Airlines restrict smart bags over lithium-ion battery fire risk

Starting on January 15 American Airlines will require passengers checking luggage to remove the lithium ion batteries installed in so-called

Now Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines have announced similar policies set to take effect on January 15. If the battery can be removed, then a passenger may be able to bring the bag on board with the battery installed.

With the proliferation of powerful lithium-ion batteries used in devices, and as a result of high-profile instances of overheating smartphones and other devices in flight, Delta a year ago equipped all of its aircraft as well as regional jets operated by its Delta Connection partners with in-cabin containment bags in the event a device powered by a lithium-ion battery experiences a thermal runaway event or fire on board.

Smart bags will be allowed as carry-on baggage, if they meet carry-on size limits and if it's possible to remove the battery from the bag if needed.

In addition, spokespeople for United Continental and Southwest Airlines said both airlines also plan to announce new smart bag policies soon.

Bluesmart, a smart-bag manufacturer, said it was saddened by the airlines' policies.

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The Federal Aviation Administration said in July that spare lithium-ion batteries, and portable electronic devices, should be in passengers' carry-on bags and not in checked baggage.

But for all those features, these pieces of luggage need power in the form of lithium-ion batteries, which are generally seen as fire risks on planes. But airlines fear that the lithium ion batteries the bags carry could spark fires in overhead compartments or cargo holds. "While these restrictions may pose a challenge to some of our guests, there have been no incidents to date with smart bags on airplanes and we want to keep it that way".

For now, the bags can travel in cabins as long as they are powered down.

It's expected to be a hot gift this Christmas: "smart" luggage, including bags you can track with Global Positioning System, lock remotely, ride like a scooter. Some even have motors allowing them to be used as sit-on transportation devices, or can enable the bag to follow its owner. Many require you to use a TSA-approved screwdriver to get to the batteries in an Away piece of luggage. "We understand that there are some airport security concerns about travel technology and companies adhering to the various regulations and quality standards", Bluesmart said.

It said it would be holding meetings with airlines to try and ensure its products are exempt from any restrictions. "We are confident that we will succeed at getting exemptions from these latest regulations", the company said.