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Airlines: "Smart Bags" Pose Explosion Risk

07 December 2017

USA based carriers American Airlines (AAL.O), Delta (DAL.N) and Alaska Airlines (ALK.N) all said last week that as of January 15, 2018, they would require the battery to be removed before allowing the bags on board.

A spokesman for American tells NPR that rules banning the bags' powerful lithium batteries from checked baggage aren't because they're more likely to catch fire in a cargo hold, but because it's hard to fight a fire that breaks out there. The move aims to protect aircraft from fires located in the cargo hold.

The bags generally have USB ports where customers can recharge their phones and other devices. But numerous bags already on the market have batteries that can't be removed.

Is that hoverboard in your home - or next door - a fire waiting to happen?

Typically, airlines have allowed passengers to bring computers and other devices with lithium ion batteries on board, where any fire would be easier to extinguish. The same day, Delta and Alaska announced similar policies on their flights.

Most airlines will allow smart luggage on their flights if the batteries are removed. However, if a customer is required to check their smart bag, the customer will need to remove the battery.

One company that manufactures smart bags, Bluesmart, said the batteries in its luggage are not removable. It announced plans to meet with airlines to seek exemptions for its products.

The FAA is already concerned with lithium batteries in the cargo hold.

For manufacturers of luggage with nonremovable batteries, the airlines' restrictions are a blow.

Last year, the FAA noted that their testing of plane fire safety showed that "current cargo fire suppression systems can not effectively control a lithium battery fire". One company, Bluesmart, said that more than 65,000 of its suitcases have safely traveled the world and that while they recognize the concerns, they have worked to ensure that they "complied with all worldwide regulations defined by [the Department of Transportation] and FAA".

In May, the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade association, published suggested smart bag guidelines for airlines.

"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", said American Airlines.

"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", said a statement from Bluesmart.

"We know these bags are getting popular", Feinstein says.