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Beware of poorly packed presents, say pilots

Pilots have issued advice to help ensure festive travellers arrive safely at their destinations with their gifts intact.

They’re reminding Christmas passengers that poorly packed parcels of cameras, laptops, phones and toys containing lithium batteries, could pose a fire risk.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) is advising passengers to make sure any gifts containing lithium batteries are carried in hand luggage rather than the hold.

It’s because poorly manufactured batteries, or those that are damaged or inappropriately packaged, can short circuit or fail, releasing harmful gasses or causing high intensity fires that can spread quickly. In fact, lithium batteries have been cited in the accident reports of at least two fatal accidents, including the UPS747 freighter in 2010 and the Asiana 747 in 2011.

The association is backing the official ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) advice that these devices should be kept in the cabin and not in the hold so that potential fires can be spotted and extinguished quickly and efficiently.

BALPA is also calling for the introduction of a system whereby passenger hand baggage can be identified as containing lithium batteries, whether that means marking boarding cards, or attaching ‘cabin baggage only’ labels.

BALPA Flight Safety Specialist Stephen Landells said:

“We understand that at Christmas passengers may be carrying presents for their loved ones. We want to ensure those gifts are delivered safely. That means if they contain items such as phones, toys or computers, that have lithium batteries, then passengers need to be cautious about how they transport them.

“The safest way to carry them is in your hand luggage, where any potential fault will be detected by the crew quickly and dealt with before a serious problem occurs.

“Pilots don’t want to be Grinches, but we do want to help educate passengers, so they understand that a little thought about how they pack their bag can make a big difference to flight safety.

BALPA’s Top tips for travelling safely with Lithium batteries this Christmas:

  1. Make sure you identify any items that contain a lithium battery.
  2. Carry these items in your hand luggage and not in your suitcase.
  3. Make sure any spare batteries for items like cameras and laptops are packaged safely and these must be carried in your hand luggage according to the ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air.
  4. If you do spot any problems with a battery, for example it gets excessively hot/ starts to smoke, tell the airline staff immediately.

Wherever you are travelling this yule time BALPA would like to wish you a merry and safe Christmas.

More information about lithium ion batteries and aviation can be seen in our short video.