United Flight Diverts To Ireland After Business Class Passenger’s Laptop Gets Stuck

United Airlines flight 12 from Zurich to Chicago diverted to Shannon, Ireland on Sunday when a passenger’s laptop got stuck in a business class seat.

The Boeing 767-300 was carrying 157 passengers and 10 crew. Crew couldn’t get the laptop out, so the pilot decided to land – not because they wanted the passenger to be able to work inflight, but because lithium ion batteries can catch fire, and if that happened and the laptop was inaccessible over the Atlantic it would be a significant safety hazard.

United Airlines Business Class Seat

The flight took off around 10 a.m., and had already proceeded past Ireland when they turned around. The aircraft was on the ground at 1:42 p.m. Fire crews stood by due to the plane’s overweight landing (not having burned the usual amount of fuel yet inflight).

Engineers boarded the aircraft in an attempt to retrieve the laptop. They were not successful, and so staff had to remove cargo from a forward hold to access the laptop from beneath the passenger cabin.

While they’d hoped to be on the ground for just an hour, the flight was eventually cancelled when the crew timed out, and passengers were provided hotel rooms for the night.

According to United Airlines,

United flight 12 scheduled from Zurich to Chicago landed safely in Shannon to address a potential safety risk caused by a laptop being stuck in an inaccessible location. We’re working quickly to get customers to their final destination.

Laptop Keeps Me Productive Inflight

Lithium batteries, which power laptops and other electronic devices, pose a significant risk if damaged, as they can overheat and catch fire. While there are procedures to manage these inflight fires, that’s difficult if unable to reach the device that’s the source of the blaze.

In 2018, a mobile phone that had fallen between seats on a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles caught fire mid-flight, though the cabin crew managed to extinguish it. Data from the Federal Aviation Administration finds at least 68 verified lithium battery incidents on planes between March 2006 and February 2024, with 14 occurring in 2023.

Airlines frequently instruct passengers not to try to retrieve their electronic devices themselves if they get trapped in a seat. They don’t want to damage the seats and they don’t want the devices damaged or stuck eitheir due to fire and diversion risk.

I once fell asleep not fully in bed mode in ANA first class. I’d been working on my laptop and it was beside me. Waking up groggy, I moved the seat but the laptop was caught. Not fully realizing what was happening, I kept moving the seat – and I cracked the screen case. Fortunately the laptop was still useable for the rest of the trip!

(HT: Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

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. I’ve always thought business class seats, especially the older ones, are poorly designed in this regard. It’s too easy to lose items beneath them. I once lost a Kindle in a Lufthansa seat and didn’t realize until days later.

  2. I have never had a laptop battery go bad that included swelling and/or heating. I have had power bank batteries swell to the point I thought that they were dangerous but those often have lower quality batteries. They promptly got thrown out. As best I can tell, most problems occur first when the batteries are near fully charged or are fully charged. The quality of the batteries also has to be taken into consideration with high quality ones less likely to swell and/or heat. I wonder if a one sized all response to a laptop that is lost in first class or business class (this wouldn’t happen in a coach seat as there is no where for the laptop to go) will be to take the airplane down at the nearest airport which has a lot of other safety concerns involved with that.

  3. Leave the batteries at home. No reason to have your laptop with you on a flight, even a lengthy one (Zurich to San Francisco being one).

    What to do? Bring a book. If a book falls down between the seats it’s MOST unlikely to be a fire hazard, unless it’s a Steinbeck . . . but I digress.

  4. Yeah, the 0.0001% chance of that particular laptop catching fire at that particular moment is definitely worth the $100k+ expense of diverting. At no point in history until post COVID hysteria took over would any captain dare make such a stupid overreacting decision. Our society is now full of so many spineless fear riddled pansies. We’re doomed.

  5. @Mantis Lithium Ion batteries are not allowed in the hold. Are you suggesting that the United pilot should have kept flying in violatin of Federal Aviation Regulations that prohibit this sort of item in the hold?

    I don’t think they really had a choice here.

  6. I see that the Luddites are out and about. The FAA says this: “Most consumer personal electronic devices containing batteries are allowed in carry-on and checked baggage, including but not limited to cell phones, smart phones, data loggers, PDAs, electronic games, tablets, laptop computers, cameras, camcorders, watches, calculators, etc. This covers typical dry cell batteries, lithium metal, and lithium ion batteries for consumer electronics (AA, AAA, C, D, button cell, camera batteries, laptop batteries, etc.)” Loose lithium based batteries and lithium based power banks should be in carry on luggage or on the person in some way. This laptop was not a problem and the story does not claim it was in the hold, only that the way to access it was through the hold. I suppose as a partial measure, all electronic devices containing lithium based batteries could be required to be stowed in luggage at all times on the airplane (sarcasm.)

  7. incredible the cost and inconvenience to divert an aircraft for something like that. The seat manufacturers will have to develop some kind of a guard (rail) to ensure the laptop cannot penetrate the lower seat. And passengers told about the danger of their laptop batteries and how they must handle the computer on the aircraft.

  8. The Boeing 767 has other poorly designed sections that seem like there was no QA inspection, ergonomic testing, and a design review. For example, for unknown crazy reasons Boeing relocated the media control buttons on the arm rest so that one accidentally hits them often during the flight. Very annoying. Boeing should let Europe do the designing and QA.

  9. I did some searching and could not find a passenger airplane hull loss due to consumer electronics with lithium based batteries. There have been some injuries but relatively few. There have been some incidents, though. Some airlines have gone the route of having smartphones used instead of seat back IFE systems. Airplanes also come with power to the seats, often by USB. I wonder if airlines will now do a better job of cleaning airplanes so that they can make sure that they retrieve any forgotten or lost electronic devices containing lithium based batteries, that is if they are so dangerous. Hopefully electronic devices will contain sensors and alert circuits in the future that will alarm well before noticeable thermal runaway occurs. I believe that is technologically feasible so a law requiring it on new devices could eventually cover the majority of devices out there.

  10. You can on most airlines check your laptop/MacBook Pro or iPad in your checked luggage. I’ve done it a few times. This does seem to be an over-reaction.

  11. For those saying Lithium batteries can’t take a plane down please google UPS flight 6

  12. Stopped traveling with my laptop a few years back due to the battery in the, less than 2 year old laptop, suddenly severely overheated, swelled and broke apart the keyboard.

  13. @Mantis Air traffic is at an all time high and cheaper than ever. It’s been 19 years since an airline crash in the US. Apparently the adults are right and you are wrong. Sorry you’re soooooo easily triggered.

  14. The restrictions on lithium batteries to aircraft holds have to do with bulk shipments, not individual batteries already installed in a device.

    Remember when the regulators essentially banned all WiFi and cell phone signals to be turned off when an aircraft left the gate for fear of interfering with aircraft instruments, navigation and/or communications? Now the airlines actually encourage passengers with device radios by making passengers use their lithium-powered devices and radios in place of in-flight entertainment systems at passenger seats. And they actually want to sell you an Internet connection via WiFi by selling you WiFi access in order to make more money. Mixed “signals” at best, I say.

  15. Why is a seat design permitted that permits there to be a space inaccessible to the crew? I can think of nefarious possibilities here.

    As for the fact that no passenger jet has been lost to a lithium-ion incident, that’s **because** the rules require such batteries to be in accessible locations. If a battery shorts itself the fire it creates is small enough that it can be effectively fought with on-board resources and thus it poses no appreciable danger. But note that this is based on the assumption that it can be fought–a battery trapped where the crew can’t get to it is functionally the same as if it was in the hold. And lithium-ion batteries in the hold **have** brought down a plane. You’re evaluating it as not a risk because the risk mitigations do their job–except in this case they weren’t available.

  16. @Kiwi

    I googled the flight. Here’s the takeaway:

    The GCAA released its final investigation report in July 2013.[20] The report indicated that the fire was caused by the autoignition of the contents of a cargo pallet that contained more than 81,000 (!) lithium batteries and other combustible materials. The shutdown of air conditioning pack 1 for unknown reasons allowed smoke to enter the cockpit.

    That’s not one laptop battery. This is ridiculous…

  17. I may have missed this, but WHERE did it get stuck? It would be handy to know where NOT to stow my laptop on my next Polaris flight.

  18. Nickel-cadmium batteries swell. That’s likely what the old geezers keep remembering. Ignore them.

    Lithium is a name for a generic element and there are several DIFFERENT battery technologies using Lithium. LiOn is lithium ion. LiPo is lithium phosphate. LiFePo is lithium ferric phosphate. The latter two are the newest. LiFePo doesn’t swell.

    Swelling comes from battery degradatation and overcharging. If it’s not actively charging it won’t swell. Period.


    UA Captain that night “And then I said, we can’t fly with a stuck laptop!” FO: “Yeah I said ‘yeah'”. FA: I told them it could be potentially explosive or fatal or swell or something. Other FA: “yeah”. Onlookers: Buy this HERO CREW A DRINK! They just saved a lot of lives!!!! And that laptop… whatever happened to it.”

    Tell you what. It’s 20240520. Where’s the NTSB report?

  19. @Ehud Gavron, my personal experience with lithium ion batteries is that when they start to swell a significant amount, they will continue to swell even after charging power is removed from them until a new pressure equilibrium is reached. I have continued to use power banks that have only swollen a little bit. They still held most of their charge but eventually started fracturing their case as they continued to swell.

  20. @Loren, passengers are the most dangerous cargo on passenger flights so I guess the best logic would be to remove all of them for safer flights (sarcasm).

  21. So many people accidentally leave batteries in their luggage it’s not even funny. And yet this flight had to be diverted for one inaccessible (not even damaged) laptop? Ridiculous overreaction.

  22. My wife and I were flying from Zurich to Oregon in 1998. A passenger came down with Appendicitis. We had to land in Shannon after dumping a bunch of fuel. The passenger was removed but they made the passengers stay on board. The AC was turned off and the toilets wouldn’t flush. We were fed our dinner early. It was miserable. When we finally made our one stop in Cincinnati; it was later than our scheduled arrival in Oregon. We were told our delay in Shannon was due to waiting for the brakes to cool down after the plane’s braking overheated them. They wouldn’t refuel until the brakes were cool. The point of this is we could have been let off the plane to rest and bathroom in the comfort of the airport; instead of being held hostage for hours on the plane. The folks in this story were lucky.

  23. I was in this flight. We were about 500 miles past Ireland when the pilot notified us we were turning around due to safety reasons. We were headed over the longest stretch of water and Greenland.
    We were greeted in Shannon Ireland by 3 fire trucks. The ground crew tried to find the laptop but to no avail. there was not enough time to get us to Chicago. United put us up in a local hotel for the night.
    Our flight was to leave at 1:30 the next day. Unfortunately due to weight discrepancies, we were not allowed to leave the gate for 1.5 hours later while they were figure out how to adjust the plane weight balance. We got to Chicago at 6:20. The flight crew was extremely professional and upfront with all the information that was available. On the bright side we got to see a little bit of the Ireland countryside, had some Irish food, beer, and another passport stamp which we were not expecting.

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