Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Not so smart luggage

Twenty+ years back, I decided to replace my luggage. I had a few pieces of matching Lark, in a very nice blue-grey, and they were still in good shape. But I’d gotten them ten+ years back, before wheels on luggage were the vogue. Which meant you traveled not only with your suitcase, but with your luggage carrier. (Remember when these were always falling out of the overhead bins on planes?)

I still have that luggage carrier, which comes in handy if I need to lug a heavy box to the Post Office. And I still have a couple of pieces of Lark that I store things in.

But twenty+ years back I knew I wanted to replace that Lark luggage with something on wheels. So I asked a friend who traveled all the time on business what he would recommend. What he recommended was Tumi, which he said would last forever.

I can vouch for the fact that it’s lasted twenty+ years. There’s a fair amount of travel on those large expandable and carry-on roller bags, and on that over the shoulder duffel. And they’re all still in fairly good shape. Oh, I’ve had to rescrew in a handle or two. And the pull-out handle on the larger bag sometimes sticks. But it’s time. Luggage technology has improved during those twenty+ years I’ve been lugging my Tumi bags. And the wheels on the newer bags go round and round now, not just straight ahead.

So I’ve been keeping a partial eye out at Marshall’s to see what they have that might work for me, given that I’m no longer willing to pay the price for Tumi. I haven’t yet seen the Mr. Right of the suitcase world, but I have been naturally avoiding those that have anything techie embedded in them. I don’t want one that will charge my phone. Or follow me around.

I don’t want to complicate my luggage life. Plus any tech embedded in a suitcase will be obsolete before the suitcase wears out. I want my next luggage to last as long as my Lark or my Tumi bags have. I.e., for the rest of my life.

Looks like avoiding smart suitcases is a smart move – or non-move – on my part.

For the past few years, makers of so-called smart luggage—that’s bags with anything from a USB charging port to motorized wheels—have disrupted the market. Airlines are now taking note with arched brows: Earlier this month, American, Alaska, and Delta Airlines announced a ban on smart luggage with batteries that can’t be removed. The restrictions, which take effect Jan. 15, 2018, apply to both checked and carry-on luggage. United and Southwest are expected to make similar announcements soon. (Source: Bloomberg)

The fear on the airlines part is that the batteries will go boom. Think exploding hoverboards. They’re mostly concerned about problems in the luggage hold, but they’re also banning smart carry-ons, given how often both smart and dumb carry-ons end up being gate-checked. Note that – thankfully – “these rules don’t extend to other products with built-in lithium ion batteries, such as phones and laptops.”

Not surprisingly, the makers of smart luggage are going ballistic.

“It’s completely unfair—it doesn't have any point,” Tomi Pierucci, a ‎co-founder and the chief executive officer ‎of Bluesmart, told Bloomberg, suggesting further that mainstream luggage companies might have had something to do with persuading airlines to enact the ban.

Pierucci is looking for an exemption. After all, his brand “was developed under consultation with the DOT and FAA.” And the makers of the rideable Modobag don’t use lithium ion batteries. Theirs are carbon-free titanium. So they want an exemption, too.

Other smart bag makers anticipated that this might happen when the hoverboards started blowing up. So they’ve put in easily removable batteries.

And some perceive that the fact that the airlines are paying attention to them is a sign that smart luggage has final arrived.

Another sign that smart luggage has finally arrived? Some makers are dumbing down their lines, with companion pieces (like duffels) that have absolutely no brains at all.

Me? I’m still looking around for a better set of wheels for my next luggage. But I will not be considering anything smarter than my old, reliable dumb-bunny Tumi. This time, however, I will not be getting black. I’m sick of having to rope fluorescent bungee cording around my checked bag so I can spot in on the luggage carousel…

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