Hoverboards are one of the coolest tech inventions of 2015, but they have made the no-fly list on many airlines despite FAA regulations that don’t explicitly prohibit them. This is noteworthy, but also understandable. Since 2008, lithium-ion batteries have been banned from checked baggage, and batteries in carry-on luggage cannot exceed 100 watt-hours (which is slightly bigger than a full-size laptop battery).
What’s the reason for the ban? In a word, fires. The crash of a UPS 747 freighter near Dubai in 2010 was affirmatively traced to lithium-ion battery fires. These types of batteries are easily damaged, and can violently explode in a massive fire that cannot be extinguished by normal means. It only takes one battery catching on fire to ignite every other battery nearby, resulting in a chain reaction big enough to bring down any airplane. Although the pop-ups are extremely annoying, this video made by some crazy Russians will help you understand what happens when a lithium battery catches fire:
“So what,” you may be thinking. “Millions of people travel all the time and their lithium batteries don’t catch fire.” And this is entirely true. Fire risk increases with the size of battery, and most devices don’t have large batteries. However, hoverboards do, and as it turns out, the cut-rate batteries and shoddy engineering used on the cheaper models poses a massive risk.
Alaska Airlines is one of the most enthusiastic early adopters of new technologies and they are based in tech-friendly Seattle, home of Amazon and Microsoft. So, when they issued a ban, I really sat up and took notice. Alaska performed independent tests on multiple hoverboard batteries. In their tests, they discovered that many batteries were labeled under 100 watt-hours, but were actually larger than this. This combined with a nationwide epidemic of hoverboard fires was enough: Alaska Airlines has banned hoverboards from their flights, and many other airlines have done the same.
Normally, I would be leading an outcry against knee-jerk reactions to ban new technologies. In this case, I can fully get behind Alaska Airlines. Fires on an aircraft are no joke. They’re one of the most dangerous things that can possibly happen inflight, and your chances of survival are slim if the plane you’re sitting in catches fire. Until better safety standards are in place, and battery ratings on hoverboards are proven to be credible, banning them is a smart move in the meantime.
Keep your travels safe this holiday season. Even if your airline doesn’t specifically ban hoverboards, please leave them at home. It’s not worth risking your life.