Last week three major US airlines announced plans to block smart luggage batteries in the cargo hold. This week it appears that such a policy is likely to expand more broadly around the world. Airlines around the globe are discussing the potential to expand the block.
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines indicated that the large Lithium Ion batteries will not be allowed as part of checked bags (United Airlines was expected to announce on the same day but has not yet), raising potential confusion and challenges with passengers and airlines. This week at the IATA Global Media Day event in Geneva the industry trade group suggested that further coordinated action is likely.
Nick Careen, IATA’s SVP Airport, Passenger, Cargo & Security, presented IATA’s position on a number of security challenges the industry faces. Among them, “extraterritorial” actions are the most difficult for the industry to handle. Earlier this year the electronics ban focused on the Middle East is an example of such a move, where one group set new rules while requiring enforcement by remote agents. A unilateral ban on certain types of batteries from baggage on some airlines represents a similar challenge in many ways. Careen acknowledged that position and believes that smart luggage will not be handled as an exception much longer:
Individual airlines have their own reasons for implementing protocols and procedures based on a risk-based process. Specifically, Lithium is something that we have to be very careful with. It is top of mind in the industry. Our Dangerous Goods Board is deliberating on that and we expect guidance to be issued, potentially this week, in terms of recommendations for dealing with [smart luggage]. We may see fast followers.
While he stopped short of outright stating that the policy will be adopted blocking such batteries in the hold it was clear from the context that such a ban is likely. And we should know by the end of the week just what the details of that plan will be.
Given the risks lithium ion batteries present on board the airline apprehension is not too surprising. And putting the somewhat fragile batteries in the most risky position – the cargo hold where they get tossed around, exposed to more environmental changes and other higher-risk actions – turns out to trigger the risk-based protocols airlines consider. Especially with growing demand for these bags as gifts this holiday season.
At least one of the companies, AWAY, is still engaging with consumers on this topic.
Yes, your suitcase battery is compliant with FAA, TSA, and DOT regulations and meets UN/DOT 38.3 requirements. It is allowed in the cabin and can be carried onto any flight!
— Away (@away) December 3, 2017
(2/3) There are two times it will be helpful to take out the battery. First, if you want to check your Carry-On, airline policies require that you remove the battery and keep it with you in the cabin. Second, if you’re flying out of Asia, we recommend removing the battery…
— Away (@away) December 3, 2017
The focus from the company is also about keeping the battery in the cabin, which is good. And the bags are marketed by AWAY as a carry-on, not a checked bag. But there are many scenarios where that doesn’t always work as expected. Those passengers could be in for a confusing surprise at the gate.
It also remains to be seen how other smart baggage initiatives are affected. While the suitcases with the larger batteries are obvious targets there are other efforts, like the Lufthansa/Rimowa electronic bag tag that could also be affected. That electronic bag tag option is powered by AAA batteries, not a lithium ion brick, so it is in the clear but other similar products may be affected.
Header Image: Suitcases via Derik Finch/Flickr via CC-BY