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Lithium-Ion Battery Explodes in the Cargo Hold of a Delta Airlines Plane

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There are a couple reasons why you should never put a lithium-ion battery pack or device into your checked luggage.

  • First, it’s against the rules for most airlines, and
  • second, because that battery may just explode in the cargo hold.

That’s just what happened on a recent Delta flight heading from Salt Lake City, Utah to Bozeman, Montana. It could have been worse, but fortunately, the ground crew noticed the smoking before the plane took off.

Flight Attendant Shows Passengers the Burned Toiletry Bag

Most airlines have already banned lithium-ion batteries—which typically power cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices—from checked baggage because of the fire dangers. Instead, the devices and batteries are supposed to be stored in carry-on bags. Many passengers still haven’t gotten the message, however.

In this incident, the cargo crewmembers were loading up the plane in preparation for departure when they smelled smoke in the cargo hold. They searched the area looking for the source and found a smoking battery that had previously exploded inside a toiletry bag.

A Delta flight attendant then took that bag on board and showed it to the passengers, to help them see just how dangerous these batteries can be. It was a black plastic bag and it had melted and burned together with a T-shirt that was also inside the suitcase.

Delta released a statement after the incident expressing their pride in the ground crew’s actions. “The situation underscores the importance of removing lithium-ion batteries from checked or gate-checked luggage,” the spokesman said.

FAA Warns of Safety Risks with Lithium-Ion Batteries

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned airlines back in 2016 that transporting lithium-ion batteries as cargo was risky, noting that battery fire testing had “highlighted the potential risk of a catastrophic aircraft loss due to damage resulting from a lithium battery fire or explosion.” They added that current cargo fire suppression systems “cannot effectively control a lithium-battery fire,” and advised airlines to ban battery-powered devices that had been recalled because of battery concerns.

Passengers are urged to take all lithium-ion battery powered devices with them in the cabin. Most anything you plug in to recharge probably operates on such a battery. So far, the FAA has not prohibited lithium-ion batteries from checked baggage, but most airlines have prohibited them.

What Makes Lithium-Ion Batteries Risky?

Lithium-ion batteries are very popular on the market today because they pack a lot of power in a small package. That makes them a good choice for our ever-shrinking phones, tablets, and other technological products. Most of the time, when they’re made correctly, they work just fine.

Sometimes, however, because of a design or manufacturing defect, or because the gadget was damaged, things can go wrong, causing the battery to overheat and potentially to catch fire. A short-circuit, for example, may occur if the thin piece of polypropylene that separates the electrodes is somehow moved, damaged, or poorly designed. The large Samsung Galaxy 7 recall has been blamed on just such a faulty separator.

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