luggage

Want: KLM’s cute little suitcase-toting robot

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cute little robot to tote your carry-on around the airport and to the gate?

KLM is testing that idea out with its prototype self-driving cart – called KLM Care-E – that is designed to escort a passenger through the airport and carry their luggage for them.

The airline will be testing this out at JFK and SFO this summer, drawing stares and collecting data on autonomous technology at airports along the way.

KLM says the units will use non-verbal sounds to greet passengers after security and somehow prompt them to scan their ticket barcodes.

Then the unit will use GPS data to navigate through the terminal to their gate and – somehow – understand if a passenger wants to stop at a shop, restaurant or restroom along the way.

(Will the cute little blue cart wait outside the restroom with your stuff or try to go with you into the stall? That’s my first question..)

KLM says Care-E will move at 3 mph (the average human walking pace) and is designed to know if there’s a boarding gate change.

“We wanted to surprise our customers with an airport concept that was an extension of our friendly, smiling staff,” said Boet Kreiken, Executive Vice President Customer Experience at KLM. “We have the ambition to revolutionize the delivery of care through the power of existing innovations and move diagnostics from the laboratory to where our customer really is. ”

KLM worked with product development firm 10xBeta to create these e-carts, which are scheduled for 2-day long trials at JFK and SFO in July and August.

Sadly, KLM says it is only testing the interaction between machines and humans and has no plans to roll out permanent or additional Care-E carts anytime soon.

I miss the little carts already!

Airlines roll out new “smart luggage” rules today

Starting today, January 15, airlines will no longer allow passengers to checkg or carry on “smart luggage” with non-removable lithium batteries.

Powered luggage began appearing on the market a few years ago and some new versions of these high-tech bags can weigh themselves, be locked remotely, report their locations, provide power for gadgets, offer rides to the gate and follow travelers around.

The extras are enticing, but industry-wide concern over lithium batteries igniting and starting fires led the International Air Transport Association to instruct its almost 300 airline members to restrict carriage of certain bags:

“Effective 15 January 2018, for IATA member airlines, baggage with removable installed Lithium batteries (“smart luggage”) must be carried as carry-on baggage or the battery must be removed. With the battery removed the bag can be checked-in. If the battery cannot be removed, the bag is forbidden for carriage.”

Citing “safety management and risk mitigation,” American Airlines was among the first to alert its customers to the impending rule change. The carrier also said the standard question it asks customers checking bags – “Have you packed any e-cigarettes or spare batteries for laptops, cellphones or cameras?” – would be altered to include smart bags.

Other airlines are changing their check-in and boarding procedures as well.

“Throughout our guests’ journey, we will remind them to remove all lithium batteries from checked luggage, or disconnect and turn off batteries being stored in the overhead bins,” said Alex Da silva, a Hawaiian Airlines spokesman, “We are also training employees on the various types of smart bags so they may assist customers.”

Some smart luggage manufacturers are scrambling to redesign their smart bag products to comply with the new airline rules. Others are making sure customers know how, and how easily, the lithium batteries can be removed from their bags. And companies who have smart bags without lithium batteries are touting that feature.

“We believed that there would come a time when lithium batteries could be seen as a safety issue. So we purposely powered our luggage with AAA batteries to avoid any of these potential future rulings,” said Emran Sheikh, President and CEO of luggage manufacturer and distributor Heys International.

Sheikh and others emphasize that it is the type of battery used in some “smart” luggage designs that is the problem, not the category of ‘smart luggage’ in general.

“The airline industry’s recent attention to safety surrounding lithium ion batteries should boost our confidence that the travel industry is monitoring current trends and updating their own best practices to reflect modern travelers’ habits and needs,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association, Consumers can expect to see luggage manufacturers respond accordingly and release new iterations of smart luggage featuring even safer power sources.”

(My story on new smart luggage rules first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different form.)

Did Santa bring you “smart” luggage?

If Santa brought you some new-fangled “smart” luggage that can not only carry your clothes but charge your gadgets, weigh what you’ve packed and give you a motorized ride to the gate, be sure to check that the battery can removed.

Airlines don’t want the lithium batteries that power these smart bags in airplane cargo holds because (as we learned from hoverboards and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone fiasco) there’s concern over lithium batteries igniting and starting fires.

Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian,  Southwest and United are among the airlines that have posted notice that, come January 15, 2018, customers will only be permitted to board with smart bags that have batteries that can be removed.

Smart bags traveling as carry-ons must be powered off and any smart bags  traveling as checked luggage must have their batteries removed and brought into the cabin as carry-on.

 

New gear & gadgets from the International Travel Goods Show

The latest in luggage, travel gear and on-the-go gadgets goes on display each year at the International Travel Goods Show in Las Vegas.

It’s anyone’s bet which of the products displayed by the more than 500 brands in attendance will take flight, but some of these new products have a great chance

Luggage scooter

Villagio of Miami’s Transmover 3-wheeled scooter has a TSA-approved detachable, rechargeable battery, a space to attach luggage (even a pet carrier) and may be a harried travelers’ answer to that long walk out to the gate.

And it’s fun. The scooter’s 12 mph top speed and 12-15 mile range can provide entertainment on a long layover inside or outside of the terminal. (MSRP: $550-$595 for the electric model; $250-$295 for the non-electric model)

Window tablet bag

Italian designer Nunzia Palmieri created a clever and sophisticated line of women’s business-style handbags and shoulder bags featuring a front pocket that can be used to store and cushion an iPad or tablet or, with the cushion removed, provide working access to the tablet via a clear window. At this year’s International Travel Goods Show Palmieri is expanding the collection to include a men’s line of leather and fabric travel bags with tablet-shaped windows as well. MSRP: starting at $228.

One bag becomes two

Thule luggage maker is rolling out a new Subterra collection that includes four rolling luggage pieces and four travel backpacks.

The 22-inch 2-wheel Subterra Carry-On (MSRP: $279.95) has a compression panel that makes it easy to pack more items and to keep clean clothes separate from dirty ones. The versatile, 22-inch Subterra Luggage piece (MSRP: $319.95) can be filled and checked as one piece or split into two smaller, independent pieces of luggage that are carry-on compliant.

Luggage tags made from airplane fuselage

 

MotoArt Studios is well-known among airplane aficionados for the conference tables, office furniture and decorative items, such as mirrors, it makes from old Boeing 747 engine turbofan housings, airplane wings and other bits of retired aircraft.

The company has recently expanded its line of offering to include serial-numbered luggage tags ($25 to $100) made from the skin of retired airplanes.

“We include the tail number of the aircraft so you can look up the history of your plane,” said Dave Hall of MotoArt Studios, “And it will tell you how much the aircraft originally cost, what year it was built and the airlines that flew it.”

Sniff, but don’t eat these purses

For fun – and for candy fans – American Jewel has a line of colorful, scented Jelly Belly-branded purses (wristlets), hairbrushes and bracelets.  Wristlet “flavors” include Blueberry Muffin, Birthday Cake, Rainbow Sherbert, Green Apple Bubblegum, Pink Lemonade, Roller Rink Pink and Tutti-Frutti.

Drink and Twist

Buying bottled water on the road at $5 (or more) a pop can get expensive, but packing an empty reusable water bottle to fill at the airport or in the hotel gym can take up valuable suitcase space.

A good fluid-carrying solution? Collapsible bottles, such as HydraPak’s clever 1 liter Stash model (MSRP: $23) which twists and crushes down to an easily-packable quarter of its size and comes in outdoor-inspired colors such as Malibu, Mojave, Mammoth and Sequoia.

Sit on this

 

Toronto-based Airopedic, which has been making ergonomic office furniture since the mid-1980s, has created a self-inflating, portable ergonomic seat to take to sports arenas, into airports, onto airplanes and to other places where comfortable seating isn’t reliably available.

The seat weighs in at 1.6 pounds, has carrying straps and mesh side pockets for storage and a pressure control button to enable seat density adjustments that the manufacturer suggests will make sitting on the Airopedic Portable Seat (MSRP: $65) feel like “sitting on a cloud.”

(My story about accessories and luggage from the 2017 International Travel Goods Show appeared in a slightly different version on CNBC.)

Horizon Air seats get upcycled

ALASKA LOOPTWORKS

Need a gift for an aviation geek or just some really nice environmentally responsible gear?

Bags made from old airline seats may do the trick.

When Alaska Airlines decided to replace the seat covers on planes flown by its sister carrier, Horizon Air, sending the old leather to the landfill seemed too wasteful.

Instead, the airline turned to Portland, Ore.-based Looptworks, a company that upcycles unwanted materials into limited edition, hand-made products, for a solution.

Looptworks already makes a Southwest Luv Seat line of bags and accessories that use that the carrier’s old seat leather, as well as a line made from motorcycle jacket leather, so turning 4,000 Horizon Air leather seat covers into useful items wasn’t a big challenge.

Now there’s the Alaska Airlines Carry-On Collection, which includes a wallet ($65), laptop sleeve ($120), tote ($160), crossbody bag ($140) and a messenger bag ($230)

The leather is cleaned and prepped in partnership with an Oregon non-profit that employs and trains adults with disabilities and then is passed on to Northwest craftspeople who do their magic.

Alaska and Southwest aren’t alone in exploring upcycling.

Clothing made from the surplus leather and fabric from Hawaiian Airlines seats was on exhibit recently during Honolulu Fashion Week, there’s a line of bags made from recycled JetBlue crewmember uniforms, and Skyebags makes a wallet and a tote bag from reclaimed Delta Air Line seat leather.

(My story about upcycling old airline seats first appeared on USA TODAY in a slightly different version.)