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.)
For the Runway Girl Network, I put together a year-end review of the guns, weapons and assorted odd items discovered by TSA at airport checkpoints during 2015.
In 2014, the TSA reported that it had discovered 2,122 firearms in the carry-on bags of passengers. That was an average of six firearms per day and was a 22 percent increase over the number of firearms (1,813) found in 2013.
TSA’s official 2015 Year in Review is due out any minute, but my unofficial tally taken from the weekly reports on the TSA Blog adds up to 2,495 firearms found at airport checkpoints this past year – which is yet another new record.
Of course, prohibited items found by Transportation Security Officers in carry-on bags and on passengers passing through security checkpoints aren’t limited to firearms.
Last year TSA found, 40 pounds of marijuana in one man’s bag at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, a meat slicer at Southwest Florida International Airport and a knife concealed inside a souvenir replica of the Eiffel Tower, found at Oakland International Airport.
And, in the same week in March that the TSA found 55 firearms (51 loaded; 13 with a round chambered) and 13 stun guns, a Chihuahua was discovered inside a checked bag at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
How did that happen?
“Apparently, the dog climbed in while its owner was packing her suitcase. TSA worked with the airline to identify the owner, and the two were happily reunited,” the TSA reported.
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.