Airlines crack down on 'smart luggage' due to lithium battery fire risk
Lithium ion batteries to power high-tech luggage must be removable, airlines say
American Airlines and other carriers are cracking down on so-called "smart luggage" that comes equipped with GPS technology and in some cases even a motor, as the lithium ion batteries can present a fire risk.
Starting 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," American Airlines said in a statement. "If the battery cannot be removed, the bag will not be allowed."
Delta Airlines has announced a similar policy, adding in its own statement that the "safety of Delta's customers and employees remains the airline's top priority."
The devices, some of which can even propel themselves via a battery-powered motor, have become increasingly popular for their suite of internet-connected features such as GPS tracking for lost bags. But all of those features depend on there being a constant source of power — and airlines are starting to worry about the safety risk that poses.
Although there have been no fires associated with smart luggage, lithium batteries used in other applications have been linked to a few high-profile fires on airplanes, as they become more volatile at high altitudes.
FAA rules already forbid passengers from checking any extra lithium ion batteries and instead insist that they be included in carry-on luggage. Bringing them in carry-on doesn't make them any less of a fire risk, but rather ensures that if they start burning, it will be detected earlier.
Many bag manufacturers advertise their products as being approved by the FAA, "which may give customers the false impression that all smart bags are accepted for transport," Delta said.
One of the biggest manufacturers of smart luggage, a company called Bluesmart, says it is working with regulators and airlines to make sure the 65,000 pieces of luggage it has already sold will meet new rules.
"We understand that there are some airport security concerns about travel technology and companies adhering to the various regulations and quality standards," Bluesmart said. "We have organized meetings with the world's leading airlines to make sure that your Bluesmart will be exempt from such rulings."