American, Delta, and Alaska Airlines have all announced that on January 15, 2018, they will require the battery to be removed before allowing the bags on board. But airlines fear that the lithium ion batteries the bags carry could spark fires in overhead compartments or cargo holds. 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.
This type of luggage typically contains a built-in lithium-ion battery used to power a Global Positioning System unit or offer phone charging via an integrated USB port. But numerous bags already on the market have batteries that can't be removed.
Passengers carrying smart bags will face restrictions in most of the major USA airlines.
Is that hoverboard in your home - or next door - a fire waiting to happen? 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. The same day, Delta and Alaska announced similar policies on their flights. If the battery can not be removed, the bag will not be allowed. However, if a customer is required to check their smart bag, the customer will need to remove the battery.
In addition, spokespeople for United Continental and Southwest Airlines said both airlines also plan to announce new smart bag policies soon. The problem is, its lithium batteries cannot be removed. "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". The airlines will still allow travelers to bring the bags as carry-ons as long as the batteries are powered down according to existing Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
For manufacturers of luggage with nonremovable batteries, the airlines' restrictions are a blow.
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Bluesmart, a smart-bag manufacturer, said it was saddened by the airlines' policies.
"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", one such company, Bluesmart, said on its website.
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.
"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.
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.