Lithium-ion batteries and aircraft have some bad blood: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners were grounded three years ago because of battery fires, the FAA banned all lithium batteries in hold luggage, and now an innocent iPhone has caused a fire on an Alaska Air flight.
According to a KOMO news report, a girl on a spring break flight from Washington State to Hawaii had her iPhone 6 spontaneously combust mid-air:
“All of the sudden there was like 8-inch flames coming out of my phone, and I flipped it off onto the ground and it got under someone’s seat, and the flames were just getting higher and a bunch of people stood up.”
Under heavy loads or physical abuse, lithium-ion batteries have been known to explode, releasing the considerable stored energy inside in the form of heat, rather than electricity. It’s the reason hoverboards—which contain cheap batteries that get stood on all day—catch fire (and have been banned by all major airlines), and the reason lithium-ion batteries are supposed to be carry-on only.
The airlines aren’t likely to ban all portable electronics any time soon, but it’s still a slightly scary reminder of how much potential energy we’re all carrying round in our pockets. And, why airport security is really one big joke.