Exploding batteries: Here’s how to safely pack your electronics before boarding a plane

by Haadi Bakar
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Last Thursday, a passenger’s power bank blew up onboard a Royal Brunei Airlines aircraft mid-flight. Video footage shared on social media showed RB flight attendants extinguishing the small fire inside a smoke-filled cabin.

Fortunately, no one was harmed and the flight from Hong Kong landed safely in Bandar Seri Begawan as scheduled, as the incident was handled swiftly by the cabin crew.

While this might have occured on an RB flight for the first time, it does bring to light the issue of exploding lithium-ion batteries on board airlines and those who have seen the viral video may be increasingly paranoid about it.

In fact, there has been an alarming rise in the number of smoke and fire incidents on airplanes due to passengers’ malfunctioning lithium-ion batteries, and it is causing concern among safety and aviation experts.

The most noteworthy incident in recent times was the exploding Galaxy Note 7 fiasco in 2016 which grounded several flights worldwide and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) susequently banning the phones from all commercial aircaft (the incident also forced Samsung to issue a global recall that cost it US$5 billion in losses and lost sales).

Lithium-ion batteries are notorious for bursting into flame when damaged or improperly packaged. If damaged, the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery’s liquid electrolyte to catch fire.

But the reality is that most of our portable devices today are equipped with these lithium-ion batteries – our smartphones, tablets, laptops, digital cameras, and power bank – and it’s often we don’t leave them behind when we travel.

Hence, it is crucial that passengers know how to safely handle and store their electronics before boarding a plane, by observing the rules and guidelines set by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations for both carry-on and checked-in baggage.

Fortunately, it only takes three simple steps, according to IATA:

1. It is always best to pack your electronics and accessories in your carry-on bag. This way when any of these devices combust mid-flight, they are always at reach so you can extinguish them immediately before the fire spreads.

2. Power banks, spare batteries and electronic cigarettes must always go to carry-on bags. Never place these three items into your checked luggage.

3. If you must pack your laptop, tablet or digital camera in your checked luggage, be sure they are completely turned off (not in hybernate or sleep modes).

Keep these guidelines in mind the next time you travel, and should any of your devices caught fire while you’re up in the air, DO NOT PANIC! Flight attendants are trained to handle such incidents professionally, and many airlines carry the recommended safety equipment on board at all times to control onboard fires.

Also, remember to always switch off your electronic devices during take off and landing. Have a safe flight!

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