Airlines restrict 'smart luggage' that uses lithium batteries

Scott Olson

Scott Olson

Starting on January 15, both Alaska Airlines and Delta will ban smart bags containing non-removable lithium-ion batteries from being checked or brought on the plane as a carry-on. The airlines fear the power banks will overheat and catch fire in the cargo hold.

Companies like BlueSmart, Raden and Away make luggage that includes Global Positioning System tracking, can measure its own weight, and yes, charge phones.

The batteries are in many electronics these days, because they are extremely efficient.

So-called smart luggage that includes tracking technology and remote locks won't be allowed in the cargo holds on board some of the world's biggest airlines unless the lithium batteries used to power the devices are removed.

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. If the battery can not be removed, the bag will not be allowed. If passengers need to check the bag, the battery must be removed and carried onboard.

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.

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United and Southwest are also expected to announce similar policies, according to CNN. While it allows things like laptops to be checked, it suggests they be placed in carry-on bags instead.

For manufacturers of luggage with nonremovable batteries, the airlines' restrictions are a blow.

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. One company, Bluesmart, said that more than 65,000 of its suitcases have safely traveled the world and that while they recognize the concerns, they have worked to ensure that they "complied with all global regulations defined by [the Department of Transportation] and FAA".

An FAA spokesman told The Washington Post that the airlines' policies are "consistent with our guidance that lithium-ion batteries should not be carried in the cargo hold".

"As we speak, we are talking with the airlines so they can review our products and get the proper exemptions in place", Tomi Pierucci, co-founder and CEO of Bluesmart told Forbes.

So-called "smart suitcases" are getting their first taste of pushback, with airlines and trade associations calling for more guidance on luggage that will also charge your phone.

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