If you are already dreaming about your next holiday to a far-off location and you are planning to take smart luggage with you, well…you might have to rethink your suitcase.
Last 6th December, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta implemented new rules regarding electronic device transportation on their flights, due to security concerns. The three American airlines announced that smart luggage with an embedded lithium battery will no longer be allowed on their flights. Because lithium batteries are highly inflammable and at risk of catching fire on board, every lithium-running device (built-in scales, power banks and luggage tracking devices, to name a few) will need to be removed from the checked-in luggage and will only be allowed as part of hand luggage.
Southwest and United are going to follow suit, despite the fact that this new rule flies in the face of another ban introduced last March: the ban for people flying from the Middle East to carry on board electronic devices (laptops, smartphones and tablets) which will need to be placed in the checked-in luggage.
Although airlines have the last word on what travellers are and are not allowed to board on their planes, many voices have raised from luggage retailers, especially those who have recently started to sell smart luggage, i.e. luggage with a built-in electronic device. Most of these devices run on lithium batteries and banning them from flights to and from the US was perceived as an attempt to stop innovation.
In the last 5 years there has been a proliferation of smart luggage retailers, selling either electronic travel devices or the whole package, i.e. both the suitcase and the devices.
The demand for this type of luggage has risen accordingly, to prove that innovation is sought after by a large share of the travellers segment and it won’t be stopped by these new measures.
On the contrary, implementing such strict rules might actually be more dangerous for travellers than lithium itself. There is a growing concern that consumers might turn to uncontrolled markets, buying devices that comply with no regulations, which might eventually result more likely to explode.
In fact, most of the devices built inside the so called smart suitcases come from trusted brands which take all required steps to make sure their products comply with international safety regulations. Luggage retailers have invested huge amounts of money to design and develop devices that not only comply with the norms, but are also able to make trips more enjoyable. Indeed, one of the main headings in the balance sheet are now the expenses in R&D and certifications.
Obtaining certifications and compliancy from international regulatory bodies is no easy task, especially because companies willing to sell electronic devices have to comply with plenty of norms, issued by organizations such as FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in the US and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) in Europe. These organizations have set norms not only for batteries (whatever the material they are made of) but also for tracking devices (as part of the PED or “Portable Electronic Devices” category), which are one of the key ingredients of smart luggage.
To comply with international norms, batteries must be installed inside the device they belong to (which means, no loose batteries in the suitcase) and must satisfy very specific lithium contents and watt-hour limits. On the other hand, tracking devices must automatically switch off at take-off; they must include a minimum of two independent means to turn off completely and these two means must use different sources to identify flight status (“at ground” vs “airborne”); in addition, the tracking devices also have to adhere to very specific requirements in terms of radio emissions and battery specifications.
It is easy to see that obtaining a certification for a device or a tracker is not exactly a cakewalk and most retailers are doing their best to ensure travellers are safe at all times.
Yet, travellers need to play their part too.
They need to make sure their luggage is safe at the point of sale by checking that the product they are interested in is compliant with the relevant flight safety regulations. They should also ask for more information to the seller or directly contact the manufacturer if they are left with doubts, lest they should leave their luggage at the airport right before boarding.
It is fundamental that travellers and consumers in general are aware of the dangers of using or carrying with them non-certified devices, as it is their safety that’s at stake! Banning lithium batteries will only be a temporary and unsuccessful measure if travellers ignore the best practises to guarantee a safe trip to themselves and their beloved ones.