The US Now Wants To Ban Large Electronics From Checked Bags

Filed Under: Travel Technology

In late March, the US introduced an electronics ban for nonstop flights from select Middle Eastern countries to the US. Under this policy, large electronic devices had to be checked in rather than carried on.

While I can appreciate the government wanting to do everything they can to improve safety, this raised a lot of questions, including:

  • If their concern was explosives, shouldn’t electronics be banned from planes altogether, given that you can just as easily remotely detonate something in the cargo hold?
  • IATA (among others) raised concerns about the danger of having more electronics in checked luggage, which increases the risk of fires in the cargo hold
  • Couldn’t a proper screening of electronics in the gate area be the most effective solution, rather than inconveniencing passengers and increasing the risk of a fire?

Sure enough, within a few months the US began to repeal the electronics ban, as long as impacted airlines were willing to institute new security screening measures. This is what should have been done to begin with.

Now it looks like this electronics frenzy may just come full circle, as the US wants to ban large electronics from checked luggage. Unlike the previous electronics ban, this is something that could actually make sense.

The Associated Press is reporting that the Federal Aviation Administration has recently filed with the International Civil Aviation Organization recommending that large personal electronic devices be banned from checked luggage due to the risk of a catastrophic fire. This includes th risk of a rechargeable lithium-ion battery overheating in close proximity to an aerosol spray can.

According to the story:

The FAA has conducted 10 tests involving a fully-charged laptop packed in a suitcase. A heater was placed against the laptop’s battery to force it into “thermal runaway,” a condition in which the battery’s temperature continually rises.

In one test, an 8-ounce aerosol can of dry shampoo —which is permitted in checked baggage — was strapped to the laptop. There was a fire almost immediately and it grew rapidly. The aerosol can exploded within 40 seconds.

The test showed that because of the rapid progression of the fire, Halon gas fire suppressant systems used in airline cargo compartments would be unable to put out the fire before there was an explosion, the FAA said. The explosion might not be strong enough to structurally damage the plane, but it could damage the cargo compartment and allow the Halon to escape, the agency said. Then there would be nothing to prevent the fire from spreading.

This would be a logical policy change, and also highlights just how poorly thought out the previous ban was. You should always avoid checking electronics when possible anyway (due to the risk of theft and damage), so such a policy change wouldn’t impact nearly as many people.

  1. “Unlike the previous electronics ban, this is something that could actually make sense.”

    You’ve passed on that sentiment many times. But you always forget to append it with “to me”. Politics aside, don’t you think the people that implement these policies have at least some level of intelligence above you (and the average Joe)? Or do you actually think everything is a knee jerk reaction based on nothing more than emotions?

  2. TSA has been shown to have, say…a questionable level of efficacy at times. I think revamping how we think of security could benefit both national interests and wait times at the airport. I certainly don’t have any specifics to proffer, but this is definitely something worth sharing.

    Anecdote: once packed electronics under a plane and the screen has absolutely desecrated. So, yeah it shouldn’t affect to many people. And if it does, the effect is twofold.

    Thanks for this piece!

  3. @conor The same people who implementated it, ended up removing it and in the end going completely in the opposite direction. For all intents and purposes, it seems like they made a poor decision, something that happens in every organization and government no matter who they have.

    Lucky also added in IATAs opinion, and I’m sure they have more knowledge than the average joe as you put it.

    Finally, it’s his website/blog, it’s implied that it’s his opinion.

  4. @Murica

    That’s my point. It seems like he’s passing on HIS opinion on what security measures “make sense” as fact.

    “This measure definitively makes sense. This one definitively doesn’t.” But how does Ben (or any average Joe) know what’s definitive.

    And I love the blog. I’m not trying to be trolly. Healthy criticism, sure.

  5. @ Conor — For what it’s worth, every time I modify something with “in my opinion” someone leaves a comment saying “you don’t need to say that, it’s your blog, of course it’s your opinion.” So I guess I can’t win either way here. 😉

    That being said, I feel comfortable saying that the previous electronics ban didn’t make sense. Happy to discuss it in more detail if you’d like, but not sure you disagree with me there?

    As far as this new potential ban goes, I’m also happy to say that I think it could make sense. The research is there to support it, and the risk is real.

    So to me this seems like a pretty black-and-white situation. IATA and the rest of the aviation community called out the last restriction for what a danger it posed, so I absolutely think it was poorly thought out and a knee-jerk reaction.

  6. you would hope so Conor – but he is talking about the US government – so he is right to assume a low level of intelligence

  7. The more you change what you look for and how you look for it you make the murderous terrorist have to change their plans. They then have find new ways to plan test place and set off the bomb. Change your habits and they have to start all over again.

  8. @Conor – don’t continue to be a blithering idiot. Everything Lucky writes, by definition, is his opinion (unless he’s quoting someone).

    Unbelievable how many stupid people there are in the world.

  9. I was recently in a situation where I spilled a cup of coffee on my work computer while on a trip abroad and fried it so it wouldn’t even turn on. Since these days you usually have to show that you can turn on your electronic devices before boarding a flight back to the US (at least from the country I was in), I checked my suitcase with the computer in it for the flight home. I wonder what I would do in such a situation if this rule comes to pass?

  10. banning it in the hold would just move the problem to the cabin.
    You can actually get things after security that can hurt or kill someone, like knives in the restaurants etc, so what difference would it make? security, particularly the TSA is just theatre.

  11. @Lucky – I mean, I don’t actually even disagree with you. It’s probably more my subconscious hoping our authorities have more knowledge/intelligence than they actually do 😉

  12. Has there ever been a fire in an aircraft becuase of a laptop batery? Or is this because bateries have more energy now? I’m just trying to figure out why this hasen’t been a problem in decades and no other countries seems concerned with it…

  13. cedric, mobile batteries have caught fire in the cabin, they’re lithium too. All lithium batteries should be banned tbh

  14. Looks like the FAA is moving (as fast as the FAA moves) to ensure that DHS can’t bring back that poorly thought out policy.

  15. @cedric

    New high energy density batteries use Lithium as a reducing agent. Under certain conditions the chemical process can ‘run away’ creating intense heat. Examples are the Samsung phones (which are now banned) and the Lithium batteries use in the original 787 (which are now contained in a heat proof container).

    NiCad batteries powered everything up until a few years ago and did not have a problem with heat generation. They self-discharged but that was not a danger. They had a much lower energy density so that is why the switch to Lithium occurred.

    Think back to your high school chemistry lab experiments. Did you ever see Sodium burn – such an intense heat and flame! Lithium is similar. Anywhere near water or water vapour and it will spontaneously combust. The Lithium reaction is more intense.

  16. “an 8-ounce aerosol can of dry shampoo —which is permitted in checked baggage — was strapped to the laptop.”

    I don’t understand that “which is permitted in checked baggage” statement. I know the check-in warning includes not checking flammable materials like some hair products, but was there ever a size limit?

  17. As always, they have to look for something to annoy the people. Hope the decision falls soon. Regards and thank you for this post.

  18. And round and round we go lol. At least there is some rationale behind this move, if it actually happens. I kinda hope not, as my monster laptop is too inconvenient to keep in my carryon, along with its power supply which is literally almost the size of a brick. I’ve always checked it and never had a problem with it getting it stolen or damaged.

  19. @cedric: The cause is multi-fold. Lithium ion (and in particular lithium polymer) batteries have greater potential for fire than older battery types. As the infamous Galaxy Note 7 debacle proves that even big companies that should have good quality control can have battery problems. But one of the biggest issues is that consumers are simply carrying more batteries than ever.

    Twenty years ago the average traveler would probably have maybe a few AA or AAA battery-powered gadgets, and maybe a few business travelers might have a laptop or cell phone. But lots of travelers would probably not have any batteries at all. An average plane would probably expect to have maybe one battery per passenger, so a few hundred at most. Probably fewer.

    Nowadays though the average traveler probably has nearly half a dozen batteries, between their smartphone, e-reader, tablet, laptop, smartwatch, and a portable charger or two. Each plane can thus now expect to have well over a thousand batteries of various types onboard at any given time.

    It’s not an issue that’s suddenly cropped up in the last few years (it’s been growing for over a decade) but regulations haven’t been able to keep up with the explosion (no pun intended) in the personal device market.

  20. @Conor – considering that the TSA has a 95% failure rate in terms of catching firearms and knives and other prohibited items (Lucky’s posted about this before) and the absolutely inane electronics ban in carry-on luggage, I”m pretty sure these people have no idea what they’re doing.

    And yes, everything on Lucky’s blog is, by definition, his opinion unless he explicitly states otherwise. Nobody goes around saying “in my opinion” in front of every sentence.

  21. If all electronics are now going to go through security then there needs to be two lines – one for people with lots of electronics and one without. And more TSA screeners need to be added to a lot of airports – they can’t handle all the constant changes without more bodies to do these things! I use a small airport where it would literally take five to ten minutes to go through security – just this week with some new changes it took an hour! They made lots of changes but, as usual, the powers that be that make those changes, don’t look at how it affects those trying to implement those changes. Common sense isn’t common anymore……

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