Is it game-over for smart luggage makers?

Airlines say lithium batteries must be removable to be admitted into the cabin, which makes business for smart luggage makers impossible.
21 May 2018

The SE3 carry-on smart luggage is equipped with a saddle and two large wheels that allow riders to ride it. Source: Facebook / Airwheel Technology

Ever wondered what it would be like if you could ride your cabin baggage from the check-in counter right up to the boarding gate? Or maybe just have it follow you to around the airport, leaving your hands free to shop?

Well, although innovative entrepreneurs worked hard to conceptualize and win the funding to create the luggage of your dreams, new airline regulations are going to make it hard for you to actually experience the joy of new-age smart luggage in the short-term.

First announced by American Airlines in December last year, the ban went into effect in January and forced flyers to abandon their smart luggage.

“Smart bags contain lithium battery power banks, which pose a risk when they are placed in the cargo hold of an aircraft. 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,” said the airline’s note.

Soon, airlines across the US announced the ban and implemented it at the start of this year. This decision made business as usual difficult for companies such as Raden, Arlo Skye, Barracuda, Away, TravelPro, among others.

In fact, Bluesmart, one of the leading smart luggage manufacturing companies, has just announced that it is shutting shop following the ban.

“The changes in policies announced by several major airlines at the end of last year—the banning of smart luggage with non-removable batteries—put our company in an irreversibly difficult financial and business situation. 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,” explained Bluesmart’s blog post.

Raden too, has quietly wrapped up business earlier this year.

However, airlines haven’t acted unfairly. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tests over the past year show that when a battery overheats, it can cause other nearby batteries to short-circuit and overheat, resulting in a chain reaction. In fact, one such fire occurs nearly every ten days, said the FAA.

As the overheating spreads, the batteries emit explosive gases that build up inside the cargo container. Several tests have resulted in fierce explosions, blowing the doors off shipping containers, followed by violent fires.

Airlines recognize the risk and have made it a point to take the FAA’s tests seriously. In addition to banning lithium-batteries for passenger flights, United, Delta, and American Airlines have banned bulk shipments of rechargeable batteries as well.

So, for now, it seems like in the short-term, smart luggage companies will need to tread carefully – although it might be too soon to say that it’s game over for them.

Before closing down, Bluesmart sold more than 64,000 of its cases. There’s clearly strong demand in the market. These companies are born out of innovation, and from the looks of it, will definitely come up with a solution to the problem in the future.