Airlines warn that “smart luggage” could pose a risk

10 Jan 2018
Luggage has evolved enough to become part of our electronic gadgetry. The latest "smart" suitcases can do a lot to keep you charged and connected. But they also have some airlines on high alert. 

Smart luggage is the latest trend in the merger between our favorite devices and our travel necessities. The technology built into the luggage gives passengers the ability to charge devices directly from the bag, use a smartphone to lock and unlock the bag remotely, and even use a built-in scale to determine the exact weight. The problem is that these smart bags are powered by lithium-ion batteries and airlines have been urged to ban such batteries in the cargo hold due to fire risks. 

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines are among the first carriers giving digitally-connected "smart" luggage a thorough look. Airlines are concerned that the batteries built into the luggage might pose a fire risk so they are requiring passengers to remove the batteries before checking their luggage. The problem is that many smart suitcases aren't built that way. In many cases, the batteries cannot be removed. 

Passengers are facing a ban on this type of luggage if they can't remove the lithium-ion batteries. As the airlines formulate their policies, it's yet unclear whether airlines' preference for passengers to carry items with lithium batteries inside the cabin will extend to smart luggage small enough to be considered carry-on and with removable batteries. The school of thought is that a fire occurring inside the passenger cabin gives the crew the ability to handle the emergency more quickly than if a piece of luggage catches fire in the cargo hold. 

Laptops, smartphones, tablets and other devices have become ubiquitous over the last decade and each new entry into the personal electronics world has to be considered safe by regulatory agencies and airlines in order to be allowed on passenger aircraft. For many passengers the hope is that airline policies on accepting smart luggage will result in a mere baggage delay as details get sorted out, and not a complete loss.