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Smart luggage was the future, now it's banished to the past

08 December 2017

Three U.S. airlines have announced new restrictions on so-called "smart bags" - a new breed of luggage that includes internal tracking devices and smartphone chargers - but may pose a risks to air travelers because the numerous bags are powered by lithium ion batteries that could potentially explode and catch fire.

New smart suitcases and carry-on bags being sold possess all sorts of features aimed to make travel easier.

Airlines are anxious that the batteries could cause a fire in the cargo hold that would go undetected. If it can be removed, however, it can be left inside the bag and taken aboard as carry-on.

Now Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines have announced similar policies set to take effect on January 15. Airlines have previously banned products like hoverboards and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 over similar concerns.

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The Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning about the batteries past year, urging airlines to examine the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries as cargo, including "the potential risk for a catastrophic hull loss". If the bag is checked, however, the battery must be removed and carried in the cabin.

That's because numerous major airlines have banned the bags if the battery can't be removed.

"As we speak, we are talking with the airlines so they can review our products and get the proper exemptions in place", Tomi Pierucci, co-founder and CEO of Bluesmart told Forbes. But if the bag has a nonremovable battery, it can't be checked or carried on. Its list of hazards and potential consequences is enough to make any flyer a little nervous.

"You have very limited options in the cargo hold", American spokesman Ross Feinstein says. However, smart bags contain lithium battery power banks, which pose a risk when they are placed in the cargo hold of an aircraft. If a fire starts there, the crew can use fire suppression bottles to fight it, "but you can only deploy them once".

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While there aren't any specific regulations governing the design and manufacturing of luggage, concern has reached a point where ICAO, working with aviation regulators, airlines, and IATA, felt that they had to take action.

"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", Bluesmart told CNN. To date, neither the TSA nor FAA have endorsed a smart bag as approved.

"We know these bags are getting popular", he said. "However, the battery must be removable".

The changes in policy - first the laptop ban and now the smart baggage ban - might be confusing to travelers, but the laptop ban was a unilateral decision taken by the US and United Kingdom governments based on intelligence of threats to flights, without first consulting airlines.

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Smart luggage was the future, now it's banished to the past