Recent rumors say that the laptop ban might be extended to flights originating in Europe heading for the USA. This made me think, if laptops are not safe for carriage in the cabin how can they be safe for carriage in the belly of the aircraft? Say that a notebook is short wired such that if it turns on it ignites the battery. Storing the laptop in your carry on luggage would result in a cabin fire which can be put out by the cabin crew. But if this same laptop is in a checked-in bag there is no cabin crew near it. How is this risk mitigated? Or what are the procedures in case of a belly fire?

Furthermore if a laptop is carried inside a carry-on bag it can be switched-on at the security checkpoint to verify that it is a working laptop.

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    $\begingroup$ You don't need a short circuit to get a Lithium pack on fire, mechanical damage will do. Have you ever seen how checked luggage is handled? It really is a recipe for disaster. $\endgroup$ – Pavel May 31 '17 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Pavel Oh wait... Now I know why Trump is so afraid of laptops. $\endgroup$ – Hugo Woesthuis May 31 '17 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with your question is it assumes the reason for the ban is the risk of battery fires. But how do you know it is the actual reason? $\endgroup$ – mins May 31 '17 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @HugoWoesthuis sounds like a problem that could be solved with a wall $\endgroup$ – CaffeineAddiction May 31 '17 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @CaffeineAddiction Exactly haha $\endgroup$ – Hugo Woesthuis May 31 '17 at 18:36

It's not about genuine laptops being safer as checked baggage. They're not, they're safer as carry-on baggage, where eventual fires can be identified, isolated and dealt with. That's why we have rules to make passengers carry-on lithium batteries more instead of checking them in. example

The reasoning explaining the ban is that an attacker might use the shell of a laptop to carry something on board. Turning on the laptop doesn't really prove much about it being genuine. You can take a Raspberry Pi that's size of a matchstick box, pair it with 2 AA batteries to create fake internals and connect them to the original display. That'll make a gutted-out laptop appear to run for few minutes, enough to fool any quick inspection. Leaving rest of space and mass budget to hide something sizeable, like a bomb or a weapon.

That's why you can't circumvent the ban by removing the battery and taking a charger instead. It refers to "large electronic devices", not necessary ones with a battery.

  • $\begingroup$ That seems to be the good answer, but without any reference it can't be much upvoted, just trusting your opinion. Any authoritative document supporting your suggestion? For example, I thought explosives could be sensed by an X-ray scanner (tomodensitometer), so hidden explosives in a plastic case shouldn't be a problem. $\endgroup$ – mins May 31 '17 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @mins, something should be easy to come up by Google as it was all over the news. Basically CIA claims to have ran across some concrete plan that would likely pass the X-ray—and as can be expected of information obtained from covert operation, didn't disclose any details. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jun 1 '17 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JanHudec: Thanks. It seems to be to prevent fake laptops to be pressed against the cabin skin. In the cargo their location will be random, and the effect minimized. Possibly the cargo content can be better inspected too. $\endgroup$ – mins Jun 1 '17 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @mins I referenced airline policy about li-ion cells. I don't think any other references could be cited. I never claimed that airports have no means of detecting explosives inside a laptop, I only said that it creates a hidden compartment. It obviously creates a security risk, because that bypasses one inspection in the chain of many, the organoleptic inspection. Nothing more, but nothing less either. $\endgroup$ – Agent_L Jun 2 '17 at 8:49

I don't know the exact reasoning behind the possible ban of laptops/tablets in carry-on luggage. If the DHS' main concern is physical access to the device then it is an understandable move.

Possible battery fire of said devices is a completely different animal and might be a risk not fully taken into account during the DHS decision making process. As you said, a fire in the cabin is accessible and can be fought by the cabin crew, a fire in the hold means flooding the hold with Halon 1301 and hope for the best.

There is - currently - no definite answer to your question. Safety and security is, in many ways, like trading risks/benefits and in this particular case we don't know the details on the security side of the equation. Therefore I hope that safety and security risks will be well weighted against each other prior to making a final decision.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm by no means an expert, but I'd say that Halon can't help, because Lithium cells have everything within them which is needed for sustainable fire. That makes them indistinguishable. Furthermore, there will be tens to hundreds battery packs in close proximity which can get ignited by the first fire. $\endgroup$ – Pavel May 31 '17 at 12:16
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    $\begingroup$ Halon will prevent the burning Lithium battery from setting anything more conventionally flammable on fire (such as the rest of the passenger's luggage, and the other passengers' luggage). The battery should burn itself out after generating a significant but not critical amount of smoke. A shipment of hundreds of Lithium batteries would be a different story. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 May 31 '17 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ ... which leads me to think that the principal cost of forcing passenger's laptop computers into the hold will be economic. The inevitable consequences will be much more frequent small fires, halon releases, emergency landings, damaged luggage, travel disruption, planes needing expensive post-fire maintenance, and so on. There should be no directly-caused loss of life, though one can't rule out an accident caused in part by reaction to the emergency situation (or heart attacks). $\endgroup$ – nigel222 May 31 '17 at 12:36

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