“Smart luggage” is truly smart. Companies have created sleek, stylish bags that also contain practical, convenient accessories. Although smart luggage solves all sorts of problems, it has grabbed the attention of airlines and authorities due to the use of lithium batteries.
When companies develop new products, they can often turn to existing regulations to inform the plan and design, ensuring that it complies with the regulations when it is released. But sometimes innovation can make things a bit more complicated. Incorporating new features like an internal scale, GPS tracking, TSA-approved locks, and USB ports to charge electronics, smart luggage perfectly illustrates this tricky situation.
New Flying Policies Introduced
In early December 2017, major airlines announced new policies for passengers flying with smart luggage, and started requiring passengers who check smart luggage to remove the batteries and carry them on the plane. Some airlines also require passengers carrying on smart luggage to be able to remove the battery from the luggage in case they have to check the bag at the gate. The International Air Transportation Association, a trade group made up of almost all major airlines, has now weighed in on smart luggage, requiring the use of removable batteries. While Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations currently do not address smart luggage, the FAA does prohibit loose lithium batteries in checked luggage. The transport of lithium ion batteries are also carefully regulated by the Department of Transportation under a myriad of federal regulations and international standards designed to address environmental health and safety concerns.
The rationale behind all these airline policies and FAA regulations is that fires are harder to detect in the cargo hold of a plane, where checked luggage is stored. In the past, these concerns prompted airlines to ban other lithium battery products, such as hover boards. While there have been no publicly reported cases of smart luggage fires, lithium batteries in the luggage triggered similar concerns.
What’s Next for Smart Luggage
After various airlines announced these new flying policies, Away, a popular smart luggage brand, altered its suitcases so the battery can be removed more easily. By late spring 2018, Away will also allow customers with suitcases with the old battery pack (which required tools to remove) to exchange their batteries for a new, easily removable pack. Despite the changing policies, Away’s sales remain steady. In 2016, the smart luggage market was worth about $630 million of the $13.8 billion luggage market. The market is expected to continue to grow, and Away’s experience suggests it could happen fast.
While new policies may have created headaches for smart luggage companies and travelers at the outset, and the guidelines might well continue to evolve as manufacturers innovate, consumers do not seem to be shying away from the products. Companies likewise shouldn’t shy away from innovation. The continued success of smart luggage shows how a timely assessment of and response to new policies, coupled with product design flexibility, can benefit everyone.