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Power Transportation

Laptop Fires On Airplanes 560

Posted by kdawson
from the but-the-lithium-makes-the-voices-go-away dept.
The risk posed by lithium batteries on airplanes is not exactly new news to this community; but the issue is starting to get wider exposure. Reader Maximum Prophet points out that as usual xkcd gets it right, and sends in an NY Times article calling the batteries a fire risk that clears security. "More than half of the 22 battery fires in the cabin of passenger planes since 1999 have been in the last three years. One air safety expert suggested that these devices might be 'the last unrestricted fire hazard' people can bring on airplanes."
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Laptop Fires On Airplanes

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  • by FauxReal (653820) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @02:12PM (#29886611) Homepage
    I booked a flight on Alaska Airlines today and decided to actually read their restrictions on baggage and I saw this [alaskaair.com].

    As of January 1, 2008, customers may no longer pack spare lithium batteries of any kind in checked baggage. Customers can carry spare lithium batteries for devices such as laptops, cell phones and cameras, but they must be packed in their carry-on baggage with the terminals covered/insulated. Customers may check bags that contain lithium batteries only if they are installed in the electronic devices. Damaged batteries will not be accepted for transport. For important details regarding the safe transportation of batteries/battery-powered devices while flying, please visit http://safetravel.dot.gov/ [dot.gov].

    I wonder if TSA agents are trained to actually take out and read the packaging/label of all batteries they come across as they rifle through your belongings.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @02:30PM (#29886867)

    +1 (no real mod points). You cannot keep every bad thing from happening in the world. If people would get enough common sense (and balls) to interfere with idiots misbehaving, this world would be a better and safer place.

    Also, its thousands of flights per day; somewhere in the range of 20k-30k.

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @02:43PM (#29887055)

    Really? You think that would work?

    Well, it seemed to work fine during the first 60-70 years of commercial aviation...

  • by metlin (258108) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @02:44PM (#29887071) Journal

    Well, I usually carry a spare battery and an additional laptop when I travel, and so far I've not had any problems whatosever.

    The times I've had any problems, I've told them that I travel a lot and spend a lot of time flying (or stranded) and joke about it (which is true).

    I've never really tried checking anything in, though.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @02:55PM (#29887257)

    I agree completely.

    http://www.natca.org/mediacenter/bythenumbers.msp#1

    Roughly 28k/day commercial flights. Round down to 25. Roughly 9 million commercial flights per year. 10 years. 90 million commercial flights.

    22 incidents?

    If anyone is that worried over this, they shouldn't get in their car to drive to work. I'm sure the accident rate is much higher

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:07PM (#29887449)

    Earplugs, man. Bitchy much?

  • Re:Liquids on planes (Score:3, Informative)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:12PM (#29887517) Journal

    >>>"No thank you" next time I travel and they ask to search

    Good luck with that. The guy in this audio recording tried the same tactic, first with the TSA and then some cops, when they demanded to search his cash box ("Where'd you get all this money?"). They had no constitutional warrant, but still they said they can stop Him from entering the airplane. Laws don't matter when the uniformed men on the street can detain you at will.

    10-minute version (unedited) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEJpzVPmih0 [youtube.com]
    3-minute version (edited) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMB6L487LHM [youtube.com]

    I think it's funny when one of the guards says, "You act like a child." No. He's acting like a Man standing-up for his inalienable rights.

  • by mathx314 (1365325) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:14PM (#29887549)
    You realize that every time you use the word "sheeple" a lot of people immediately stop reading your post, no matter how valid your points may be?
  • by Kemanorel (127835) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:20PM (#29887613)

    Last time I checked (30 seconds ago), you are allowed to bring all of those in the carryon. The TSA's 3-1-1 rule [tsa.gov] allows you to bring as many 3.4 oz. (100 ml) containers of any liquid (or toothpaste) as you can fit in a single 1 quart clear plastic bag. It's just a pain to limit to those amounts and have the bag separated from your carryon at security.

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:34PM (#29887799) Homepage Journal
    Well, look at the alternative: Adding many days to travel over long distances. Taking the train from New York to LA takes literally days longer than a flight, and I don't know if anybody does business-class transatlantic cruises anymore. I mean if your work tells you "Go to this conference in Copenhagen" and you're in San Fransisco, then you can't exactly tell your boss "Ok, but I need 2 weeks of travel time on either side of the 1 day conference".

    That's why people accept it. There are really no viable alternatives.
  • by ComputerSlicer23 (516509) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:34PM (#29887805)

    Funny, I took off my shoes after 9/11 but before they required it, precisely because my work boots always set off the metal detectors.

    Yeah, but Evian water is just an inconvenience, as I'll buy some when I get there (if I drank bottled water). I'm not dropping the money for a laptop on the other side, especially if I can't bring it back with me. I'm highly unlikely to check my $1800 laptop. For my work, I'd not go on the trip, as me without my laptop has virtually no value. It'd take a half day just to get a machine setup so I could get logged in over the VPN, and get all of the tools I need installed.

    So cheap items, there's no big deal, but items that are too expensive to just replace upon every trip, are likely to cause a much bigger backlash. Especially if they affect business people, who generate the bulk of the revenue in flying. Hell, they could tell me I couldn't take clothes except what I had on, and I'd deal with that (assuming there I could locate a decent big and tall shop in town). Who knows, maybe they'll create a "laptop license", and charge $50/year to get it renewed, and have a background check done on it. My work would cover that.

    If they do ban them, look for people to start carrying on laptop hard drives, and using laptop rentals. Or a lot more driving than flying.

    Kirby

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:02PM (#29888211) Homepage Journal
    "The airlines are trying to protect their profits..."

    From what I can tell...it isn't like the airlines are making money hand over fist. They seem to be running razor thin margins with fuel costs and all. I saw a tv show about the airlines, and they showed on one flight from say, NYC to L.A., all things considered, they only had like a $360 or so profit. If one less person had booked, it would have lost money on that flight.

  • by aXis100 (690904) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @08:55PM (#29891985)

    Did you not hear/read about the several large battery recalls last year? The batteries were internally shorting on their own (flakes of lithium floating around), no solid piece of copper required.

  • Statistics game (Score:4, Informative)

    by Silicon_Knight (66140) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @10:58PM (#29892803)

    There's two issues here: There's the issue of whether current (or more stringent) security measures can still be beaten by a determined foe, then there's the issue of actual Li-Ion batteries going kaboom. I'll address the later.

    Li-Ion batteries are some of the highest energy-density storage devices available to the general public. As such, they *are* dangerous. I design battery packs for a living, and let me tell you - if not for microprocessors and safety circuits, we wouldn't use Li-Ion batteries.

    They are the only batteries that I know of that can fail dangerously when over-discharged. You start creating internal shorts of lithium whiskers between the cathode and anode, which bypasses any cell safety circuits.
    They go boom very spectacularly if you overcharge them. The model RC heli folks have found this out the hard way, as they tend to run bare cells without protection circuits to save weight. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcwOwf55Rtc).
    They have very low internal resistance, which means in a short circuit, they can release energy very quickly. Every manufacturing engineer at the company I work at have welded calipers to cell tabs, from accidentally touching the wrong stuff while taking measurements.

    For a good cell manufacturer - and I'm talking about the LiShens, Sanyos, Kokams, and Panasonics of the world, the failure rate is 1 in 1 million. It's just a fact of life. The fly-by-night operations in China, responsible for some of the god-awful counterfeit cells out there, god knows what those failure rates are. And the vendors who use these cells tends to not put in the safety features (look up a BQ20Z70 chip, for example) to make a failure more likely.

    The nightmare scenario would be some dude getting some last minute work in at the terminal, plugging the battery in for charging. Then the plane takes off with the laptop in the overhead compartment where the oxygen lines for the safety masks are kept, and the cells let go. Judging from how much energy a single 18650 cell can contain, it could easily do some very serious damage.

    With the prices on Li-Ion dropping and more devices using them, it's no wonder that almost all of the 22 incidents reported occured in the last 3 years. Still a small number considering the amount of airplanes in the air at any given time, but enough for someone to pause and think...

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