Planning to give – or give yourself – smart luggage this holiday season? Check the battery compartment first.
Starting Jan. 15, any passenger with battery-powered luggage must be able to remove the battery to bring the bag on an American Airlines flight. The airline announced the policy last week, citing concerns about the hazards of placing lithium-ion battery power banks in the cargo hold.
“We wanted to get out ahead of the holiday season given that it’s one of the trendy gifts for travelers,” said American spokeswoman Leslie Scott.
Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines rolled out similar rules, while United Airlines and Southwest Airlines say they’re reviewing the issue.
Smart bags have a wide range of features. Bag-maker Away says its $225 carry-on will charge a drained iPhone five times, while G-RO’s version, at $374, comes with charging and GPS tracking. At $449, Bluesmart’s carry-on includes those features and lets travelers lock their bag from a smartphone or weigh it on a built-in scale.
Many of the bags rely on lithium-ion batteries, which can overheat and pose a fire hazard, Delta said.
American, Delta and Alaska all say they will require customers to remove batteries from any smart bag they check and pack the batteries in a carry-on – similar to the way passengers are asked to bring spare batteries for other electronics in the cabin.
Passengers can leave batteries installed in carry-on smart bags, but must still be able to remove them in case they need to check the bag at the gate or on a later flight.
Tim Ryan, chief marketing officer at Chicago-based smart bag-maker Modobag, said its batteries are removable, though the company may consider making batteries easier to remove in an upcoming line of smart bags that are designed to be checked.
But Ryan took issue with the way airlines’ new policies treat all smart bags the same. The lithium batteries that power Modobag’s motorized luggage, which travelers can ride through the airport, use different technology than the lithium-ion batteries blamed for exploding smartphones and hoverboards, according to Ryan.
“It’s incumbent upon those of us in the luggage space to make sure we make the airline community aware and educate them on what our products are, and are not,” Ryan said.
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