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Major Airlines to Restrict ‘Smart Luggage’ With Built-in Lithium Batteries

For two years, we’ve been telling you how smart luggage is the next big thing in travel technology. Suitcases have evolved from cumbersome, wheel-less monstrosities to sleek, tech-forward “smart luggage.” But, the backup batteries that power all that tech can be dangerous, or so some airlines are saying. Now, new policy changes aimed at those batteries could essentially “brick” these fancy suitcases for smart luggage adopters.

Beginning January 15, 2018, Delta and American Airlines will no longer allow passengers to bring smart luggage aboard their planes unless the backup battery packs are removed. American will still allow smart luggage as carry-on baggage, even without removing the battery. Delta says the batteries must be removed in all cases.

In the wake of exploding hoverboards and last year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 7 debacle, the policy change is a preemptive strike against what they believe is a very real risk of fire. Modern airplanes are surprisingly bad at suppressing fires in their cargo holds. A single exploded lithium battery — especially one that’s packed near aerosol cans — can prove catastrophic in flight. It’s the reason some airline safety experts are recommending laptops be banned from checked luggage.

We’ve previously highlighted a parade of innovative smart luggage. Chic bags like Samsara’s Carry-On and the Bluesmart Series 2 are leading the charge. All offer state-of-the-art features like GPS tracking and Bluetooth-connected smartphone apps. The latter can be programmed with clever security features like alerting the bag’s owner if the luggage leaves their perimeter and automatically locking if so. For many travelers, however, the most notable feature has been the sizable backup battery embedded in most smart luggage. With a capacity around 10,000mAh, they’re often capable of charging everything from smartphones to tablets to laptops. But, in many cases, the packs are not removable.

Of course, none of these features matters if the airlines won’t allow travelers on board with this luggage in the first place. History has shown that airlines are easily scared by new technology. Consider that it was only in late 2013 that the FAA allowed passengers to use their cellphones in flight despite a mountain of evidence that all but proves cellular signals do not interfere with routine airplane operations. So, it’s reasonable to think that, if the policy is adopted by more airlines, it could be years before they change their minds.

While American and Delta are the only airlines confirming this policy change, United Airlines has already hinted that they will do the same. Given the industry’s history of playing “follow the leader,” it’s likely that other domestic and international carriers will soon follow suit.

Feature image courtesy of Bluesmart/Facebook.

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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