Airlines Restrict ‘Smart Luggage’ Above Fire Hazards Posed By Batteries
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Airlines including American, Delta and Alaska have announced restrictions on so-called smart luggage as the lithium-ion batteries found in a number of these suitcases pose a fire risk.
These types of bags have proliferated recently, including motorized suitcases you can ride and one pitched as an autonomous “robot companion” that follows you around.
Prices can range from $275 to more than $1,000, based on a bag’s great features, things such as device charging, GPS tracking, remote control locking and built-in pounds sensors. But these features require power, often in the form of lithium-ion batteries.
The batteries are in many electronics these times, because they’re extremely efficient. But lithium batteries contain the potential to overheat and ignite, as shown in dramatic trend by the Samsung Galaxy Take note 7, which the Department of Transportation banned from flights last fall after dozens of studies of the smartphone’s batteries smoking cigarettes, getting fire and exploding. In 2015, various airlines banned hoverboards because of similar concerns.
“Beginning Jan. 15, consumers who travel with a good bag must be able to remove the battery in the event the bag needs to be examined at any level in the customer’s journey. If the battery can’t be removed, the carrier will not be allowed,” American explained in a statement on Fri. The same working day, Delta and Alaska declared similar policies on their flights.
American’s plan dictates that if the carrier is carry-on size, passengers may take the luggage up to speed, so long as the battery can be removed if needed. If passengers need to check the carrier, the battery should be taken off and carried onboard. If the bag has a non-removable battery, it can not be checked or continued.
An FAA spokesman told The Washington Post that the airlines’ policies are “in keeping with our direction that lithium-ion batteries should not be carried in the cargo hold.”
The FAA’s policy on lightweight electronic devices containing these batteries states:
“Devices containing lithium metallic or perhaps lithium ion batteries (laptop computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.) should be carried in carry-on baggage when feasible. When these devices should be carried in examined baggage, they should be turned entirely off, protected from accidental activation, and loaded so they are protected from harm. “Spare (uninstalled) lithium metallic and lithium ion batteries are always prohibited in examined baggage and should be put in carry-on. Whenever a carry-on carrier is examined at the gate or at planeside, any spare lithium batteries should be removed from the carrier and placed with the passenger in the aircraft cabin.”
In May, the International Air Transportation Association, an airline trade association, published suggested smart bag guidelines for airlines. Its list of hazards and potential effects is enough to create any flyer a little nervous.
A spokesman for American tells NPR that guidelines banning the hand bags’ powerful lithium batteries from checked baggage aren’t because they’re much more likely to capture fire in a cargo carry, but because it’s hard to attack a fire that breaks out there.
“You have not a lot of options in the cargo carry,” American spokesman Ross Feinstein says. If a fire begins there, the crew can use fire suppression bottles to attack it, “nevertheless, you can only deploy them once.”
“In the cabin, passengers and crew can attack a fire,” he offers.
For makers of luggage with non-removable batteries, the airlines’ restrictions are a blow.
“Before and at the time of creation, we did our due diligence to make sure that we complied with all international rules defined by DOT and FAA,” one such provider, Bluesmart, said on its internet site. “While most airlines figure out and approve of smart luggage, others might still be getting up to speed. We are saddened by these hottest changes for some airline rules and feel this is a step back not only for travel technology but it also presents an obstacle to streamlining and improving the way we all travel.”
Some luggage manufacturers advertise that their hand bags are “TSA-approved.”
But TSA does not approve or endorse hand bags. And Feinstein says that on American, there will not be any exemptions to its policies, no matter the manufacturer.
“We realize these bags are receiving preferred,” Feinstein says. “American is not against smart bags. Nevertheless, the battery should be removable.”