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Vape cigarette battery sets fire to luggage in aircraft cargo hold

An e-cigarette battery set fire to an air passenger’s luggage while it was being loaded into the hold of a United Airlines flight, according to reports.

Baggage handlers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport spotted smoke coming from a bag as they stowed it in an aircraft destined for Houston, said Seattle’s Komo News.

Firefighters extinguished the flames and traced the source of the fire to a vape cigarette battery which was connected to a charger, reported the newspaper. The owner of the bag was identified, and the flight took off slightly delayed.

United Airlines has been contacted for comment.

E-cigarettes are powered by lithium-ion batteries – a particularly volatile type of rechargable cell that has been linked to spontaneous fires in smartphones and other electronic devices.

The US Department of Transportation and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) prohibit the transportation of electronic cigarettes in checked-in baggage, due to the volatility of their lithium-ion batteries. They must be carried in hand luggage, but using vapes in the cabins of commercial flights is also illegal.

This isn’t the first incident of its kind. In 2014, firefighters at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, were called to extinguish a passenger’s vape that had ignited inside a cargo hold. And in March this year, a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta International to St Louis was delayed when a passenger’s e-cigarette set light to their carry-on bag during boarding.

United Airlines’ baggage guidance states: “Electronic cigarettes and personal vaporizers will not be accepted in checked or gate-checked baggage. These items may be stowed in carry-on baggage or on your person during travel, however, the use and charging of e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers is prohibited onboard all United flights.”

The CAA states that “e-cigarettes, e-cigars, personal vaporizers and electronic nicotine delivery systems all contain lithium batteries, which must be carried in the cabin and not in your suitcase”. See the CAA website for full guidance on travelling with lithium-ion batteries in phones, cameras and e-cigarettes.

“We know from recent incidents that e-cigarettes in checked bags can catch fire during transport,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx when e-cigarettes were banned from hold luggage in America. “Fire hazards in flight are particularly dangerous. Banning e-cigarettes from checked bags is a prudent safety measure.”

Earlier this month, it was announced that Samsung would halt the production of its lithium ion-powered Note 7 phone after multiple reports of the devices catching fire. Airlines such as Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific had prohibited passengers from bringing the smartphones on board.

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