Exploding Batteries On A Plane: Recent In-Flight Fires Prompt Warnings About Loose Batteries

After one fire broke out in a overhead compartment on a JetBlue flight and another on an American Airlines aircraft flying from Argentina, the Department of Transportation has issued a warning to passengers traveling with loose batteries. The batteries in question are the type that power laptops, camcorders, and other “rechargeable” devices. If not stored properly the batteries can overheat and ignite.

In both cases crew were able to extinguish the fire and safely land the aircraft, however, that might not have been the case if the batteries had been stowed in checked luggage.

Do not check loose batteries. Keep spare batteries in their original retail packaging; keep loose batteries covered with insulating tape to protect them from contact with metal objects; place each battery in its own protective case, plastic bag, or package; and pack spare batteries in carry-on baggage, rather than checked baggage. Also, passengers should use only chargers designed for the battery type and take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing or dropping batteries. Also, don’t play hockey with your batteries or let babies chew on them. —MEGHANN MARCO

Department of Transportation Offers Advice on the Safe Transportation of Batteries and Battery-Powered Devices by Airline Passengers and Crew [DOT]
(Photo:Stewart)

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  1. Paul D says:

    Does anyone have any information as to whether cabin pressurization on a plane has anything to do with these adverse reactions in laptop batteries?

    Just something I thought of.

    I mean, unless it was just shoddily designed (which is certainly possible), what else would make a battery just go buggo when on an airplane and not in use?

    Our bodies can take cabin pressurization with little more than popping ears and maybe a slight headache (with exceptions). Can ni-cad or other batteries take the same abuse?

  2. Craig says:

    This sounds more like a case of loose batteries shorting out as a result of not being stored properly than anything else. Simply put, if you run a conductor between the positive and negative terminals of any battery you’re going to get a very hot conductor and a very hot battery.

  3. John Stracke says:

    Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Battery.

  4. SuperJdynamite says:

    @Paul D: “Does anyone have any information as to whether cabin pressurization on a plane has anything to do with these adverse reactions in laptop batteries?”

    I believe that the cabin is pressurized to account for the lack of pressure outside of the aircraft. It should be roughly equal to the pressure at sea level and shouldn’t cause an issue with the battery.

    I could see how putting a battery in an unpressurized cargo hold might cause problems. The lack of pressure would drastically lower the boiling point of the component chemicals.

  5. SuperJdynamite says:

    “keep loose batteries covered with insulating tape to protect them from contact with metal objects”

    Battery manufacturers could also spend ten cents on adding a protective gate over the contacts that retracts when you insert the battery into the laptop.

  6. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Well, there’s a hell of a lot of energy in a fully charged laptop or camcorder battery. Think of how long that small battery can power your laptop, and then imagine all of that energy coming out as heat in a couple of seconds when the terminals are shorted.

    There you go..instant fire.