As FAA considers electronics ban, battery explosion sparks chaos at airport

A loud explosion caused panic and delayed flights at the Orlando International Airport on Friday, November 10 — but officials later confirmed that what many travelers thought was a gunshot was actually a lithium-ion battery exploding inside of a passenger’s bag.

According to a statement from the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Phil Brown, a passenger in the main terminal had a camera inside of their carry-on, which caught fire and began to smoke inside of the bag.

“Realizing this, the passenger of course immediately dropped the bag and those around them moved away from it,” Brown wrote. “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 rescreen everyone at the airport, Brown said, including passengers that had already boarded waiting flights. The rescreen process caused a 2.5-hour delay through most of the airport, with the gate where the explosion occurred not resuming normal activity for about four hours. Along with a number of delayed flights, the change caused 24 flights to be canceled, according to local news outlets.

While the bag with the camera began to smolder, no injuries were reported.

The incident comes after the TSA revised security measures regarding electronics, requiring travelers to remove any electronics from their bags and send them through a separate screening process. Just last month, the FAA released a report recommending any electronic device larger than a smartphone be banned from checked bags.

According to the report, batteries packed near items like hairspray, even under the eight-ounce limit, could cause a fire. In an FAA test, packing a laptop next to dry shampoo, nail polish remover, hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol all resulted in fires, with the dry shampoo creating a fire that couldn’t be contained by fire prevention systems already installed in aircrafts. If the proposal is approved, electronics would be required to be taken in carry-on luggage. The Orlando incident could bring that proposal back into the spotlight.

The FAA already has a ban on uninstalled lithium-ion batteries inside of checked baggage. According to the FAA, if a battery comes in contact with something metal like a pair or keys, coins or the contact point on another battery, the battery can create an unprotected circuit, generating extreme heat. Earlier this year, a passenger’s headphones caught fire during a flight; a flight attendant put that fire out with a bucket of water.

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