Air safety chiefs have put out an urgent warning about the dangers of lithium ion batteries catching fire on aircraft amid fears they could cause catastrophic damage to the plane. 

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says that if the batteries catch fire, especially in the aircraft hold, the chances of the blaze being contained are “poor”. 

Now it has issued urgent guidance for passengers with large portable electronic devices such as laptops on how to pack them in their luggage to try to mitigate the chance of a fire caused by dangerously overheating batteries from breaking out and then spreading. 

It stresses that wherever possible electronic devices should be in the passenger cabin so if a fire does break out the crew can deal with it “expeditiously”.

EASA now recommends operators to request passengers to ensure that any large devices that cannot be carried in the passenger cabin (perhaps due to their size) and so go in the hold should be:

Completely switched off and effectively protected from accidental activation. To ensure the device is never powered on during its transport, any application, alarm or pre-set configuration that may activate it shall be disabled or deactivated.

Protected from the risk of accidental damage by applying suitable packaging or casing or by being placed in a rigid bag protected by adequate cushioning such as clothes. 

Not carried in the same baggage together with flammable material such as perfumes and aerosols.

Where carry-on bags are put in the hold (perhaps due to the lack of space) operators are reminded to ensure that passengers are requested to remove from the bag any spare batteries or e-cigarettes. 

* AvSax fire containment bags are now on board several major airlines worldwide.

If an electronic device starts to seriously overheat or emit smoke the cabin crew will pour at least two litres of water into an AvSax and then drop the burning device into the bag, adding additional water as required. The water activates the polymer gel inside the bag causing it to expand around the device. Should the device keep on venting then the AvSax is tough enough to absorb the force. 

The AvSax cools the batteries in the device, reducing the likelihood of the battery catching fire but if it does go into what is known as thermal runaway when all the battery cells catch fire at incredibly hot temperatures it is all contained within the bag.