Airlines restrict smart bags over lithium-ion battery fire risk

Airlines restrict smart bags over lithium-ion battery fire risk

US based carriers American Airlines (AAL.O), Delta (DAL.N) and Alaska Airlines (ALK.N) all said last week that as of January 15, 2018, they would require the battery to be removed before allowing the bags on board. 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.

But for all those features, these pieces of luggage need power in the form of lithium-ion batteries, which are generally seen as fire risks on planes. 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.

Prices can range from $275 to more than $1,000, depending on a bag's bells and whistles, like device charging, Global Positioning System tracking, remote locking and built-in weight sensors. But numerous bags already on the market have batteries that can't be removed. Beginning Jan. 15, customers who travel with a smart bag must be able to remove the battery in case the bag has to be checked at any point in the customer's journey.

Most airlines will allow smart luggage on their flights if the batteries are removed, but some smart luggage bags don't give users that option.

But all those extras come with a hitch: namely that some are powered by lithium ion batteries, which in 2016, figured prominently the recall of roughly 2.5 million Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after reports that their lithium ion batteries exploded.

The companies say that such rulings aren't unexpected, and many built their luggage to have removable batteries. "When a carry-on bag is checked at the gate or at planeside, any spare lithium batteries must be removed from the bag and kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin".


"Before and at the time of production, we did our due diligence to make sure that we complied with all worldwide regulations defined by DOT and FAA", smart luggage company Bluesmart said in a statement.

"Smart bags, also known as smart luggage, have become more popular over the last few months, and they are expected to be a popular gift this holiday season", said American Airlines.

One of the smart bag manufacturers, Bluesmart, says that it has sold 65,000 of them, and that it most recent version has sold out.

Concerns over the risk of a lithium ion battery fire were highlighted during the electronics ban temporarily imposed earlier this year on some flights to the United States.

"[We] 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.

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