Airlines move to restrict 'smart bags' that use lithium batteries

So-called smart luggage that includes tracking technology and remote locks won’t be allowed in the cargo holds of American Airlines or Delta Air Lines planes unless the lithium batteries used to power the devices are removed, the airlines said in statements Friday.

The new policy from two of the world’s biggest carriers takes effect Jan. 15 and reflects concern that lithium batteries can start a fire and pose a danger to planes.

A representative from United Airlines said the carrier plans to announce similar restrictions soon.

American Airlines will allow the bags as carry-on luggage but Delta says it will allow them on the plane, either in the cabin or in the cargo hold, only if the battery is removed.

Bluesmart, a company that manufacturers such luggage, said it has thoroughly tested its products for safety and promised to meet with airline executives to ask for an exemption to the restrictions.

“We are saddened by these latest changes to some airline regulations and feel it is a step back not only for travel technology but it also presents an obstacle to streamlining and improving the way we all travel,” Bluesmart said in a statement on its website Friday.

Smart luggage has become increasingly popular with tech-loving travelers because the bags come with built-in devices that can weigh the bag, track it using GPS and lock it remotely using a smartphone app. Some bags even include a motor so that travelers can ride the luggage like a scooter.

Lithium battery devices, including laptops and hoverboards, have created headaches for airlines because larger batteries and multiple batteries stored together can pose a risk of fire, which could be catastrophic in a plane’s cargo hold. As a result, airlines have developed lists of specific devices and battery sizes that they allow in checked luggage.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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