Uh-oh: batteries banned from checked luggage starting next week

By | December 28th, 2007

A new Department of Transportation rule takes effect Jan. 1 that will prevent airline passengers from packing loose lithium batteries in their checked luggage. But just this once it isn’t terrorism fears that have led to the restrictions, but safety considerations, according to the government.

The announcement, which was made by the DOT this morning, is bound to be misinterpreted by the Transportation Security Administration, if not by airline passengers. So for those of us who carry a spare, here’s a primer on checked batteries:

• The ban affects only Lithium batteries. All others are presumably still fine.

• Common consumer electronics such as travel cameras, cell phones, and most laptop computers are still allowed in carry-on and checked luggage. (Note: airlines won’t cover any loss or damage to electronics that are checked in. Don’t check these items in. Repeat: don’t check them. Ever.)

• Lithium batteries are allowed in checked baggage if they are installed in electronic devices.

• Batteries carried on must be stored in plastic bags.

• There’s a limit of two spare rechargeable lithium batteries, such as laptop and professional audio/video/camera equipment lithium batteries in carry-on baggage.

What’s behind the rule? Well, unlike most liquids, gels and pies, which are not combustible, Lithium batters apparently are explosive. Even without the presence of a terrorist on the plane.

Lithium batteries are considered hazardous materials because they can overheat and ignite in certain conditions. Safety testing conducted by the FAA found that current aircraft cargo fire suppression system would not be capable of suppressing a fire if a shipment of non-rechargeable lithium batteries were ignited in flight.

Why did the DOT wait until Jan. 1 to clamp down on batteries? Why not just issue a new directive, which would take effect immediately? Who knows.

Related story:   Did United Airlines do enough for mystery meat victim?

Folks, this one isn’t going to go down easy with wired travelers whose productivity would plummet without an adequate supply of spare batteries. And the TSA is going to have a field day with this new rule.

Just wait.

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