Fire on board
A screengrab from the video taken by a passenger shows smoke in the cabin of a Royal Air Philippines flight RW602 following a fire triggered by a powerbank explosion on February 19, 2024. Image Credit: Youtube screengrab

Lithium-ion batteries, the stuff that power our everyday items, are often likened to a tank of gasoline or a bullet in a gun. They all contain significant amounts of energy. If released unintentionally, they can lead to a fire or even an explosion.

The biggest upside of lithium batteries: high energy density (high power for less weight). The downside: they can catch fire, or trigger explosions, if damaged or if battery terminals are short-circuited.

When transported by air, they pose a major safety risk. As a result, strict regulations and safety measures are in place, updated each year, to ensure air travel safety.

Here’s what you need to know on the latest International Air Travel Association (IATA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules on lithium batteries:

Question: Can I take lithium batteries on a plane?

Answer: Yes, but only in carry-on baggage and within a certain power rating.

In general, spare (uninstalled) lithium ion and lithium metal batteries, including power banks and cell phone battery charging cases, must be carried in carry-on baggage only, and NOT in the checked-in luggage.

What are the latest IATA rules?

The Montreal-based International Air Travel Association (IATA) stated in its latest guidance: “Most people are not aware that lithium batteries are dangerous goods that can pose a safety risk if not prepared in accordance with the transport regulations.”

To help with compliance, IATA has developed guidance for shippers, freight forwarders, ground handlers, airlines and passengers – updated for 2024 under the “65th Edition of the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR)”. It defines products considered dangerous, classes, exceptions, and prohibitions.

What type of power banks are prohibited?

Various airlines strictly prohibit power banks with a capacity of more than 160Wh.

With airline approval, passengers may also carry up to two spare larger lithium ion batteries (101–160 Wh) or lithium metal batteries (2-8 grams).

So is it OK to bring a 20,000-mAH (milliampere hour) power bank on flights? Given that 20,000 mAH equates to less than 100 watt-hours, it is permissible to carry it in cabin luggage.

lithium battery fires
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal | Gulf News | Data source: FAA

This is a standard protocol as per FAA: “Devices containing lithium metal batteries or lithium-ion batteries, including – but not limited to – smartphones, tablets, cameras and laptops, should be kept in carry-on baggage. If these devices are packed in checked baggage, they should be turned completely off, protected from accidental activation and packed so they are protected from damage,” the agency added.

Why do lithium batteries catch fire?

Dr Greg Less, a battery chemistry expert and technical director at the University of Michigan Battery Lab, has over a decade of research and development experience in lithium-ion batteries.

“Just like a tank of gasoline or a bullet in a gun, a battery has a lot of energy in it,” said Dr Less. “If the energy is released in a way that we don’t want it to be released, a fire — or even an explosion — can occur.”

What is “thermal runaway”?

The term “runaway thermal event” appears frequently in these reports, referring to a phenomenon where the battery enters an uncontrollable, self-heating state.

What is a "thermal containment bag"?

“Thermal containment bag”, an item that only became commonplace on airplanes in 2016 (following a number of explosions of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones) are fire-containment bags capable of sealing up an overheating battery-operated device to prevent a midair disaster.

How to prevent lithium battery fire?

Hundreds of thousands of these things are being made per hour. In that mass production process, if something goes wrong even a little bit, it might be very difficult to catch.

From the manufacturing standpoint, there are a lot of pieces and processes that go into making the battery work. If any of those prices go wrong, if there’s a chance for energy to be released.

The reason this happens is because the electrolyte inside the battery is an organic solvent and that solvent is flammable. If the battery can’t vent, it builds up pressure as electrolyte burns, and then it explodes.

The small manufacturing mistakes lead to big problems down the line. In previous instances of batteries catching fire, the course has been bad welds, according to Dr. Less.

What are the signs of battery damage?

Signs that a battery is damaged includes bulging or cracking, hissing, leaking, rising temperature, and smoking before use, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Damaged batteries should never be carried onto airplanes. If a passenger notices signs of damage or problems once on board, the flight attendant should be notified.

What type of fire can lithium batteries trigger?

Lithium battery fire is considered a “Class B” fire, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Some common causes of Class B fire include:

  • Petroleum-based products like gasoline and diesel.
  • Alcohol and alcohol-based solutions.
  • Oil-based paints.
  • Flammable gases like propane and butane.
  • Lithium-ion batteries.

Here are comparisons between Class B fires and other classes:

  • Class A fires involve solid materials such as wood and paper.
  • Class B fires involve flammable liquids and gasses like oils and alcohols.
  • Class C fires are electrical fires that involve energised electrical equipment.
  • Class D fires consist of combustible metals like magnesium or titanium.
  • Class K fires, commonly encountered in restaurant settings, pertain to cooking oils.

Understanding the distinctions is essential for effective fire suppression –using the wrong suppression method can pose significant dangers, so it is important to accurately identify the cause. (Source: FAA)

How many battery fires on flights have been reported so far?

Industry data shows there has been an increasing trend in the number of lithium-ion battery fires aboard flights. FAA reported that incidents involving lithium-ion battery fires have surged by over 42 per cent from 2018 to 2022.

There's been a total of nearly 500 reported incidents of lithium battery fires on flights (including more than 60 in 2023 alone), FAA reported.


Number of lithium battery fires on flights reported in 2023 (Source: FAA)

Instances of overheated lithium batteries leading to smoke, fire, or extreme heat on aircraft are now occurring at an average rate of more than one per week.

These fires can be particularly dangerous. Due to their sudden volatility and the presence of heavy metals in the electronics, they can be difficult to fight.

Experts note that the most dangerous component of these fires is often the smoke – which can proliferate quickly through the cabin, and which contains many harmful and potentially deadly chemicals.

During flight, how can lithium battery fire be extinguished?

At a forum organised by ViewTech, a manufacturer of borescopes and visual testing equipment, FAA Executive Director Ben Supko highlighted the importance of proper training and awareness for identifying and fighting dangerous events triggered by lithium battery fires on board.

Supko pointed out the best and most “repeatable steps” for extinguishing a lithium battery fire safely are as follows:

  • Identify the flame early.
  • Knock down the flame using an extinguisher.
  • Use non-flammable liquids to douse and cool the device.
  • Seal the device in an FAA-certified electronics fire containment bag.


  • As the number of battery-powered devices on planes continues to trend upward year-to-year, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects these fires to continue becoming more common.
  • With a total of 481 reported incidents of lithium battery fires on flights (including 46 in 2023 alone), the FAA stresses the importance of proper training and awareness for identifying and fighting these dangerous events.
  • FAA guidance outlines clear and repeatable steps for reducing the risk of an uncontrolled lithium battery fire (early identification, knock down flames, submerge in liquids, seal in fire containment bag)