Traveling With Your Laptop and Phone

We can’t imagine going anywhere without our electronic devices. They’ve become a part of the way we live.

But every once in awhile, we’re reminded of how they can put us at risk.

Just this week, a JetBlue flight from New York to San Francisco was diverted to Michigan after a lithium-ion battery caught fire in a passenger’s carry-on bag. The occurrence wasn’t a lone event.

In March 2017, a passenger’s headphones caught fire on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne, blackening and blistering her face.

In October of 2016, a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight was powering down his phone for a flight when it began to smoke.

Small lithium batteries are commonly used in small, portable devices, such as phones, tablets, and laptops, as well as other electronic items such as watches, cameras, and even remote car locks. Lithium is safe, but with millions of products using the technology as a power source, occasionally things happen.

There are two basic types of failures.

The first occurs as a design defect. Something happens in the manufacturing process that puts the technology at risk, and when discovered, the company issues a recall.

The more difficult to detect are the random events like those listed above. These are likely caused by stress events when using a device, like charging at sub-freezing temperatures, a sudden vibration, or just a random fluke incident.

Mild shorts can occur at any time. In most cases, the heat buildup is very low and doesn’t cause a problem. But if enough particles converge in one spot, a sizeable current can begin to flow. And if enough power is kept at this point for an extended period, it heats up and weakens. If enough combustible material is located around it, it can quickly catch fire and escalate to even exploding.

Still, the risk is low. With millions of laptops and smart devices used every single day, reports of problems are rare.

But there is a larger potential problem brewing.

Recently, bans have been enacted that require passengers to begin checking laptops instead of carrying them on board. That means dozens of laptops will potentially make their way underneath the plane, out of sight. That alone will increase the risk of a potential fire getting out of control.

There’s more. It also increases the risk of laptops disappearing altogether from the checked baggage. The risk for fire is still extremely low. The risk for your laptop “disappearing” from your luggage will be at an all-time high.

What would happen if your laptop suddenly disappeared? Do you have sensitive material available to anyone that powers up and clicks on a few items? Do you risk losing months, years worth of work because it’s stored on your hard drive?

Or are you 100 percent cloud-based, with your laptop merely a device to have access to the data?

Just one more reminder that while we rely on our digital devices for just about everything we do, safety and security should always be at the forefront of our minds.

Leave a Reply