Would an Airline Laptop Ban Increase the Risk of Flying?

From the Los Angeles Times:

As the U.S. government considers expanding a ban on laptop computers and other electronic devices from the cabins of commercial flights, federal data show that storing such devices in the cargo area of a plane could increase the risk of fires.

Indeed. Here’s FAA data on known fires from lithium-ion batteries on passenger flights:

Battery fires have skyrocketed since 2015. When they’re in the passenger compartment, they can usually be extinguished without too much trouble. But if they’re in the cargo hold, there’s a greater risk of a battery explosion causing major damage—and possible loss of life—before it’s put out.

Ironically, this is an example of something I was complaining about yesterday: comparing deaths from terrorism with deaths from accidents like bathtub falls. In this case, though, it’s a live question. What are the odds of a plane going down because a terrorist has smuggled an explosive onto a plane inside a laptop computer? And what are the odds of a plane going down because of a laptop battery fire in a cargo hold?

I assume the chances of the latter are small, since it’s never happened. Then again, the chances of the former are pretty minuscule too. Has anyone tried to do a hazard analysis of this? Are there better ways of making sure electronic devices don’t contain explosives? And how do you factor in the loss of convenience from banning laptops? Those are good questions. Anyone have any answers?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.