Airlines Restrict Smart Luggage on Planes Because of Lithium-Ion Batteries
Smartphone integration is the way of the future. It's not even a debate anymore. We see it with apparel, footwear, paper products and more. To try to ease one of the most stressful parts of airline travel—checking (and possibly losing) your luggage—companies have created a new type of bag that lets people track them using their smartphones.
There's just one problem: Some airlines are saying that the bags may be hazardous.
Their reasoning does have some conclusive evidence. The fact that the bags are powered by a lithium-ion battery could be a cause for concern when putting them on airplanes. You'll remember that Samsung users couldn't bring their Galaxy Note 7 devices on airplanes after the smartphone was notorious for overheating and catching fire.
During that same time period, a woman was injured during a flight when her battery-powered headphones combusted. On the ground, there's been growing concern from legal entities that lithium-ion battery-powered hoverboards are dangerous, after multiple reports of them catching fire, including one instance that resulted in the death of two children.
American Airlines released a statement on the matter of the smart bags on Dec. 1.
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. However, smart bags contain lithium battery power banks, which pose a risk when they are placed in the cargo hold of an aircraft.
As part of safety management and risk mitigation, we always evaluate ways to enhance our procedures, and the Safety team at American has conducted its own analysis of these bags. 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. If the battery cannot be removed, the bag will not be allowed.
If the customer is able to take the bag into the cabin with them, the customer will be able to leave the battery installed. No additional action will be required, as long as the customer powers off the smart bag in accordance with existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. However, if a customer is required to check their smart bag, the customer will need to remove the battery.
This policy will apply to all American and American Eagle flights.
So, basically what this means is that they can't check the bag if they can't remove the battery. They can still bring the bag as a carry-on, but that sort of defeats the whole purpose of the smart bags in the first place.
In a statement of its own, Delta Airlines referenced the hoverboard incidents and the devices' subsequent prohibition on airplanes.
"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," the statement says. "To date, neither the TSA nor FAA have endorsed smart bags as approved."
However, companies are working on aligning themselves with the necessary transportation bodies and organizations.
Tomi Pierucci, co-founder and CEO of luggage maker Bluesmart, told Forbes that the company is "talking with the airlines so they can review our products and get the proper exemptions in place. We are fully compliant with DOT and FAA, and the law requires that the product is built the way ours is. We are providing all the technical documentation and the DOT Request for Interpretation as needed."
Companies will look to prove that their products are safe to fly and operate as intended, but with the bad press surrounding lithium-ion batteries in recent years, the FAA will likely be wary to change its stance on the matter.
Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA, told The Washington Post that the airlines' decisions are "consistent with our guidance that lithium-ion batteries should not be carried in the cargo hold."