The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is reportedly expected to introduce new industry-wide guidelines on all forms of smart luggage, following a move by major US airlines including American Airlines – the world’s largest airline – and Delta Air Lines, which have banned all ‘smart’ baggage with non-removable batteries from being checked in the hold due to the potential fire hazard risks.
The ban under the new baggage policy, effective from January 15, includes all smart bags designed with built-in lithium ion batteries and a motor allowing to be used as a scooter or other transport device, a lithium power bank allowing the charging of other electronic devices such as phones and tablets, GPS tracking devices and other electronic features, according to the IATA, which could potentially extend the ban across the industry, Smart2.0 reports.
American Airlines states: “Smart bags contain lithium battery power banks, which pose a risk when they are placed in the cargo hold of an aircraft.
“Beginning January 15, customers who travel with a smart bag must be able to remove the battery in case the bag has to be checked at any point in the customer’s journey. If the battery cannot be removed, the bag will not be allowed,” AA said.
Passengers, however, are able to bring smart bags as carry-on luggage if their batteries are removable.
“If the customer is able to take the bag into the cabin with them, the customer will be able to leave the battery installed. 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 company added.
“Smart bags with removable batteries will still be allowed if the battery can be removed on site and taken on board the aircraft with the customer, similar to Delta’s policy today requiring customers to place spare lithium-ion batteries in their carry-on luggage,” Delta Air Lines states.
Other US carriers following the new protocol include Alaska Airlines, while Southwest Airline is said to be “in the midst of reviewing their policies and considering changes” and United Airlines have yet to confirm their policy in view of the latest ban, The Washington Post reports.
The latest measures around smart luggage are said to be “consistent with our [the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)] guidance that lithium-ion batteries should not be carried in the cargo hold”, according to a spokesperson for the FAA.
Even just one damaged or defective battery has the potential to experience an uncontrolled temperature increase – a concept known as thermal runaway – which poses a fire risk, according to tests done by the FAA. And the standard fire-extinguishing chemicals available on planes are not able to put out fires caused by lithium batteries.
Telegraph Travel has contacted the IATA which has yet to confirm what new guidelines around smart luggage are expected to be announced and when they could potentially be introduced, while the CAA have also yet confirm whether a smart luggage ban could potentially be issued across UK airlines.
“All portable electronic devices (PED) carried on an aircraft are subject to specific requirements to ensure that they do not pose a hazard to aircraft systems due to electromagnetic radiation. These provisions are set out in applicable EASA and FAA regulations,” the IATA currently states regarding its policy on smart baggage with integrated lithium batteries and/or electronic devices.
“The majority of PEDs powered by lithium batteries are held and/or used during flight. Passengers and cabin crew are therefore more able to identify an overheating device and take appropriate action to cool it before the point of ignition. In the case of batteries installed within carry-on bags, these are more difficult to identify at an early stage, due to their stowage in the cabin,” the IATA states.
Several smart luggage companies including Bluesmart, Raden, Away and Modobag – all of which are listed among the IATA’s nonexclusive list of available technologies that should undergo a safety risk assessment process by the airline operating the flight – have noted that their smart devices feature removable batteries.
Bluesmart, one of the first companies to ever offer smart suitcases, has claimed its products comply with all international regulations outlined by the FAA as well as the Department of Transport (DoT).
“The latest changes are an absolute travesty and is a huge step back not only for travel technology but it also presents an obstacle to streamlining and improving the way we all travel,” Bluesmart CEO Tomi Pierucci told TechCrunch.
“If they are going to ban smart bags, then they should be banning cameras, laptops, and phones being checked in or carried on. All of these have at some point caused issues with exploding batteries and yet it is smart bags and Bluesmart that is getting punished for this.”
“We understand that there are some airport security concerns about travel technology and companies adhering to the various regulations and quality standards,” Bluesmart added in a statement.
“Before and at the time of production, we did our due diligence to make sure that we complied with all international regulations defined by DoT and FAA. While most airlines understand and approve of smart luggage, others might still be getting up to speed,” the company added.
But Delta Airlines argues: “Many smart bag manufacturers advertise their products as being approved by the Federal Aviation Administration or Transportation Security Administration, which may give customers the false impression that all smart bags are accepted for transport.”
“To date, neither the TSA nor FAA have endorsed a smart bag as approved,” Delta warned in its statement.
“All Away carry-ons have batteries that can be easily removed. It’s a feature we thoughtfully designed, in part, because customers were asking for a charger that could be kept with them and used during flight,” Away CEO Steph Korey said in a statement.