Portable Electronics Are Catching Fire On Planes: How Airlines Handle It When Your Phone Explodes

A passenger’s power bank exploded on board a flight from Boracay in the Philippines to Shanghai, China.

The cabin began filling with smoke. As a result, Royalair Philipines flight 602 made an emergency landing in Hong Kong on Monday. No one was injured.

Sometimes phones and other electronic devices catch fire – and this is actually something that airlines prepare for!

Electronics fires are usually fully manageable when they occur inside the passenger cabin of an aircraft, but not as manageable when they occur inside the cargo hold of a plane. In the cargo hold they can do fire suppression but can’t do anything beyond that.

That’s why a generation of ‘smart’ suitcases were been banned even as carry on bags, since there’s always the chance a carry on with an un-removable battery might have to be checked. It’s important to keep lithium ion batteries and other potential combustibles out of a plane’s cargo area.

As a result of the risk of an electronics fire, U.S. airlines board fire containment bags and heat resistant gloves on aircraft. That way when electronic devices catch fire they can deal with it. Once the electronics that caught fire is isolated, the fire containment bag gets stored in a metal cart in the galley, to be retrieved when the aircraft lands.

If your device goes into ‘thermal runaway’ you should fully expect that it will be confiscated. If it ‘just’ overheats it may be returned to you.

At least that’s the world standard, though. Here’s how it sometimes goes on China Southern Airlines:

This is why it was such a dangerous idea when the federal government sought to ban electronics in the passenger cabin in 2017, requiring customers to check them as baggage instead. Those fires might not get contained.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Let Reddit tell it, power banks are the absolute best thing to have in your air travel arsenal. This confirms my existing suspicions. Another reason not to listen to those idiots.

  2. Power banks = good

    Power banks from Wish, Temu or other fly-by-night cheapo outfits = Russian Roulette

  3. If you find yourself reaching for power banks, consider replacing your device’s battery. A new battery holds much more charge than a 2 year old battery that has gone through 500+ cycles.

  4. I have many power banks, some of which are in my carry-on luggage when I fly. I use them to charge my phones instead of directly charging them with the wall plug charger that is sometimes left out of the phone box. I have helped the person in the next seat keep enough power on their phone to make a call after landing and before leaving the airplane. I have had a few go dead and a few swell. Those have been disposed of. I doubt that the power bank exploded unless it was physically damaged or shorted very solidly with heavy gauge wire. It most likely just caught on fire.

  5. Almost 17,000 aircraft now operated by more than 100 airlines worldwide have AvSax lithium battery fire mitigation bags which have saved dozens of aircraft from having to make emergency landings during such incidents. Read more on the website http://www.avsax.com which has an amazing library of these incidents in its news section.

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