The Problem with Smart Luggage
Some of you may remember the old credit card commercial that featured the epic journey of a self-propelled suitcase seeking its lost owner. Well, it turns out this wasn’t so entirely fantastic. There’s a new generation of “smart luggage” hitting the market that can tell airlines electronically who it belongs to and where it’s going, trail after you down airport hallways without a handle, and charge your cellphone if you can’t make it to one of those electrical outlets airports seem to hide on purpose. Some will even double as transport devices themselves, allowing travelers to zip around terminals on their own electric suitcase-scooters.
But these modern technologies come with a problem that’s often overlooked. The energy sources for all these seemingly-magical functions are usually lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are one of the main causes of fires related to dangerous goods on aircraft. So travelling with the newest piece of high tech luggage can bring headaches both for the traveller and the airline he or she flies on.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has for many years established rules for equipment containing lithium batteries carried by passengers or crew, but dangerous luggage is a new area. To help, they’ve published a guidance document that covers the dangers associated with such luggage, and instructions on how it can be carried safely.
The document lists various types of “smart luggage” that may include lithium batteries, including:
- 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 locks.
- Lithium ion battery, motor and tracking device (GPS) allowing the bag to self-propel and “follow” the owner.
Such items are classified by IATA as “portable electronic devices” (PEDs). While PEDs have been covered by the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations section 2.3 when carried by passengers or crew, the new devices present some extra problems.
The Guidance Document covers topics such as:
- When do PEDs require pre-approval by airlines?
- What special requirements apply for devices such as luggage trackers, which must be kept active during transport?
- Can powered luggage be carried as “lithium batteries contained in equipment”
- How should airline staff handle lithium battery-powered luggage at the gate and during loading?
- How should flight crew handle on-board fires involving PEDs?
Owners of PED luggage should be aware that travelling with them may be more difficult than, say, carrying a cellphone on an airplane. IATA has declared that, “no lithium battery contained in a bag may be considered as ‘installed in equipment.'” This means that the battery would not be permitted as checked baggage. Instead, you would have to remove the battery and take it a carry-on item. (Spare batteries and power banks are only permitted as carry-on luggage.)
Any PED equipped with a power bank offered as checked baggage must have the power bank removed prior to being checked-in. The power bank must then be carried in the passenger’s carry-on baggage where permitted by security regulations… Where a bag intended to be carried in the cabin is surrendered at the boarding gate or on the aircraft to be loaded in the cargo compartment the passenger should be asked if the bag contains any spare lithium batteries, including power banks. Where it is identified that there are spare lithium batteries or power banks, the passenger must remove them from the bag before it can be loaded into the cargo compartment. The spare battery / power bank must then be carried in the cabin, where permitted by security regulations.
Expect to see airlines start to promote awareness of the hazards of battery-powered luggage, and to inquire at check-in if your luggage contains lithium batteries.
Despite their inherent dangers, we can’t help but think self-powered luggage is has an undeniable “cool factor”. IATA has included links to several manufacturers in the guidance document as examples of equipment the airlines may expect to see over the next few years, and you might want to check them out. Is it time to reinvent the suitcase?
If you have questions about shipping lithium batteries or battery-powered equipment, call us here at ICC Compliance Center 1.888.977.4834 (Canada) or 1.888.442.9628 (USA).