A major security scare unfolded at Boston Logan International Airport on Saturday after smoke was seen pouring out the seems of a large checked suitcase. Agents from the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) as well as the Massachusetts State Police evacuated the baggage screening area for nearly an hour on one of the busiest travel days of the year so that the Explosives Ordnance Detection team could investigate the bag.
Luckily, the bag was given the all-clear after the cause of the smoke was found to be non-terrorism related – but the consequences could have been just as deadly if TSA agents were not alerted during routine baggage screening. It turns out, the cause of the smoke was the lithium battery of an e-cigarette that had overheated and ignited.
Lithium batteries – which are typically found in devices such as e-cigarettes, mobile phones and power banks – can sometimes overheat and ignite, causing smoke and even fire. Once ignited, a process known as thermal runaway makes the battery very hard to distinguish and could easily discharge a large amount of smoke or cause a major fire. Cheap lithium batteries from unreputable sources, as well as damaged batteries, are most at risk of igniting.
When @TSA comes across a smoking suitcase, it’s always suspicious. This checked bag resulted in the evacuation of the checked baggage screening room at @BostonLogan until officials could ensure that it was safe. What caused the scare? An e-cigarette’s lithium battery. pic.twitter.com/taptFJRqqS
— TSAmedia_LisaF (@TSAmedia_LisaF) November 28, 2018
In this case, it looks like the passenger just wasn’t aware that lithium batteries should NEVER be packed in a checked-in bag. If the lithium battery had ignited during flight, it would have been almost impossible for the crew to distinguish the fire. Should a fire occur, flight crew would have to divert very quickly to avoid a major catastrophe – and that’s not always possible when flying over an ocean or high terrain.
But if the passenger had packed the lithium battery in his cabin bag, flight attendants would be in a position to fight the fire using the tools and training they have available specifically for this reason. In the last year, we’ve seen a number of incidents where lithium batteries and power banks have overheated in-flight – in all of those incidents, cabin crew have successfully extinguished the fire.
So next time you fly, please make sure you don’t put any lithium batteries or power banks in your checked-in bag. And remember, if gate agents try to take your bag from you just before boarding, be sure to remove any lithium batteries and take them into the cabin with you.