Two Lufthansa flight attendants had to be treated for smoke inhalation on Monday evening after they rushed to fight a “small fire” onboard a flight from Los Angeles that was caused by a passenger’s overheating laptop.
Lufthansa flight LH457 departed Los Angeles International Airport at around 3:26 pm, bound for Frankfurt on Monday but was forced to make an emergency landing in Chicago around five hours after it took off.
The nearly ten-year-old Boeing 747-8 veered off its usual route after just passing Minneapolis and headed towards Chicago, where it was made to enter a holding pattern before finally being cleared to land.
A Lufthansa spokesperson said the pilots made an unscheduled stop at Chicago O’Hare as a “precautionary measure” after the fire had already been extinguished.
“Safety on board was not compromised at any time,” the airline told us in an emailed statement. “None of the passengers onboard were injured,” the statement continued, but “two flight attendants were treated onsite for smoke inhalation.”
“Lufthansa’s ground staff are currently assisting passengers and they will be rebooked to their final destinations. Lufthansa regrets the inconvenience caused to passengers. The safety of passengers and crews has top priority at all times,” the statement continued.
The incident occurred just days after a jetBlue flight from Barbados was evacuated onto the tarmac at New York JFK after a passenger’s laptop overheated and started smoking just as the Airbus A320 pulled up to the gate on arrival.
Seven of the passengers sustained minor injuries during the incident on Christmas Eve after emergency slides were used in the evacuation. None of the 133 passengers onboard were seriously injured.
Laptop computer fires can be potentially very dangerous because they are powered by lithium batteries that are prone to suffering ‘thermal runaway’ should they be damaged or overheat.
Thermal runaway is essentially a chain reaction in which the temperature inside a battery can rise very quickly. The battery is likely to emit a lot of smoke, as well as sparks and fire. Once entrenched, it can be very difficult to extinguish a battery suffering thermal runaway.
Laptop battery fires have occasionally been blamed on cheap power cords, but sudden, accidental damage is also a major risk factor. Airlines have reported a rise in lithium battery fires caused by passengers getting their electronic items stuck in seat mechanisms.
Lufthansa did not immediately comment on the cause of Monday evening’s laptop fire.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.