Published: Thu, December 07, 2017
Economy | By Shawn Conner

Most US Airlines Set To Limit Use Of 'Smart Bags'

Most US Airlines Set To Limit Use Of 'Smart Bags'

These contain Global Positioning System tracking and can charge devices, weigh themselves or be locked remotely using mobile phones, but they are powered by lithium ion batteries, which the aviation industry regards as a fire risk, especially in the cargo hold. Some also have a weight scale or a motor to follow its owner around the terminal.

With the proliferation of powerful lithium-ion batteries used in devices, and as a result of high-profile instances of overheating smartphones and other devices in flight, Delta past year equipped all of its aircraft as well as regional jets operated by its Delta Connection partners with in-cabin containment bags in the event a device powered by a lithium-ion battery experiences a thermal runaway event or fire on board.

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Bluesmart, which says more than 65,000 of its suitcases are being used around the world, said its batteries can not be removed but that its products meet all safety regulations and requirements. Batteries in carry-on smart bags can remain installed, but passengers must be able to remove them, the carriers say. Both airlines will requiring that even carry on bags must have the batteries that removed. United says they are planning to implement a similar policy and Southwest is undertaking a review. Between them, those five airlines handle more than 80% of USA air traffic.

Global airlines body IATA said it could issue industry-wide standards on the new luggage soon, after some USA airlines issued their own restrictions on smart bags, whose manufacturers include companies such as BlueSmart, Raden or Away.

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"We love innovation and understand why smart bags are so appealing for travel", said Mike Tobin, Alaska Airlines' manager of risky goods, in a statement. The problem is, its lithium batteries cannot be removed. No additional action will be required, as long as the customer powers off the smart bag in accordance with existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. The TSA said the bags are not on its list of prohibited items.

The FAA is already concerned with lithium batteries in the cargo hold. It also requires that any spare lithium batteries travel only in carry-on baggage with passengers. 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.

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The concern about the bag was first cited by the International Air Transport Association, a trade group that issues guidance but does not regulate policy.

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