Alaska Airlines to put limits on 'smart bags' starting January 15

Scott Olson

"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. That is only if the battery can be separated from the bag at any point that the airline requires it. United says they are planning to implement a similar policy and Southwest is undertaking a review.

Lithium-ion batteries have already been banned on several airlines and global standards have been imposed by the worldwide Air Transport Association.

Smart luggage boasts a number of features, usually including USB ports for recharging mobile devices, electronic locks, or alarms, and sometimes Bluetooth, GPS tracking, or internal weight scales. If damaged, these batteries can enter a state called "thermal runaway", generating enough heat to catch fire that runs hot enough to burn through the fire-proof cargo containers on planes. But numerous bags already on the market have batteries that can't be removed.

Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines have also announced similar policies against smart luggage to take effect on January 15.

Smart bags will be allowed as carry-on baggage, if they meet carry-on size limits and if it's possible to remove the battery from the bag if needed. The airline is placing restrictions on so-called "smart luggage" due to concerns that the lithium ion batteries that power some bags could pose a fire risk.

But the heydays of electronic luggage are at an end, at least for smart bags with built-in Lithium-Ion batteries.

American, Delta and Alaska all say they will require customers to remove batteries from any smart bag they check and pack the batteries in a carry-on - similar to the way passengers are asked to bring spare batteries for other electronics in the cabin, where crew members can more easily identify an overheating device and quickly respond to a fire. While it allows things like laptops to be checked, it suggests they be placed in carry-on bags instead.

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"The airlines' action is consistent with our guidance to not carry lithium ion batteries in the cargo hold", said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown.

For manufacturers of luggage with nonremovable batteries, the airlines' restrictions are a blow. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects to industry-wide "guidance to be issued potentially this week", a representative said in a media hearing. But now that we live in an era where airline security procedures are increasingly eating into the convenience of air travel, smart luggage also just got a lot less useful.

In a statement to CNN, Bluesmart wrote that they 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".

But TSA does not approve or endorse bags.

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

One can only assume that there's a security risk from non-removable batteries that airport security can't check-out.

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