A recent incident involving an electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, highlights the potential risk for the device to self-ignite, as a passenger in the United States discovered.
As reported by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), the passenger’s flight had just landed and she was walking through the airport when she noticed her handbag was smouldering.
After hurrying outside the terminal to dump her handbag, she discovered that the e-cigarette had melted several items.
The incident was reported by a cabin crewmember via the United States Aviation Safety Reporting Scheme (ASRS), where it’s detailed that the e-cigarette’s safety switch wasn’t activated.
In an attempt to replicate the act of smoking, battery-operated e-cigarettes convert liquid nicotine to an inhalable vapour by heating it close to 100 degrees. Some e-cigarette ‘smokers’ modify these devices, disabling safety mechanisms to make them easier to use.
E-cigarettes come in a range of shapes and sizes, with built-in safety capabilities varying between models. Apart from being unpleasant for non-smoking passengers nearby, when packed in checked luggage, e-cigarettes represent an emerging safety risk..
As Flight Safety Australia reported last year, an e-cigarette ignited a fire inside the cargo hold of a JetBlue passenger aircraft at Boston-Logan international airport. The e-cigarette—located in an exterior zippered compartment of a soft-sided bag—was inadvertently activated while being loaded onto a flight.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) modified its technical instructions in June, prohibiting passengers and crew from carrying e-cigarettes and other battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices in checked baggage. The amendment also prohibits recharging the devices in aircraft cabins.
Passengers should also ensure that e-cigarettes are carried so that they cannot be accidentally activated, by putting the device in appropriate housing or packaging. Any spare batteries must have their terminals protected to prevent the risk of short-circuiting, which can also lead to fire.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has produced the Can I pack that? Dangerous Goods App to help inform the public on how to carry items such as e-cigarettes safely.