Laptop Battery Fires May Cause More Flight Restrictions

The potential fire hazard posed by some rechargeable laptop and cell phone batteries is causing the U.S. Department of Transportation to consider imposing additional flight restrictions later this year. USATODAY reports that the agency is toying with the idea of prohibiting lithium-ion batteries from being carried in checked luggage.

There are not any plans to bar laptop and cell phone batteries from carry-on luggage. The DOT is, however, looking into the risks involved in allowing the batteries in the flight cabin. Should the agency deem the risks high enough, it could consider banning the batteries from carry-on luggage or even airline passenger compartments.

DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration representative Bob Richard commented "We recognize that the American public wants to be able to carry their batteries and electronic equipment aboard aircraft, but we have to weigh the safety issues. Any fire aboard an aircraft is unacceptable."

Currently, the DOT bans bulk shipments of certain lithium-ion batteries on passenger planes.

But prohibiting passengers from bringing the batteries for their electronic devices on board is going to far, according to George Kerchner, head of the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association. "Bringing these onto an aircraft doesnit present any additional danger, provided you take care of your batteries," he said.

Should the DOT eventually choose to ban laptops and cell phones - or just their batteries - from flights, that would amount to a major headache for travelers. Cell phones have become a critical piece of personal and business travel gear, and laptops are a primary tool for many travelers, as well. Expecting travelers to leave batteries at home and buy new ones at their destination would also meet strong resistance.

Whether or not the DOT actually does ban batteries from checked or carry-on luggage remains to be seen. For now, the agency is evaluating the safety risks.