Suitcases with built-in batteries for charging your phone and various other ‘smart bags’ are meant to make traveling easier, but new rules from at least three major airlines will soon make traveling with high-tech luggage difficult and considerably more dumb. The airlines -- American, Delta, and Alaska -- say lithium-ion batteries used in the devices pose a fire safety risk when stowed beneath the plane and have each announced restrictions on how you can store and use this type of luggage on their planes.
On Wednesday, American Airlines explained the restrictions, writing in a statement to CNN:
"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."
Smart bags, a popular product and outgrowth of the internet of things, typically use a USB port for phone and other battery charging needs and a GPS tracking system that helps people keep track of their valuables. Sometimes, they skate on the ground like BB-8 to help people avoid the strain of carrying heavy bags.
The potential of a fire in the cargo hold is the primary concern for airlines. Carries will let customers check their bags if the batteries are removable, but in the case of many widely used smart bags, the batteries are a permanent component of the luggage. American, Delta, and Alaska all said they no longer allow smart bags with non-removable batteries.
In the case that a battery is removable, the airlines will require passengers to carry the battery with them in the cabin while onboard the flight. As a carry-on, American will require smart luggage to be switched off, thus rendering them as dumb as bags from the last 50 years. Delta and Alaska’s smart baggage policies a bit more severe, as both carriers will require customers to remove the batteries completely even if the smart baggage is a carry-on item. All three airlines are set to implement the policies on January 15, 2018.
Needless to say, the strict new policies haven’t engendered a happy response from smart luggage manufacturers. Bluesmart, which claims it has sold 65,000 of its GPS-equipped bags, responded to the news on Wednesday, writing in a statement:
"We are saddened by these latest changes to some airline regulations and 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 it hasn’t experienced any regulatory pressure from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over its products, but FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told CNN: "The airlines' action is consistent with our guidance to not carry lithium ion batteries in the cargo hold.”
While surely another reason to gripe about the pervasive restrictions and policies implemented by airlines, the new rules might provide some solace to anxious airline passengers knowing that there’s nothing overtly combustible beneath them as they cruise through the skies. That’s definitely the positive way to look at this.