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Transatlantic flight diverted over safety risk after laptop got ‘stuck’ in cabin

In World
May 21, 2024

A laptop that got “stuck in an inaccessible location” in the cabin of an United Airlines aircraft caused a transatlantic flight to be diverted this weekend, arriving at its final destination more than a day later, according to the airline.

United Airlines flight 12 departed from Zurich on Sunday morning and was heading toward Chicago when it turned around over the Atlantic Ocean about five hours into the nearly 10-hour-long flight, according to FlightAware. The Boeing 767 diverted to Shannon, Ireland “to address a potential safety risk” caused by the stray laptop, a United Airlines spokesperson told USA TODAY in an email.

The airline did not confirm where the laptop got stuck.

Electronic devices that use lithium batteries are “a great source of power, cheap power and dependable but unfortunately, they’re extremely volatile,” Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts with over 55 years of pilot experience, told USA TODAY. “The term (airlines) use is (thermal) runaway, which basically means catching fire.”

The pressure from the seat or moving the seats could have caused the battery in the laptop to ignite.

Once on fire, “you cannot put them out even if you submerge them in water… that was the fear of the crew, that the laptop would catch fire. Obviously, we can’t have fire onboard the aircraft.”

Since the flight crew had hit their maximum duty time, the flight had to be rescheduled for the next day. “When they diverted, you’re adding time,” Aimer said.

The carrier said it provided hotel accommodations for the 157 passengers in Shannon and arranged for a new plane to resume the flight to Chicago on Monday.

Aimer warned passengers to “be very, very cognizant” of their electronics and to tell a crew member if one is heating up more than normal. Some airlines now have specialized fire containment bags to help contain the fire from devices.

The Federal Aviation Administration has banned lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries – like in power banks, laptops or cell phone battery charging cases – from being stored in checked luggage, and must be put in carry-on baggage.

Between March 2006 and April 2024, there have been 530 verified incidents involving lithium batteries causing smoke, fire or extreme heat, according to the FAA. Of those, 387 were on passenger aircrafts.

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at kwong@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: United flight diverted when a laptop got ‘stuck’ in cabin

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