Airline smart luggage ban will be a real headache for travelers

Luggage ban proves too much for Bluesmart, which has shuttered operations

now boarding bluesmart airport 720x720

If you own any high-tech “smart” luggage and travel with it on planes, you may have a problem.

American Airlines, Delta, and Alaska Airlines announced on December 6, 2017 that if the battery is built into the luggage and cannot be removed, you won’t be able to take it onto the aircraft. United and Southwest Airlines joined suit shortly thereafter.

The ban became effective on January 15, 2018, and emerged due to fears that the batteries could overheat and catch fire.

To be clear, if the battery can’t be removed, you won’t be able to take it on board the plane as checked or carry-on luggage. If it can be removed, however, it can be left inside the bag and taken aboard as carry-on. Alternatively, you can remove it from the bag, check the bag, and then take the battery aboard as carry-on.

Alaska Airlines explains the policy in this way:

  • 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.
  • If the bag will fly as a checked bag, the battery must be removed and the battery must be carried in the cabin.
  • If it’s not possible to remove the battery from the bag, the bag won’t be allowed on the plane.

So-called smart bags, which have been growing in popularity over the last year or so, feature a variety of (battery-powered) tech features that can include anything from GPS capability so you don’t lose it, to built-in digital scales so you don’t exceed your weight limits, to a motor that turns it into a scooter so you can whiz through the airport to your gate. DT reviewed some of the best ones just a few months ago.

The new rule, alas, proved to be too great of a blow for outfits like New York-based Bluesmart, which originally came to prominence in 2014 with its debut smart suitcase that proved a hit with Indiegogo backers. It since produced a range of smart luggage options and sold 64,000 of them globally, but their batteries can’t be removed. And now, just a few months after the ban went into place, Bluesmart is shuttering its operations.

Noting that the ban placed the company in “an irreversibly difficult financial and business situation,” Bluesmart wrote in a blog post that “after exploring all the possible options for pivoting and moving forward, the company was finally forced to wind down its operations and explore disposition options, unable to continue operating as an independent entity.”

Happily, the firm notes that its technology will not be lost, as Travelpro has acquired “the majority of Bluesmart’s intangible assets (including our technology, designs, brand and intellectual property).” That said, if you have a Bluesmart product, it’s no longer supported or warrantied in any way, and the functionality and service quality of Bluesmart servers and apps will gradually be reduced.

“We are saddened by these latest changes to some airline regulations and feel it is a step back not only for travel technology, but that it also presents an obstacle to streamlining and improving the way we all travel,” Bluesmart said previously in a statement. While the company had plans to meet with the airlines to show its bags are safe in the hope that they would make an exception for their products, these talks apparently did not lead to positive outcomes.

Due to their fire risk, lithium-ion batteries have been a worry for airlines ever since the technology was introduced. The smart cases aren’t the first gadget to face an airline ban. Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation banned Samsung’s troubled Galaxy Note 7 from being taken on planes, and before that bans were put in place for so-called hoverboards after some batteries inside the personal transporters suddenly exploded.

But banning a product whose very purpose is travel will come as a huge disappointment for the many travelers who’ve already spent money on the technology, and presents a worrying problem for other makers of smart bags, too.

Updated on May 1: A few months after the airline ban on smart luggage, Bluesmart has shuttered operations. 

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Click-to-brew beer, comfy headlamps, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Computing

The Dell XPS 13 is our favorite laptop. Here are the best cases and bags for it

Whether you're a prolific traveler or simply want to make sure your beloved Dell XPS 13 is safe for that odd car trip, these are the best Dell XPS 13 cases, sleeves and carry bags we could find.
Product Review

Don't let the bigger iPhones woo you away: The XS is still a masterpiece

Apple’s next smartphone is here -- the iPhone XS. We think it’s the perfect size for an iPhone, and it manages to impress with astounding performance, and sizable camera improvements.
Business

Will your carry-on fit in that overhead bin? Kayak’s new AR tool can tell you

Don't break out the tape measure just yet -- a new augmented reality tool inside the Kayak app can help determine if your bag meets carry-on requirements. After measuring the bag, the app compares it to your airline's requirements.
Emerging Tech

Robot jellyfish could be used to patrol fragile coral reefs

Could schools of robotic jellyfish soon be patrolling the world’s oceans, monitoring fragile environments such as coral reefs? A team of United States researchers certainly thinks so.
Emerging Tech

Versatile robotic skin gives stuffed horse, other inanimate objects some giddyup

Researchers at Yale University have developed a new sensor-packed robot skin that can be wrapped around inanimate objects, such as toys, to transform them into functioning robots.
Emerging Tech

JackRabbot 2 is Stanford’s friendly new campus-roaming social robot

JackRabbot 2 is a robot developed by researchers at Stanford University -- designed to navigate around the campus, while carrying out friendly interactions with the humans around it.
Emerging Tech

New sustainable plan to mitigate climate change involves… a hot dog cooker?

Chemists have demonstrated a new, energy-efficient method of pulling carbon dioxide directly from the air. The secret ingredients? An air humidifier and a solar-powered hot dog cooker.
Emerging Tech

Removing ‘zombie cells’ in the brain could help battle the effects of dementia

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have demonstrated how the removal of so-called "zombie cells" can help reverse the effects of dementia-style cognitive decline in mice. Here's what they did.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s planet hunter satellite gets first hit in its search for another Earth

NASA's planet hunter satellite TESS has discovered a new Earth-like planet. At only 62 light-years distant, the new find is much closer than the Kepler Mission's 2015 exoplanet discovery -- that one was 155 light-years distant.
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

New mask-mounted head-up display gives Navy combat divers tactical advantage

Divers are often forced to work in low-light conditions where visibility is limited or all-but nonexistent. In order to help solve this problem, the Navy has developed a new head-up display known as Shadow Nav.
Emerging Tech

Roll over, SpotMini — here comes the ALMA robo-dog

If two robo-dogs met on the street, would one try to sniff the mechanical components at the rear of the other? We have no idea, but with at least two different rob-dogs now making real advances, we may soon find out.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese spacecraft just landed two rovers on an asteroid

Japan's space agency has succeeded in landing two rovers on the surface of an asteroid around 200 million miles from Earth. The deployment is part of a bold mission aimed at unlocking some of the mysteries of our solar system.