Crushing an upstart travel industry in the name of safety

The market around “smart” suitcases is small but significant. Brands like AWAY, Raden, Blue Smart and more are start-up darlings, with solid funding and some impressive sales numbers. For passengers who want the extra features – mostly a power source and possibly baggage tracking options – the bags are all sorts of cool. American Airlines, on the other hand, is worried about the heat.

American announced today that effective 15 January 2018 the smart bags will not be allowed as checked baggage with their battery pack installed. Passengers can either carry the bags in the cabin or, if it must be checked, remove the battery and carry that in the cabin.

As part of safety management and risk mitigation, we always evaluate ways to enhance our procedures, and the Safety team at American has conducted its own analysis of these bags. 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.

n.b. – Both Delta and United joined American with similar policies. This is a coordinated effort among the major US carriers to address the risk.

Much like the “hoverboard” debacle of a couple years ago, airlines are beginning to worry more and more about the potential for battery melt-downs in the cargo hold. Having the potential fire in the cabin is only marginally safer, but that margin matters when flying five miles above the ground.

Read More: Wait? They Actually Made The Motorized, Rideable Suitcase????

IATA continues to warn against the risks of batteries in bags. The international trade group was strongly critical of the US government during the first half of the year when a handful of airlines were forced to block electronics in the cabin, forcing them to the cargo hold instead. That rule was finally relaxed but IATA remains aggressive in pressing for international coordination of such policies and especially of keeping batteries in the cabin or off planes. It is unclear if the group will weigh in on this particular policy announcement, though it is hard to see any objections coming from a move that keeps the batteries out of the hold.

American Airlines specifically calls out the fact that these bags are expected to be popular gifts this holiday season in the announcement. Depending on where the venture capital is coming from and the tolerance for slow returns (or losses) this could be a “shake out” year in the industry. And if more airlines announce similar policies it could very quickly drop the bottom out of a growing industry.

Questions also remain about just how compliant passengers will be with the policy. Yes, there are questions at the bag drop counter and reminders at the gate if the bag is taken there. But it is unclear just how well those rules are followed. Obviously having the rule is better than not from a safety perspective, but enforcement matters, too.

Seth Miller has over a decade of experience covering the airline industry. With a strong focus on passenger experience, Seth also has deep knowledge of inflight connectivity and loyalty programs. He is widely respected as an unbiased commentator on the aviation industry. He is frequently consulted on innovations in passenger experience by airlines and technology providers. You can connect with Seth on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .