Delta flight scare is a reminder never to put electronics in checked baggage

They’re found in everything from hair dryers to Apple’s AAPL, -0.85%   iPads. But lithium-ion batteries shouldn’t be loaded into the cargo hold of planes.

A plane full of passengers traveling from Salt Lake City, Utah to Bozeman, Mont. on Delta Air Lines DAL, -0.78%   discovered this in dramatic fashion on Monday. A member of the cabin crew brought a burned toiletry bag that contained lithium battery to show the passengers just how dangerous putting them in cargo can be.

One passenger tweeted photos of the melted toiletry bag. “Kudos to @Delta ground crew in Salt Lake for saving the day (and us),” Karia Rouda, an author of novels, “Best Day Ever” and “The Goodbye Year.” They smelled fire in cargo – unloaded bags and discovered this. If we had taken off … #Thankful As the pilot said, we owe them.”

“We are proud of the quick work of our ground crew who recognized and helped extinguish a bag containing a lithium ion battery that began overheating inside the cargo hold during the loading process of SkyWest flight 4449 operating as Delta Connection from Salt Lake City to Bozeman, Mont.,” a spokesman for the airline said.

“The situation underscores the importance of removing lithium ion batteries from checked or gate-checked luggage,” he added. “The safety of Delta’s customers and crew is always our top priority.” The Federal Aviation Administration has strict rules about carrying such batteries on flights, but doesn’t prohibit lithium-ion batteries altogether from cargo holds.

The FAA has stopped short of stopping airlines and passengers from storing lithium-ion batteries in cargo. FAA packing guidelines instruct passengers to keep loose “spare/uninstalled batteries” with them in the aircraft cabin, and that “devices containing lithium metal or lithium ion batteries (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) should be carried in carry-on baggage when possible.”

Also see: How the Trump administration is looking to change rules protecting air travelers

In 2016, the FAA issued a safety alert to U.S. and foreign commercial passenger and cargo airlines, urging them to conduct a safety risk assessment to manage the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries as cargo. “FAA battery fire testing has highlighted the potential risk of a catastrophic aircraft loss due to damage resulting from a lithium battery fire or explosion,” it said.

“Current cargo fire suppression systems cannot effectively control a lithium battery fire,” it said. “As a result of those tests, the International Civil Aviation Organization and aircraft manufacturers Boeing BA, -2.48%  and Airbus have advised airlines about the dangers associated with carrying lithium batteries as cargo and also have encouraged them to conduct safety risk assessments.”

Don’t miss: Why everything from Samsung phones to hoverboards is (literally) exploding

Lithium batteries recalled by the manufacturer must not be carried aboard aircraft or packed in baggage, the FAA said. “Battery-powered devices recalled because of lithium battery safety concerns also should not be carried aboard aircraft or packed in baggage unless the device or its battery has been replaced, repaired or otherwise made safe,” it added.

Samsung Electronics Co., 005930, +0.19%  the world’s largest smartphone maker by shipments, has had a problem with exploding smartphones in recent years. In 2016, the company recalled all of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after some exploded. But Samsung wasn’t alone: Everything from hoverboards to e-cigarettes have had exploding problems.

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