One of the biggest threats to aviation safety just so happens to be carried by nearly every passenger – personal electronic devices.

Most passengers are unaware of the danger they carry in their pockets and bags when flying.

Most PEDs we use daily, like tablets, smartphones, and laptops, are powered by lithium-based batteries. While small in size, these batteries pack a lot of energy, and when damaged, crushed, or overheat, they can combust instantaneously, which presents a serious fire risk to air safety. Here’s an example:

An example of the power of lithium-based battery exploding

Just how real is this treat? Well, over the past busy Christmas/New Year’s travel period, three commercial flights had to engage in emergency procedures, evacuations, and a diversion to battle fire and smoke caused by passengers’ electric devices exploding.

December 26, 2022: Lufthansa Flight LH457 From Los Angeles (LAX) to Frankfurt (FRA)

A Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 flying from Los Angeles to Frankfurt diverted to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after a passenger’s laptop caught fire while stored in an overhead bin. A viral video posted to social media shows two heroic Lufthansa cabin crew putting themselves in danger and utilizing their firefighting training to extinguish the flames quickly.

Lufthansa Crew Battle Blaze In Flight

Lufthansa Cabin Crew Fight Overhead Bin Fire On Flight Day After Christmas Two Cabin Crew suffered smoke inhalation battling this laptop fire mid-flight. A Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 operating from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, Germany, was forced to land in Chicago after a laptop caught fire in the overhead bin on a flight last Monday. In a video posted by a passenger, the cabin crew can be seen putting their firefighting training into action to prevent the fire from spreading. For those that think Flight Attendants are there to just serve your food and drinks, please bookmark this video and remember to respect the crews’ safety instructions, they’re meant to keep you safe and alive during your time in the sky. More on our IG @ #aviation #Lufthansa

Posted by A Fly Guy’s Cabin Crew Lounge on Monday, January 2, 2023

According to a statement issued by the German airline, the diversion to Chicago was a precautionary measure and the airline stressed, the safety on board was not compromised at any time. Lufthansa confirmed two of its crew were treated on-site for smoke inhalation.

December 29, 2022: Ural Airlines Flight U6167 from Moscow (DME) to Kaliningrad (KGD), Russia

Passengers escape from a URAL Airlines Airbus A321 via emergency slides after a power bank caught fire

A passenger’s personal power bank suffered a thermal runaway and exploded just as a URAL Airlines Airbus A321 was preparing to take off from Moscow Domodedovo Airport.

The passenger threw the burning device to the ground, which caused parts of the aircraft interior to catch fire and caused smoke to fill the cabin.

Emergency slides were used to evacuate passengers while firefighting teams responded to the incident. The Passengers were taken back to the airport by bus, where they waited for seven hours for a new aircraft to complete their journey.

No crew or passengers were reported injured during the incident.

December 24, 2022: JetBlue Flight B6662 From Bridgetown, Barbados (BGI) to New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

On Christmas Eve, five passengers sustained minor injuries after more than 160 passengers evacuated themselves from a JetBlue flight via emergency slides due to a passenger’s malfunctioning electronic device. News reports are conflicting on what type of device it was; some reported it was a laptop, and others stated it was a cellphone that caused all the commotion, which lead to injuries. 

Exclusive photo of passengers of JetBlue Flight 662 taking their bags to the overwing exits to evacuate from the smoke in the cabin (Photo from A Fly Guy’s Cabin Crew Lounge)

According to airline sources of AFGCCL, the JetBlue Airbus A320-200 had pulled into its gate at JFK’s Terminal 5 at around 9 P.M. While waiting for ground staff to connect the jetbridge, passengers were standing in the aisle with their belongings when the device started to overheat and emit smoke at the rear of the aircraft. Panic followed, and passengers initiated the evacuation via overwing exits while the crew focused on fighting the fire. The crew, including a pilot, used their firefighting training to contain the explosion. 

How To Prevent Your Electronic Devices From Causing a Flight Emergency

Inform your crew if you notice something strange happening to your electronic device or if it falls under your seat.

If you drop your electronic device while seated on the plane, do not move the seat and immediately inform the cabin crew. The mechanics of airplane seats, especially in premium cabins, can crush the device’s battery, causing the phone to explode and the seat to catch fire. 

An example of a phone crushed by a business class seat on a Qantas flight in 2016. (Source: ATSB)

One of the most essential things you can do as a passenger is to ensure that no electronic devices containing lithium-based batteries are in your checked luggage. According to the FAA website, devices containing lithium metal batteries or lithium-ion batteries, including – but not limited to – smartphones, tablets, cameras, and laptops, should be kept in carry-on baggage.” 

Spare (uninstalled) lithium metal batteries and lithium-ion batteries, electronic cigarettes, and vaping devices are prohibited in checked baggage. 

If carry-on baggage is checked at the gate or planeside, spare lithium batteries, electronic cigarettes, and vaping devices must be removed from the baggage and kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin. Even in carry-on baggage, these items should be protected from damage, accidental activation and short circuits. Battery terminals should be protected by manufacturer’s packaging or covered with tape and placed in separate bags to prevent short circuits.

Damaged, defective or recalled lithium batteries must not be carried in carry-on or checked baggage if they are likely to be a safety concern by overheating or catching on fire.

What To Do In Case Of A Fire

If you are near fire or smoke on a flight, remain calm and inform the crew. Flight Attendants and pilots are well-trained to deal with this type of situation. “When this sort of thing happens, our main priority as safety professionals is to extinguish the fire and cool the thermal cells while at the same time protecting our passengers,” said Jarad Avritt, an Cabin Crew expert. “Normally, two crew fight the fire, while the other crew will be busy moving passengers away from the smoke if possible, and they will yell commands to minimize injuries from smoke inhalation. Incidents like these are the main reason crew are in the cabin.” 

Every second counts when fighting fires in a pressurized aircraft cabin. If possible, move away from the smoke or fire and give space in the aisle so the cabin crew can perform firefighting procedures unobstructed. If you can not move, try to bend down to get below the smoke and breath through your clothes. 

Panic can cause more injuries than fire, so remain calm and follow crew instructions. “In the case of the JetBlue incident, those five passengers were probably injured from using the emergency slides without being told to, and not from the fire,” Avritt said. “If the passengers had let the crew do what they were trained to do, those injuries probably wouldn’t have happened.” 

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