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Have ‘Smart Bag’ Luggage? It Might Not Be Able to Fly with You

So-called smart bags are poised to become a thing. Or they were, anyway.

What elevates a lowly piece of luggage to “smart” status? The ability to be tracked by GPS, or charge your mobile device, or connect via Bluetooth, or function as a scooter. This isn’t your dad’s luggage.

What powers these bags’ outsized intelligence and functionality are batteries. In particular, the power source for many of these bags is lithium ion batteries, which have proven to be highly combustible.

Accordingly, beginning early next year American will prohibit passengers from checking any bags that have a non-removable lithium ion battery. Here’s the verbiage now appearing on American’s website:

Due to a potential safety hazard, ‘Smart’ bags (luggage with charging devices) can’t fly unless the battery can be removed. Effective January 15, 2018.

Rather than compile its own list of banned items, American cites the existing rules suggested by the International Air Transport Association, which include the following examples:

  • 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.

Predictably, other airlines have followed American’s lead. According to a Chicago Tribune report, Delta and Alaska have already imposed similar rules, and United and Southwest are reviewing their policies with an eye to a change.

That means that for the foreseeable future—until an alternative power source becomes the norm—smart bags will be of limited utility for air travelers, no matter how many whiz-bang features they boast.

Adjust your holiday wish list accordingly.

Reader Reality Check

Is a smart bag on your shopping list?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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