Canadian airlines say batteries must be removed from 'smart bags'

The lithium batteries that power smart bags have been known to overheat and catch fire

According to Transportation Canada, recent incidents involving lithium batteries include computer batteries heating up and causing fires on cargo and passenger planes, a lithium ion battery that was charging exploded on a mini-submarine designed to carry U.S. Navy SEALs to shore, a passenger's camera batteries began smoking at the boarding gate, two large battery packs in a checked bag began smouldering and then burst into flames when an airline agent picked it up, and finally, during a flight the crew found a flashlight's counterfeit lithium metal battery overheating and giving off a strong odour. The damaged battery burned the inside of the flashlight. Lithium batteries are used in many electronic devices, including cameras, cell phones, laptop computers, medical equipment and power tools.  

On March 1, a woman travelling from Toronto to Vancouver suffered first-degree burns after her phone burst into flames at the gate at Pearson International Airport

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So, it's no surprise Canada’s two main carriers, Air Canada and WestJet, have regulations around the batteries and the gadgets they power, including smart bags popular for their ability to charge small devices, their electronic safety locks and a GPS tracking system to keep track of your luggage.

In an emailed response to an inquiry from the Courier, WestJet said it will still accept smart luggage as a carry-on piece, but the system within the bag must be turned off.

“Not in sleep mode, but turned off completely. If the system cannot be turned off, the batteries must be removed. If the batteries cannot be removed and the system cannot be turned off, we will not accept the bag. (As always, all carry-on bags must meet our sizing requirements.)” 

WestJet will accept smart luggage as checked baggage, but the batteries must be removed. If they can be removed, the bag will be accepted as checked baggage and the batteries can be taken into the cabin.

“If the batteries cannot be removed, we will not accept the bag.” 

According to Air Canada, that carrier will accept smart luggage as carry-on, provided it meets size restrictions. According to Air Canada’s website, on smaller aircraft where carry-on bags must be placed in the cargo hold, passengers will need to remove the battery and bring it into the cabin.

Anyone planning on checking a smart bag will first need to remove the battery and carry it into the cabin with them. Air Canada will not accept a smart bag as checked baggage if the battery cannot be removed.

According to Transportation Canada, the shipping and importing of lithium batteries are subject to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, and its regulations. Lithium batteries are considered dangerous goods, much like gasoline, propane and sulphuric acid. Transportation Canada notes, while most lithium batteries are safe, some have overheated and caught fire. Once ignited, they can cause any nearby batteries to overheat and catch fire. These fires are difficult to put out and produce toxic and irritating fumes.

Counterfeit and no-brand lithium batteries are also of concern, because they may not have been safety tested. These lithium batteries may be poorly designed, have little protection or contain manufacturing flaws.

In January, U.S. airlines, including American, Alaska, Hawaiian, Delta, United and Southwest banned passengers from flying with smart bags that contain non-removable lithium batteries.

“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,” American Airlines said in a statement. “If the battery cannot be removed, the bag will not be allowed.”

Between March 1991 and May 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration documented 160 incidents involving lithium batteries that were being transported as cargo or baggage.

According to an email from YVR to the Courier, smart luggage is not listed as a prohibited item.


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