Laptop Stuck in Cabin Prompts Diversion of United Airlines Transatlantic Flight, Leading to Over a Day's Delay


Laptop Stuck in Cabin Prompts Diversion of United Airlines Transatlantic Flight, Leading to Over a Day's Delay

A laptop lodged in an unreachable area within the cabin prompted the diversion of a United Airlines transatlantic flight this weekend, resulting in a delay of over a day, the airline reported.

United Airlines flight 12, which left Zurich on Sunday morning for Chicago, turned back mid-Atlantic, approximately five hours into the nearly ten-hour flight, according to FlightAware. The Boeing 767 was redirected to Shannon, Ireland, to manage a potential safety hazard posed by the misplaced laptop, as stated by a United Airlines spokesperson to USA TODAY.

The exact location where the laptop became stuck was not disclosed by the airline.

Electronic devices with lithium batteries, which are known for being powerful, affordable, and reliable, also pose significant risks due to their volatility, explained Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts and a pilot with over 55 years of experience. He referred to the phenomenon as a "(thermal) runaway," which means the device could potentially catch fire.

The risk of the laptop catching fire was a serious concern, as the battery might ignite from pressure or adjusting the seats. Aimer noted that once ignited, "you cannot put them out even if you submerge them in water... that was the fear of the crew, that the laptop would catch fire. Obviously, we can't have fire onboard the aircraft."

Due to the diversion adding extra time to the flight, the crew reached their maximum duty hours, necessitating the rescheduling of the flight to the following day.

United Airlines provided hotel accommodations for the 157 passengers stranded in Shannon and arranged a replacement aircraft to continue the journey to Chicago on Monday.

Aimer advised passengers to be vigilant about their electronic devices and to inform the crew if a device seems to be overheating. Some airlines are now equipped with specialized fire containment bags to manage fires from electronic devices.

The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries, found in items such as power banks, laptops, or phone charging cases, from being placed in checked baggage and requires them to be carried on.

From March 2006 to April 2024, there have been 530 verified incidents where lithium batteries caused smoke, fire, or extreme heat, with 387 occurring on passenger aircraft, according to FAA data.

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