America’s top airlines are taking a stand against smart luggage. In a rare bit of solidarity, a number of the country’s top carriers have announced rules that would limit the use of high-tech bags, over fear of potential battery combustion.
American Airlines led the charge on the ban. On Friday of last week, the carrier noted a policy change set to go into effect just after the busy holiday season. “Beginning Jan. 15, customers who travel with a smart bag must be able to remove the battery in case the bag has to be checked at any point in the customer’s journey. If the battery cannot be removed, the bag will not be allowed,” the company wrote in a statement.
The airline cited the potential risk of lithium battery combustion. The move echoes last year’s concerns around Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 — though unlike that move, this is more of a proactive step. The company cites general potential concerns, rather than specific incidents. The ban is focused specifically on checked luggage, placed in the cargo hold of a plane.
Interestingly, the selective ban does not apply should the customer bring the luggage into the main cabin as a carry on. Once checked, however, the luggage will only be allowed if the battery is removed from the bag. That option isn’t available on all pieces of smart luggage, rendering them essentially worthless.
Both Delta and Alaska have released similar languages set for the same time frame, and CNN is reporting that United Continental and Southwest are set to follow suit soon. As the site notes, that covers roughly 80-percent of air traffic in the States, which, naturally, puts the nascent smart luggage industry in a pretty tough spot. These sweeping changes have left some startups feeling singled out.
“The latest changes are an absolute travesty and is a huge step back not only for travel technology but it also presents an obstacle to streamlining and improving the way we all travel,” Bluesmart CEO Tomi Pierucci said in a strongly worded note to TechCrunch. “If they are going to ban smart bags, then they should be banning cameras, laptops, and phones being checked in or carried on. All of these have at some point caused issues with exploding batteries and yet it is smart bags and Bluesmart that is getting punished for this.”
The moves stems from the International Air Transport Association. Though the IATA doesn’t regulate these sorts of rules, unlike, say, the FAA. Rather, the airlines have implemented individual, but largely consistent versions of the rules.
Some companies in the space appear to have prepared a ruling along these lines. In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Away CEO Steph Korey touted the company’s luggage design. “All Away Carry-Ons have batteries that can be easily removed. It’s a feature we thoughtfully designed, in part, because customers were asking for a charger that could be kept with them and used during flight.”
If the regulation stays in place, it will likely cause other players to implement similar functionality. In the meantime, however, it leaves a number of companies in a tough spot. “We create the category from an old industry which hasn’t had any innovation in the last 50 years,” says Pierucci. “And now they are trying to eliminate us and the category. By making a removable battery, the suitcase will become stupid.”