The Australian Transport Safety Bureau reports that a woman flying from Beijing to Melbourne received bad burns on her face, neck, hair, and hand, when her headphones caught fire two hours into the flight. She was asleep, with music on, when she was awoken by the explosion.
“As I went to turn around I felt burning on my face,” the woman told the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. “I just grabbed my face which caused the headphones to go around my neck. I continued to feel burning so I grabbed them off and threw them on the floor. They were sparking and had small amounts of fire."
Major props go out to the plane's flight attendants, who quickly grabbed a bucket of water. The headphones were dunked in it and the battery and its cover melted onto the plane's floor. The report does not say what brand of headphones the woman was wearing, but lithium batteries in tech products have been at fault in the past. In 2014, lithium batteries in a passenger's checked baggage caught fire in a plane's cargo hold. They were also at the center of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 debacle.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has guidelines for lithium batteries, portable chargers, and external batteries, instructing that all spare batteries must be covered and packed in carry-on luggage. There are also size limits and limits on the number of batteries you can carry. What's concerning here is that the batteries were not spare — they were installed in the woman's headphones.
It isn't clear how the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA will deal with the issue moving forward.
"After years with TSA and decades in aviation, I think it will be interesting to see how quickly the DOT and FAA make a decision," says Justin Oberman, a TSA cofounder and VP of identify strategy at SureID. "SureID recently conducted a survey that found 83% of millennials value convenience more than safety, so unless these devices are banned from flights, I imagine most passengers will take the risk rather than buying new ones or traveling without music."
If something is going to be done, Oberman says that the DOT and FAA would need to address headphone use first, and the TSA would be the group that would actually enforce the ban.
We'll continue to update this piece if we learn more details.