Airlines Ban Smart Bags That Lack Removable Batteries

Smart luggage like the made by Bluesmart will soon face restrictions on many airlines.                  Sarah Tew  CNET

Smart luggage like the made by Bluesmart will soon face restrictions on many airlines. Sarah Tew CNET

Three U.S. airlines have announced new restrictions on so-called "smart bags" - a new breed of luggage that includes internal tracking devices and smartphone chargers - but may pose a risks to air travelers because the numerous bags are powered by lithium ion batteries that could potentially explode and catch fire.

The policy goes into effect January 15, the same day Alaska Airlines implements its own smart-bag restrictions.

American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott told the Chicago Tribune: 'We wanted to get out ahead of the holiday season given that it's one of the trendy gifts for travelers'. The airlines fear the power banks will overheat and catch fire in the cargo hold.

This policy follows the FAA's general rules (PDF) regarding lithium ion batteries and also the growing concern by our industry around these batteries in our cargo areas.

Smart bags are the latest innovation in luggage, with features including Global Positioning System tracking, electronic locks, and the ability to charge devices such as laptops and phones.

Although most of the airlines will allow passengers to travel with the smart bags if the battery is removed, but numerous bags already on the market have batteries that can't be removed.

But Ryan took issue with the way airlines' new policies treat all smart bags the same.

Airlines are anxious that the batteries could cause a fire in the cargo hold that would go undetected.

"We love innovation and understand why smart bags are so appealing for travel", said Mike Tobin, Alaska Airlines' manager of unsafe goods, in a statement.

If the bag will fly as a checked bag, the battery must be removed and the battery must be carried in the cabin.

What's considered a "smart" bag?

Bluesmart said the company is organizing meetings with the world's major airlines and will demonstrate how its products meet all safety requirements and regulations. Some even a motor to propel the bags so that they can double as a scooter or just follow their owner around the airport.

New York-based Bluesmart, a leading manufacturer of smart bag technology, issued a statement saying that all of its products are compatible with FAA, DOT, FCC and United Nations 38.3 regulations.

"Many smart bag manufacturers advertise their products as being approved by the Federal Aviation Administration or Transportation Security Administration, which may give customers the false impression that all smart bags are accepted for transport", Delta said on its website. "We have nothing against smart bags", Feinstein said.

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