The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reportedly ready to announce it will ban travelers from Europe to the U.S. from carrying their laptops onto the airplane, according to an article by Clive Irving in the Daily Beast. The action is intended to prevent terrorists from hiding bombs in large electronic devices.
But beware, air travelers: Such an action sacrifices safety to security because transferring hundreds of lithium-ion battery powered devices into the cargo hold of every jetliner is a recipe for disaster. That’s not my opinion, it’s the warning issued by the Federal Aviation Administration last year.
Placing lithium-ion batteries in the cargo hold could lead to a “catastrophic” loss of the airplane, the agency said.
Lithium-ion batteries pack a lot of power into a small package and they can be volatile. Taking them from the cabin where their owners presumably are keeping an eye on them and placing them where fires may go undetected and cannot be extinguished creates a whole different level of threat.
As I reported for The New York Times in September, Britain’s Royal Aeronautical Society estimated a single-aisle jet with 100 passengers might have more than 500 lithium-ion batteries aboard. An unofficial tally over the last five years put the number of battery fires on U.S. airplanes at 19.
Air safety has evolved from lessons learned over a century of accidents, enhanced by a hearty examination of risks balanced against benefits. Nowhere in the U.S. government’s knee-jerk reaction to a perceived terrorist threat have I seen the hazard compared to the well-known risk of an in-flight lithium-ion battery fire. That’s an analysis we deserve to see.
Travel, business and airline industry executives are already furious about the impact of the laptop ban slapped on travelers to the U.S. from 10 Middle Eastern and North African countries earlier this year. Expanding it to European flights at the beginning of the summer travel season is certain to ignite more fury.
But if you have plans travel by air with dozens of laptops stowed beneath you, where you can’t see, feel or smell them, you’ll no doubt join me in hoping that fury is the only thing that ignites.