US gov't warns about batteries after in-flight fires

Travellers warned to take precautions when flying with laptops and cell phones

U.S. transportation officials last week warned travellers to take precautions when flying with battery-powered gear such as laptops and cell phones after two in-flight fires involving batteries were reported in the last six weeks.

Issued by the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the advisory recommends that travellers cover loose batteries with insulating tape to prevent contact with metal objects; place each battery in its own case or plastic bag; and pack spare batteries in carry-on bags rather than checked baggage.

"We're determined to keep America's airlines the safest in the world," Stacey Gerard, the PHMSA chief safety officer, said in a statement. "Passengers can help us do that by following simple precautions in packing and handling their batteries and battery-powered equipment."

On one of its Web sites, the federal agency also asked passengers to pack battery-powered devices in carry-on bags -- not those checked to the cargo hold, because fires are easier to fight in the cabin.

A pair of recent on-board fires prompted the alert. On Feb. 10, a fire broke out in the overhead bin on a JetBlue Airways flight after it had departed New York's JFK. One or more batteries were later blamed. The aircraft was able to divert to a nearby airport without incident and the fire was put out by flight attendants.

Last Sunday, a battery overheated or ignited on board an American Airlines aircraft flying from Argentina. Attendants also extinguished that fire, said the PHMSA.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), a union representing 60,000 U.S. and Canadian commercial pilots, followed the PHMSA warning with a statement of its own Thursday. "ALPA is not seeking to prohibit passengers from carrying portable electronic devices or batteries aboard aircraft, but we do want passengers to know the risk and pilots to know how to react to it," said Mark Rogers, the union's dangerous goods program director.

"A battery fire can be extremely difficult to extinguish and it may re-ignite a number of times before being controlled," Rogers added. "We're concerned that battery fires may not be routinely covered in firefighting training for crew members, and they need to know that traditional firefighting equipment may not be effective."

Battery fires aren't new. Last year, Sony recalled millions of batteries installed in Dell and Apple notebook computers on fire hazard fears. More recently, an Australian Macbook user reported that his portable burst into flames, although the battery had not been on Apple's recall list during 2006.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?