Laptop Rules Could Change for Checked Bags on International Flights

Transportation Security Administration security agents check a traveler's luggage at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York in 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Burton

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants to stop allowing passengers on international flights from putting large electronic devices like laptops in checked bags.

After conducting several tests, the FAA has found that the lithium-ion batteries in laptops and other electronic devices are prone to overheating and exploding when packed with aerosol cans like hairspray, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The FAA says there have been few such incidents because most people bring their electronic devices, like smartphones and laptops, in carry-on bags.

But in multiple tests, the agency packed a laptop with items such as nail polish, aerosol shampoo and hand sanitizer. All the items caused a fire, but the dry shampoo caused an explosion far larger than an airplane's fire-safety system could suppress, according to a working paper released by the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization.

The agency is not seeking a domestic ban but wants to make stored laptops a global issue through the U.N. In any event, it could take years before a ban is implemented by participating countries. Several airplane manufacturers and the European Aviation Safety Agency have agreed with the working paper’s conclusions.

Any ban on checked laptops may surprise passengers, given that the Department of Homeland Security has also moved to ban carry-on laptops from some countries. But in July, the Transportation Security Administration lifted restrictions on personal electronic devices from flights originating in Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. after those countries enhanced their security measures.

Since 2006, three cargo jets have exploded in battery-related fires, killing four pilots. The latest study is likely to not only spur debate on where laptops should be stowed but also on the kinds of batteries inside them. Rechargable lithium batteries, found in many consumer products, can heat dangerously under certain conditions.