Major U.S. airlines say they will stop accepting “smart bags” powered by lithium batteries next year unless the batteries can be removed.
The impending ban, which is expected to reduce the risk of fire in the cargo hold, will go into effect on all American Airlines flights starting Jan. 15, with additional U.S. carriers following suit.
A number of luggage manufacturers have introduced bags equipped with lithium battery-powered features that many travelers will find convenient. According to the Chicago Tribune, one bag made by Away can charge a drained iPhone five times, while one made by G-RO features charging capabilities and GPS tracking. Some versions allow travelers to lock their bags remotely via smartphone, weigh it with a built-in scale, and propel the bag’s wheels.
The problem is that lithium batteries pose a giant fire risk, especially if the batteries are damaged, overcharged, or contain a manufacturing defect. Lithium batteries in laptop computers, smartphones, hoverboards, and other consumer products have burst into flames, meted or exploded, causing property damage, personal injury, and even death.
“Starting Jan. 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,” American Airlines said in a statement.
The U.S. carrier said that the ban follows an analysis of smart bags conducted by the American Airlines safety team, which evaluates ways to mitigate risk and enhance the safety of passengers and crew.
“If the customer is able to take the bag into the cabin with them, the customer will be able to leave the battery installed,” American Airlines said. “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.”
Smart bags powered by lithium batteries are hot sellers this holiday season. Aviation and airport officials expect the presence of smart bags in airports to soar early next year.
The FAA already prohibits air passengers from stowing extra lithium batteries in checked bags, so American Airlines’ new policy would seem to be a logical extension of that rule. Extra lithium batteries may be stowed in carry-on bags.
Delta Airlines announced a similar policy last week, saying that the measure is necessary “due to the potential for the powerful batteries to overheat and pose a fire hazard risk during flight.”
Alaskan Airlines also announced a new smart bag policy, while United and Southwest say they are reviewing the issue.