If you own “smart” luggage, you should test its intelligence as soon as possible. The IQ exam that matters — if you can take out its lithium battery.
Several airlines — including American, Alaska, Hawaiian, Delta, United, and Southwest — no longer allow passengers to fly with smart luggage that contain nonremovable lithium batteries. The policy change applies to checked and carry-on bags that use lithium batteries to power high-tech features such as a USB charging station and a location tracker.
If you arrive at the airport with such luggage, the airline will not permit the piece onboard. You will have to repack belongings in secondary bags or purchase new luggage at the airport.
Smart luggage with extractable batteries is permitted, with some oversight. The Federal Aviation Administration allows turned-off batteries inside the cabin, so passengers who check their bags must remove the battery and tote it onboard. In a carry-on, the battery can stay put but must be turned off. However, if a flight attendant decides to gate-check the bag, you must then remove the battery.
The rule springs from safety concerns. Lithium metal and lithium ion/polymer batteries are susceptible to emitting smoke, catching fire, and even exploding. Between March 1991 and May 2017, the FAA documented 160 incidents involving lithium batteries that were being transported as cargo or baggage. The agency already prohibits passengers from checking spare lithium batteries used for personal electronic devices and portable rechargers, as well as several lithium-powered items such as e-cigarettes and vape pens. (For information on flying with hazardous materials, see the FAA’s Pack Safe guidelines.)
Smart luggage performs more than beast-of-burden duties. Depending on the model, the brainy bag might come with USB ports for charging gadgets, GPS tracking, electronic locks, and built-in digital scales. One company called Modobag allows travelers to zoom around on their luggage like a scooter, which tops out at 8 mph. Many manufacturers — including Away, Barracuda, G-Ro, Raden, Arlo Skye, Travelpro, and Heys (which uses AAA batteries) — sell smart luggage that complies with the new rule. The ones that do not are rethinking their designs.
“Luggage manufacturers are already responding to airlines’ safety concerns,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association. “The recent attention surrounding lithium ion batteries will surely lead to action by manufacturers to make new iterations of smart luggage as safe as possible.”
The rule came earlier than expected. The International Civil Aviation Organization, the U.N. agency that sets aviation safety standards and recommends practices for more than 190 countries, had decided to start restricting smart luggage next January. However, the International Air Transport Association, which represents about 275 airlines worldwide, instituted the ban a year early. An IATA spokesman said the organization’s members will now follow its recommendations. Participants include major carriers such as United, JetBlue, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic, as well as many smaller airlines.