Turn it off: why keeping devices in the baggage hold can be dangerous
In March, it was announced that UK would follow a similar path to the US and ban the carriage of electronic devices in the cabin from certain countries. For the UK, these countries are inbound flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The new rules, which are reportedly resulting from terrorism security threats, mean that affected passengers must store any electronic devices over a certain size, including laptops and tablets, into their checked baggage.
BALPA fully understands that UK security agencies have implemented these new rules with good reason, however, we have some concerns about the knock-on effects this could cause for other flight safety issues. As we’ve seen before, some rules put in place for good reason can lead to other issues down the line. The locked cockpit door rule, which is a very sensible rule, that followed 9/11 meant that years later, in 2015, the Captain of the infamous Germanwings flight was unable to get back into the cabin to stop co-pilot Andreas Lubitz from deliberately crashing into the Alps.
So, what are the knock-on effects of the devices ban? Well, BALPA has been campaigning for a long time to educate passengers on the dangers of placing devices such as laptops and tablets in checked baggage. Devices such as these contain lithium batteries that, when faulty, can cause devastating fires.
Lithium battery fires, unless caught early, can spread quickly and therefore official advice is that devices powered by these types of batteries should be kept in the cabin. That way any potential fires can be spotted and extinguished before they enter a state known as ‘thermal runaway’ – at which point they are almost impossible to extinguish. A lithium battery fire in the hold could potentially get out of control before being noticed.
Just last year we saw multiple reports on the Samsung Galaxy Note exploding at random, which led to the company recalling the devices. If devices such as these are kept in the hold, if a fire occurs the results can be catastrophic; indeed, there have been two crashes where lithium batteries have been cited in the accident reports.
We’re now calling for passengers from the affected countries to be vigilant and ensure their devices are completely turned off and packed in such a way that they cannot be damaged. We’re also pushing operators to improve their safety risk assessment process, and appropriate precautions should be applied to mitigate the associated risks, such as fire in the cargo hold. We don’t doubt the security threats that have led to the new rules on devices but we hope thorough consideration has been given to ensure we’re not solving one problem while creating another.