Because your “smart” luggage could get you thrown off a plane

Because your “smart” luggage could get you thrown off a plane

smart luggage lithium battery pack airlines airports rules hold travel vacations - Getty

smart luggage lithium battery pack airlines airports rules hold travel vacations – Getty

When influencer Simon Hooper (@father_of_daughters) boarded an easyJet flight to Copenhagen earlier this week for an anniversary trip, his plans were thwarted by his “smart” suitcase with its lithium battery. incorporated, in an incident that sparked much Insta-story hand wringing.

Hooper had checked his suitcase in the hold, where smart suitcases are prohibited unless the batteries were removed and brought to the plane separately. She’s not the only high-profile person to be caught off-limits in recent months – podcaster Pandora Sykes was denied boarding in August for the same reason. So what’s the deal with checking in smart baggage and lithium batteries in general?

What is “smart baggage”?

Any baggage that includes a battery or a bank to power itself or an external device can be called “smart”. In recent times, these cases have become popular due to their practical features (such as allowing users to charge devices and weigh their luggage digitally). However, most are powered by built-in lithium battery packs that have been banned from the hold since 2018 due to guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Most airlines, including easyJet, allow you to unplug your smart baggage, check it in and then bring the detachable battery pack on board, or alternatively, take the unplugged smart baggage into the cabin. Ryanair stipulates that even though smart baggage is stowed in the elevated cabins, the battery “must remain with you at all times”. Airlines also recommend that these batteries be packaged individually with the terminals protected, if possible in the original packaging.

What’s the problem with lithium batteries?

After a flurry of fires on board, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) classified these batteries as “dangerous goods” in 2018, and spare batteries and power banks were subsequently banned from the hold. A high-quality, fully functional lithium battery shouldn’t overheat, but poor production and damaged products increase the risk. In the United States alone, there have been 373 fires caused by these batteries on passenger aircraft since 2006, and in 2016 Samsung ceased production of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone after a series of fires caused by defective batteries.

What else containing lithium batteries is prohibited from the hold?

“The simplest rule of thumb is that if it loads, it probably shouldn’t be checked,” says Gilbert Ott of the frequent flyer site IATA regulations state that “items containing lithium metal or lithium ion cells or batteries, the primary purpose of which is to supply power to another device, such as a power bank and spare lithium batteries, are only permitted in baggage to but no”.

Items that have lithium batteries but no charging capacity (such as laptops or headphones) are allowed in the hold as they rarely catch fire, although it’s probably a good idea to take them as hand luggage anyway.

Why then can I take these things on board?

While there is still a risk of them malfunctioning, it is safer to have power banks and battery packs within reach of cabin crew who can monitor and contain any fires. Fires in the cargo hold are detected via smoke or temperature alarms, which send a warning to the pilot in the cockpit within one minute (or five for older aircraft). Once the pilot has been alerted, he can activate an automatic fire suppression system that uses extinguishing agents to put out the flames. The hold is also insulated with fireproof panels to prevent fire from entering the cabin.

However, a 2021 report from Airbus raised questions about the ability of some systems to extinguish lithium fires by stating that “Federal Aviation Administration tests show that even a small number of superheated batteries emit gases that can cause explosions and fires that do not. traditional fire suppression systems can be prevented. ”In the cabin, the crew is provided with fire extinguishers more suited to lithium fires.

In 2017, when a JetBlue flight from New York to San Francisco was forced to make an emergency landing in Michigan due to an electronic cigarette lighter overheating, the cabin crew put the backpack that contained it in a metal bin and he stowed it in the toilet until the plane could land safely. These days, many flights carry battery fire containment bags.

What happens if I accidentally forget the rules?

You probably won’t. Despite Hooper and Sykes’ protests of ignorance, airlines remind passengers several times what they can put in the hold, starting from the moment of booking. An easyJet spokesperson said: “In line with CAA guidelines on carrying lithium batteries, we require all items, including bags containing lithium batteries, to be disconnected before they can be accepted on board. Customers are advised of this at the time of booking and at online check-in when asked to review a list of items that have restrictions associated with their transportation (including lithium batteries) and confirm that they have read and understood this and the terms and conditions of carriage before proceeding to check-in. This happens again at the baggage storage at the airport.

easyJet, British Airways, Ryanair and many other airlines also publish specific guidelines on smart baggage online, while the CAA says that dangerous goods information must be communicated to passengers at check-in and baggage storage: power banks and Spare batteries are clearly listed as ‘hand baggage only’ on the information posters displayed at the airport. It could be that the built-in nature of smart luggage batteries is the cause of the disconnection.

Will I be denied boarding if I check in a smart suitcase with the battery connected?

Due to the short time between boarding and take-off, as well as the security risks and discrepancy between what is allowed in the hold and carry-on baggage, it is often necessary to remove the bag and passenger from a flight rather than allow them to load the battery pack your bags and then take it to the cabin. “It’s the airline’s prerogative,” says Ott.

When asked to comment on Hooper’s specific circumstances, easyJet said: “As Mr. Hooper had checked his baggage into the hold with the battery attached, unfortunately the baggage was removed and could not be rekindled on board in line with airport security procedures. While we understand the disappointment this will have caused, safety is always our top priority. “

Have you ever been denied boarding due to smart baggage or batteries in the hold? Please join the conversation in the comments below

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