On Thursday, a flight from LaGuardia airport to Texas turn unexpectedly smoky when a vape battery reportedly stored in an overhead bin overheated and burst into flames.
The Houston-bound Delta flight was mercifully still on the LaGuardia tarmac when the fire started. According to CBS New York, passengers were still in the process of boarding when a campfire smell filled the cabin.
The source of the flames was reportedly a vape battery stored in a passenger’s luggage. Rex Sakamoto, a producer with the viral video news outlet NowThis, was on the scene and shared smartphone videos of the flaming luggage and an airline attendant using an extinguisher to contain the fire.
Sakamoto told CBS that sparks could be seen coming out of the overhead bin above row 10 as passengers realised something was definitely wrong. ABC News published a statement it obtained about the incident, which described the source of the smoke as a “overheated battery pack”:
While boarding SkyWest flight 3879, operating as Delta Connection from LaGuardia to Houston, smoke appeared from a passenger’s bag in an overhead bin, caused by an overheated battery pack inside the bag. Passengers deplaned routinely through the main cabin door and we are working to help our customers resume their travels to Houston on a different aircraft as quickly as possible.
We reached out to Delta to ask if it is aware of what type of battery pack overheated, but we did not receive an immediate reply.
The volatile nature of lithium-ion batteries gained widespread attention when a series of fires prompted Samsung to recall its Note 7 smartphones and resulted in the devices being banned from flights by the Department of Transportation. Lithium-ion fires can occur when poorly manufactured or damaged batteries overheat. The removable 18650 lithium-ion cells used in vapes and other devices — which appear superficially similar to common alkaline batteries — are particularly prone to explosive shorts.
A U.S. Fire Administration report concluded that at least 195 reported vape explosions have occurred between 2009 and 2016. Last year, a study by researchers from several American universities estimated that the number was quite a bit higher. It concluded that between 2015 and 2017, over 2,000 explosions or burns associated with e-cigarettes had occurred.
The FDA has some advice for best safety practices when using a vape that includes ensuring the device has ventilation holes and never charging it with a phone or tablet. And for frequent fliers who vape, remember that the FAA prohibits spare lithium batteries and e-cigarettes in checked baggage, requiring passengers to keep them on their person or in carry-on bags when flying.