Igniting A Debate
March 24, 2015

Last week, KLM flight attendants put out a fire in an overhead compartment ’caused by a lithium-ion battery in passenger’s hand luggage’ on flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok.

Mobile phones, laptops and tablet computers are powered by lithium batteries. 

A KLM spokesperson said the incident occurred when the Boeing 777 carrying 321 passengers plus crew was taxiing to its gate at Bangkok International Airport after flying in from Amsterdam.

Laptop fire at LAX
A Lithium battery fire example in a laptop at LAX
In response, last week Boeing and other aircraft makers pressed for a ban on bulk lithium battery shipments on passenger planes, saying the threat of fires is ‘an unacceptable risk’.
What happens if the fire starts in the luggage compartment? 

New research shows that lithium batteries can explode and burn even more violently than previously thought, raising questions about their use and shipment on passenger airplanes.
A United Parcel Service cargo plane was carrying 81,000 lithium batteries when it caught fire and crashed after taking off from Dubai on Sept. 3, 2010.

Malaysian Airlines flight 370 was carrying a 440 pounds of lithium-ion batteries in the cargo hold when it vanished over the South China Sea.
For years FlyersRights challenged the safety of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner over its lithium-ion batteries that is used to run its electrical system, and disputed the FAA’s policy of delegating safety and regulatory authority to Boeing.
Cockpit Smoke Reported An Average Of Four Times A Month
From 2000 to 2013, more than 650 incidents of smoke in the cockpit have been reported to the FAA, according to the USA Today.
Over 200 emergency landings a year in the US are typically due to smoke or fire. A December 2014 DOT Advisory Circular (AC) about in-flight fires indirectly reveals the alarming lack of defense against airliner fires.
FlyersRights president Paul Hudson said, “After reading this, I cannot understand how the FAA could possibly permit two-engine planes like the Boeing 787 with fire prone lithium ion batteries to fly up to 5 1/2 hours from the nearest landing zone. This AC points out that fires not discovered and extinguished can become uncontrollable within 6-10 minutes and destroy an aircraft with 20 minutes.”
“The biggest danger of the long haul over ocean flights that are up to 5 hours from the nearest landing zone is that their emergency landing defense in case of fire is increasingly impractical,” Hudson said.
Also, the newer commercial airliners, Airbus 360 or 380 and Boeing 787 have order of magnitude increases in electrical power over older aircraft.

Allowing passengers to use laptops and other electronic devices and soon to provide plug in recharge outlets at seats adds hundreds of new potential sources of overheating, fire and smoke, which may increase the risks by 10 to several hundred fold.

To date, the FAA has ignored the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations and its own prior safety criteria regarding lithium-ion batteries on airliners.
Airlines:”What fuel surcharges?”
Remember the hornet’s nest we public advocates stirred up a few months back when we called for an end to the airlines’ phony ‘fuel surcharge’?
Even Senator Charles Schumer jumped into the fray, demanding a federal probe into airline prices.
A rule change from the DOT tried to fix that problem by requiring airlines to link fuel costs to the actual price of oil, and be transparent about costs that make up the fares.
FlyersRights hasn’t heard anything about fuel upcharges since then, so we checked in with the airlines to see if these phony fees have been eliminated.
Well, the clever airlines have quietly removed “fuel surcharge” from their vocabulary, but replaced it with “airline fees”and “carrier-imposed charges”.
By avoiding the word “fuel,” and saying these are fees the airlines themselves (and not the government) are tacking on, the airlines skillfully duck the new DOT rules.
The Whole Pricing Equation Is Fraudulent
As the Wall St. Journal’s Scott McCartney reported, fuel surcharges were never calculated based on the cost of fuel.
Fuel is an airlines’ biggest operating cost. So if that is true, then the assertion the surcharges do not factor in the cost of fuel is deceptive.
Who isn’t tired of “carrier imposed charges” by airlines, or mandatory “resort fees” by resorts and junk fees by car rental companies?  
Near-Perfect Obfuscation
The big US carriers have become very profitable enterprises by obfuscating the true cost of what they’re selling, and changing the terminology to escape regulations.  
We are seeing a demonstration of what most consumers already know: Once a fee goes on, it never comes off. When these surcharges first popped up, airlines defended them by insisting that fuel is their biggest cost. Now airlines are protecting their surcharges by saying other costs have gone up.

Paul Hudson, FlyersRights president, believes that a complaint filed with DOT is appropriate, “To fine airlines for using a deceptive practice of fuel surcharges to raise fares in violation of DOT guidelines and to evade excise taxes.”
He adds, “Only competition is likely to lower air fares. DOT can pressure airlines but this would require, in my opinion, jaw-boning by the DOT Secretary or President Obama.”