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Update 2:07pm: American Airlines has reached out to clarify that smart bags with immovable batteries won’t be allowed on as carry-on baggage either. This is in case the bag needs to be gate-checked. Even if you have priority boarding and expect to have guaranteed overhead space, unforeseen circumstances could arise that would require that bag to be gate-checked — such as a flight cancellation and last-minute rebooking on another flight. The article below has been modified to reflect these changes.
Also, two other US airlines have now followed American’s lead and are implementing their own policies banning smart luggage.
The technology revolution has now reached our luggage, with bags that you can ride, use to charge your devices, track via GPS, connect with via Bluetooth or that can even follow you around. The trouble is, all of these components require batteries. And both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airlines continue to grow wary of the safety risk of having these batteries in checked bags.
Of course, this ironically comes after a half-year ban of carry-on electronics required that all large electronics be checked on flights from certain Middle East and African countries.
On the brink of the gift-giving season when “smart luggage” might be high on some travelers’ wish lists, we’re learning of the first announcement of a ban on “smart bags.” Effective January 15, 2018, American Airlines is banning all smart bags that don’t have a removeable battery from all flights — both as checked and carry-on luggage.
If the smart bag has a removable battery, the battery must be removed and carried on-board in order to check the smart bag. If your smart luggage has an immovable battery, it will not be allowed as checked or carry-on baggage.
The battery must be removed if “the bag has to be checked at any point in the customer’s journey.” And that includes gate-checking a bag. Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee you’ll never have to gate-check your bag, so the airline is making it a firm policy that no bags with immovable batteries will be allowed on American Airlines flights. Even if you have priority boarding and expect to be guaranteed overhead bin space, a situation can come up where you’re rebooked on another flight — or your American Airlines flight boards well before the stated boarding time — that can force a gate-checked bag.
When defining what a smart bag is, the Dallas-based carrier defers to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which lists the following as examples of “smart” luggage (PDF link):
- Lithium ion battery and motor allowing it to be used as a personal transportation device, either as a stand-up scooter, or sit on vehicle. These devices do not meet the criteria of a mobility device.
- Lithium ion battery power bank that allows charging of other electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops.
- GPS tracking devices with or without GSM capability.
- Bluetooth, RFID and Wi-Fi capability.
- Electronic baggage tags.
- Electronic lock(s).
- Lithium ion battery, motor and tracking device (GPS) allowing the bag to self-propel and ‘follow’ the owner.
But, the most important component is the battery. If the bag has a lithium battery, it must be removed in order to check the bag on American Airlines.
American Airlines might be the first to ban “smart luggage” from being checked, but it likely won’t be the last. The FAA continues to test and warn airlines about the danger of having Portable Electronic Devices (PED) in checked baggage. If you have a smart bag on your holiday wishlist, make sure that it has a removable battery.
Feature photo by Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images
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