Baggage

Hoverboards don’t fly

If you got a hoverboard for Christmas, getting your new “it” gift home on the plane is going to be a problem.

Most all domestic airlines have banned from both carry-on and checked baggage and an increasing number of international carriers have done the same.

Here are the highlights of a story on flying with hoverboards I wrote for CNBC.

hoverboard

courtesy Getty Images

Fears about the device stem primarily from their potentially combustible batteries, and the unreliability of poorly made knockoffs and counterfeit batteries have heightened concerns.

For those reasons, Alaska Air, United Airlines, Delta and American began banning hoverboards this month from carry-on and checked baggage.

“Most of the issue is [with] the lithium batteries that are used to power them,” said aviation security expert Jeff Price. “Some manufacturers aren’t accurately reporting the power of the batteries, and airlines generally dislike lithium batteries anyway as they have a tendency to overheat and catch fire.”

Ahead of the end-of-year travel rush — when some travelers may be attempting to make their way back home with newly gifted hoverboards, United spokesman Charles Hobart said the airline was actively “working with customers if they need additional time to find alternate shipping methods for their hoverboards.”

Likewise, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said the carrier was advising fliers to take care of shipping a hoverboard before they arrive at the airport.
“We offer our sympathies for those who might find themselves with an inconvenience after opening their holiday loot,'” he said.

Many international airlines, including British Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand, have newly implemented hoverboard bans in place.

“We did a review independently of other airlines and came to the assessment that actually there is a risk with hoverboards and it not a risk we’re prepared to carry,” said ANZ CEO Christopher Luxon.

Federal regulations, meanwhile, make for a confusing playing field.

A TSA representative said the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines – not the TSA – bear the responsibility for enforcing hoverboard bans because “this is a safety, not a security, issue.”

Hoverboard makers defend the safety of their products, but some are sympathetic to the airlines’ position.

“I wouldn’t feel safe having my kids on a plane without knowing the devices were safe either,” said John Soibatian, president of IO Hawk, one of the major hoverboard manufacturers.

Soibatian said his company’s personal mobility devices are reliable and rigorously tested, and that cheaper, off-brand products are causing the problems.

“If someone’s kid wants one of these, you see ours for $1,800, you see a knockoff for $300 and it’s the knockoffs being put together by people who have no business in this industry that are exploding or catching fire,” said Soibatian.

“We’re working with Customs and Border Control to make sure fake products don’t make it to the market and with a little bit of education I think some of these airlines will change their policies,” he said.

Travelers who try to ship hoverboards, balance wheels and other devices powered by lithium batteries via United Parcel Service or the U.S. Postal Service may encounter barriers as well.

Out of “an abundance of caution and in line with major retailers and the airline industry,” the Postal Service issued a statement limiting the shipment options for motorized balance boards. USPS alerted customers that it “will ship hoverboards using only Standard Post/Parcel Select. This product travels on ground transportation, due to the potential safety hazards of lithium batteries.”

Earlier this week, UPS issued a reminder notice to customers noting that “the boards are made with a medium-sized lithium battery that when shipped via an air service become federally regulated. Due to these regulations, only shippers with an active UPS Hazardous Materials Contract may send hoverboards using an air service.”

Airports are also barring travelers from using hoverboards.

Tampa International, Charleston International and Minneapolis-St. Paul International are among a growing number of airports reminding passengers to leave their hoverboards at home.

Miami International Airport bans the use of hoverboards inside the airport, under a rule that also prohibits people from riding or driving a unicycle, a go-cart, roller skates, Rollerblades, or a skateboard at the airport.

Perhaps that why a few days before Christmas, MIA already had a few hoverboards in the lost and found.

Packing for a trip? Do you fold or roll?

Blackpool Suitcase

When it’s time to hit the road, do you fold, roll, layer or squish? Do you make a packing list or just wing it?

Those are just a few of the questions Cheapflights.com recently asked travelers in a quick on-line survey.

Here’s what they found:

Just over 56 percent of Americans make packing lists and 77 percent plan or lay out outfits.

Forty-two percent of us start packing two to three days before leaving home and an another 30 percent start packing a week ahead of a trip.

26 percent admitted waiting until the night before a trip to start packing while just over 2 percent said they lived on the edge and and didn’t pack anything until a hour or less before leaving.

No doubt, those are people you see looking for a place to buy underwear at the airport.

Fold or roll?

70 percent of survey respondents said they folded clothes in their suitcases, while 30 percent said rolling was their method of choice.

And maybe it doesn’t really matter what you pack or how: only 45 percent of Americans reported that they ended up wearing everything they packed.

Upcycled carry-on bags from United banners

united recycled bags

The airline industry uses a lot of ‘stuff’ and some of that stuff gets recycled and re-used and made into new things that you may want to buy.

The newest “upcycled” aviation items are a set of 100 carry-on bags made from 20 United Airlines “Fly the Friendly Skies” banners.

The airline worked with the Columbia College Chicago Department of Fashion Studies and the Re:new Project and asked them to come up with a carry-on bag that would look good and be durable, be economical to make and fit under an airplane seat.

The results look appealing and are available for purchase at the United Shop .

Even better: the proceeds from sales of the upcycled banners will benefit Re:new and the Alto Mayo Forest Carbon Project in Northern Peru.

Take my bag, please! Delta’s Early Valet program

Delta early valet agent

Perhaps you remember a bit of news a while back that about Delta Air Lines’ test program of pre-loading some carry-on bags for passengers before flights.

The airline said the complimentary service was designed to speed up the boarding process, while some said the early gate valet program might just be testing a new optional paid service.

I had forgotten all about that trial program, so was surprised when the young man pictured above approached me at the gate at JFK airport on Saturday while I was waiting for my Seattle flight. He offered to take my bag and put it above my seat before the plane began loading.

I remembered writing a story about the program, so of course said yes – and then proceeded to pepper the young man with questions about how the trial was going.

He said while plenty of passengers loved the idea, there were some that were wary and didn’t want to be separated, even for a short while, from their bags. And sure enough, just moments after tagging my bag, giving me a valet receipt and moving on, another passenger ran up to the gate agents to report that someone was trying to scam passengers out of their bags.

“Not a scam, sir,” the agents told him. “Well, this is New York. You never know,” said the passenger, who then gave the bag valet his bag.

I also asked the gate valet how many bags per flight he pre-loaded and how he chose which passengers to offer the service to.

He said he offered the service first to elderly passengers, then to families traveling with children and then chose randomly from the passengers in the gate area.

I didn’t have any kids with me, so hoped I fell in to the “assorted” not “elderly” category.

Although not ten minutes after I gave the valet my bag, I had a brief “where’s my bag!” moment as I was collecting my things as the plane was getting ready to start loading.

When I got on the plane, there was my bag above my seat. Just as promised.

And the early gate valet service would have indeed shaved a few seconds off my seating process – had I not stopped in the aisle to take a photo.

Delta bag over seat

Hate checking bags with airlines? You have options.

Blackpool SuitcaseArrives

Hate paying to check your bag with the airline and just not confident they’ll really get it where it needs to go?

You have some other options – as I outlined in a recent story for NBC News Travel.

For standard-size bags, shipping door-to-door instead of checking a bag at the airport is rarely faster or cheaper. But it can be definitely be more reliable and convenient.

For example, United Airlines charges $25 on domestic flights to check the first 50-pound bag, $35 for the second, $150 for the third (and beyond) and usually delivers bags along with the passengers. Many other airlines charge similar amounts.

In contrast, shipping a 50-pound bag from Seattle to New York via FedEx ground will cost you about $70 and arrive in five business days. Ship one 50-pound bag door-to-door domestically with Luggage Forward and the cost will be $99 for 5-day delivery. (Pay more and the bag will arrive sooner; lighten up to no more than 25 pounds and the cost drops to $69.)

In some cases the wait and the extra cost can be worth it because you get tracking services, more reliability, and refunds in case of delays.

Shipping door-to-door instead of checking bags when traveling internationally also offers convenience and in some cases – lower rates.

On a trip from Seattle to London, for example, United and many other airlines will let you check your first 50-pound bag for free, but will charge you $100 for a second bag and $200 for a third and beyond. Bags tipping the scales at even a half-pound over 50 ring up additional $200 per-bag fees.

By comparison, Luggage Free, will charge you $5.57 per pound to ship bags door-to-door from the U.S. to the United Kingdom; in this case $278.50 for a 50-pound bag. On that same route, Luggage Forward would charge $154 for a 25-pound bag and $269 for a 50-pound bag. Both companies offer tracking services and promise to refund your fee is they don’t deliver as promised.

SendmyBag recently launched in the U.S. and charges as low as $40 to ship a bag (up to 44 pounds) domestically in 5-6 business days. The company charges $99 to ship a bag weighing up to 33 pounds door-to-door between the United States and the UK, with delivery in 2-3 business days.

Shipping a bag weighing up to 66 pounds would cost $169, so international travelers could in some cases save cash by checking one bag for free and shipping second or third bags door-to-door via SendmyBag.

And for frequent travelers who hate packing for a trip and doing laundry when it’s over, a new service called DUFL will now do that for you at a cost of $9.95 a month and $99 per trip. The service is available in the U.S. now and will launch internationally in some cities – with varying rates – on Aug. 25.

DUFL will send you a suitcase that you fill with clothing and toiletries you might want on the road, then retrieve the filled suitcase, inventory and photograph the contents and store it all away.

When you’re ready to take a trip, an app lets you choose which outfits you’d like to take along. DUFL then packs your suitcase and ships it to your hotel. When your trip is over, the suitcase and everything you’ve taken out of your ‘closet’ gets shipped back to DUFL, which cleans and presses the clothes so they’re ready to be packed in a suitcase and shipped off for your next trip.