US bans lithium batteries from cargo holds on passenger flights

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules designed to protect air passengers from the potential dangers of lithium ion batteries. The new interim final rule disallows lithium ion cells and batteries in the cargo area of passenger airplanes. The rule also sets new guidance for lithium ion batteries that travel on cargo-carrying planes, specifying that they not exceed a state of being 30 percent charged.

“This rule will strengthen safety for the traveling public by addressing the unique challenges lithium batteries pose in transportation,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said of the new rule.

In 2016, the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Authority put similar restrictions in place for all member countries in an effort to prevent the risk of in-flight cargo hold fires. The rule won’t affect current guidance that allows electronic devices in the passenger cabin of planes, only codifying the guidance already in place by the U.N. authority under U.S. regulation.

The FAA’s current fact sheet suggests that these batteries should be carried in the passenger area and not checked, though it doesn’t go as far as banning them outright:

Devices containing lithium metal or lithium ion batteries, including – but not limited to – smartphones, tablets, and laptops, should be kept in carry-on baggage. If these devices are packed in checked baggage, they should be turned completely off, protected from accidental activation and packed so they are protected from damage.

While passengers won’t be required to change their behavior under the new ruleset, consumers may notice that batteries and charging devices shipped to them may arrive without a full charge.