On August 2nd, an Alaska Airlines 737-900 flying from Newark (New Jersey) to San Francisco (California) was forced to divert to Columbus (Ohio) due to a laptop battery’s thermal-run-away. The aircraft was on the ground for several hours before resuming its journey to San Francisco.
Details of the Alaska Airlines laptop incident
The incident took place on Alaska Airlines flight AS29, flying transcontinental service from Newark (New Jersey) to San Francisco (California).
According to The Aviation Herald, the aircraft was cruising at FL360 about 40 nautical miles east of Columbus (Ohio) when the battery of a passenger’s laptop suffered a thermal runaway.
Responding quickly to the incident, flight attendants extinguished the fire and secured the device. The flight crew then diverted the aircraft to Columbus John Glenn International Airport and requested emergency services on standby for the arrival.
The aircraft then landed safely on runway 28L approximately 25 minutes later.
The report continues by saying that the aircraft remained on the ground for about two and a half hours, reaching San Francisco with a delay of three hours.
About the aircraft involved
The aircraft involved in the incident was registered as N285AK and is a Boeing 737-900. It is a two and a half-year-old aircraft configured with 181 seats: 16 in business and 165 in economy class.
The dangers of lithium batteries
Lithium-ion batteries can emit smoke and catch fire for various reasons. Causes can include overheating, rough-handling, and excessive charging. These occurrences can deform the battery and cause it to swell. The swelling then leads to short-circuiting and potentially to fire.
Here’s what one pilot on the Air Canada Pilot’s Association (ACPA) website said about the dangers of battery-powered devices on aircraft:
“People just aren’t aware of the potential danger with the batteries that they carry around all day in their devices. But passengers can throw these lithium batteries in bags or pack battery-powered devices in their luggage and not recognize that they are volatile compounds—they are actually dangerous goods.” – Unnamed pilot from the Air Canada Pilots Association
This pilot goes on to say that the passenger area is an “extremely challenging environment” for flight and cabin crews to fight a fire, “but the cargo hold is far more unforgiving,” they add.
Alaska Airline’s website has a section on the dangers of flying with batteries as well, saying that many everyday items used every day in the home or workplace may seem harmless…
“…however, when transported by air, they can be very dangerous. Variations in temperature and pressure during a flight can cause items to leak, generate toxic fumes, or start a fire.”
As such, the airline – along with many other carriers – has a detailed policy on the types of batteries and electronics that are permitted in the cabin and in checked baggage.
Simple Flying reached out to Alaska Airlines requesting comment or statement on the incident. However, at the time of publication, no response was received. We will update this article if any new information comes in.
What are your thoughts about this incident? Let us know what you think in the comment section.