Inflight Lithium Battery Incidents Are Now a Weekly Occurrence

It's no coincidence that the number of personal devices that each passenger is carrying on has also increased

Mobile phone battery explodes and burns due to overheat
Be careful in how you pack your batteries

“Do you have a lithium battery in your bag?”

It’s a question travelers have become accustomed to answering prior to every flight taken — sometimes multiple times. Yet, the overabundance of caution has seemingly done little to reduce the frequency of inflight incidents in which lithium batteries are involved.

According to a new report from Forbes, on average, incidents of overheated lithium batteries on aircraft are now occurring at a rate of more than once per week. In 2022, the FAA reported just north of 60 such incidents, both on airplanes and in airports, up from 54 in 2021.

“These are lithium battery-related events involving smoke, fire or extreme heat that the FAA is aware of and should not be considered a complete listing of all such incidents,” the agency noted.

So why the sharp increase?

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What it comes down to is the ever-increasing number of personal devices powered by lithium-ion batteries. Even many hard-sided carry-ons now come with their own portable charging bank. And if they’re damaged, or if battery terminals are short-circuited, it’s easy for them to catch fire.

That said, as the Forbes report notes, most of the incidents are considered minor, and seldom are they enough to warrant an emergency landing thanks to the now-widespread use of Thermal Containment Bags — or fire-containment bags — on aircraft. (Of course, travelers should still be doing their part to ensure that fires don’t break out on the plane, which we can all agree is an objectively bad thing, regardless of severity.)

For the uninitiated, per the TSA‘s website, spare (uninstalled) lithium ion and lithium metal batteries, including power banks and cell phone battery charging cases, must be carried in carry-on baggage only. This instruction covers spare lithium metal and spare rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for personal electronics such as cameras, cell phones, laptop computers, tablets, watches and calculators, as well as external battery chargers (portable rechargers and power banks) containing a lithium-ion battery. 


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