Global Positioning System function won't work.

The changes in policy - first the laptop ban and now the smart baggage ban - might be confusing to travelers, but the laptop ban was a unilateral decision taken by the US and United Kingdom governments based on intelligence of threats to flights, without first consulting airlines. Most airlines will let passengers use the luggage if the battery is removed, but that may cause the suitcase to lose some features and most bags on the market have non-removable batteries.

American Airlines and Delta Airlines have both released statements saying they will no longer accept such "smart bags" as checked or carry-on luggage if the lithium-ion batteries within the bags can not be removed as the batteries pose a fire hazard risk and may catch fire during a flight. As of April 1, 2016, lithium-ion batteries are prohibited as cargo on passenger aircrafts. If the bag will be traveling in the cabin, the battery can remain installed as long as it is powered off.

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". While it allows things like laptops to be checked, it suggests they be placed in carry-on bags instead.

On Wednesday, during a special cargo session at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) headquarters in Geneva, the association confirmed that it will take steps to recommend a global ban of smart bags starting on January 15, 2018.

In a statement to CNN, Bluesmart wrote that they 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".

"We know these bags are getting popular", Feinstein says.

But TSA does not approve or endorse bags. The lithium batteries that power Modobag's motorized luggage, which travelers can ride through the airport, use different technology than the lithium-ion batteries blamed for exploding smartphones and hoverboards, according to Ryan.