As FAA Considers Ban of Electronics, Battery Explosion Sparks Panic and Delayed Flights at Orlando Airport

On Friday, November 10, a loud explosion sparked panic and delayed flights at the Orlando International Airport. However, officials later established that what most travellers thought was the sound of a gunshot was actually a lithium-ion battery that exploded inside of a bag of a passenger.

According to a statement that was made by Phil Brown of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, a passenger in the main terminal of the airport had a camera inside of their carry-on. The camera caught fire and started to smoke inside of the bag.

“Realizing this, the passenger of course immediately dropped the bag, and those around them moved away from it,” wrote Brown. “Emergency services arrived quickly and moved the bag farther away from passengers queued for security. Unfortunately, with all of the events occurring around the world, some witnesses panicked and self-evacuated the area dropping their carry-on luggage and knocking over the stanchions queueing the checkpoint. Others hearing the luggage being dropped, stanchions falling, and rapid movement mistook the sounds as gunfire, and within seconds a spontaneous evacuation of the main terminal occurred.”

Because of the incident, the TSA opted to have everyone rescreened at the airport, said Brown, including passengers that had already boarded and those who were waiting for flights. The process of rescreening prompted a delay that lasted for 2.5 hours through the majority of the airport, with the gate where the explosion took place not resuming normal activity for around four hours. According to local news outlets, the change caused 24 flights to be cancelled along with some delayed flights.

No injuries were reported while the bag with the camera started to smoulder.

The said incident happened after the TSA updated security measures with regards to electronics, demanding travellers to remove any types of electronics from their bags and have the items go through a separate process of screening. Only last month, the FAA published a report which recommended that any electronic device that is larger than a smartphone should be prohibited from checked bags.

According to the said report, batteries that are packed near items such as hairspray (even those that are below the eight-ounce limit) could start a fire. In a test of the FAA, packing a laptop next or nears nail polish remover, dry shampoo, rubbing alcohol, and hand sanitizer, all resulted in fires, with the dry shampoo starting a fire that could not be contained by fire prevention systems that are already installed in aircrafts. If the proposal is approved, electronics would be expected to be taken in carry-on luggage. The Orlando incident could deliver that proposal back into the spotlight.

The FAA already has a prohibition on uninstalled lithium-ion batteries that are kept inside of checked baggage. The FAA said that if a battery comes in contact with things that are made with metal like a coins, pair or keys, or the contact point on another battery, the battery can produce an unprotected circuit, thus generating extreme heat. Earlier in 2017,  headphones of a passenger caught fire during a flight; a flight attendant managed to put out the fire using a bucket filled with water.