My son worked in an Apple store while he was in college and would relay stories about international customers who walked in with wads of cash to buy phones, laptops and tablets that were significantly less expensive in the United States than in their home countries. Sometimes the cash transactions were large enough that a security guard had to be on hand while the money was counted out on the counter. I always found these stories amusing because it was hard to envision people coming to Washington for bargains.
What I didn’t think of at the time is that customers who buy and then travel with multiple lithium battery–powered devices increase the risk of an in-flight fire, but apparently this is enough of a problem to have attracted the attention of the airline industry.
“When we fly, a lot of us have a laptop, tablet, a phone, even two phones, and that’s quite reasonable,” said Dave Brennan, assistant director, cargo, safety and standards, International Air Transport Association (IATA). “But what we are seeing is people flying to different parts of the world — where they can buy PEDs [personal electronic devices] very cheaply — and they’ll maybe purchase 20 or more devices. … You could even get someone flying to Hong Kong and buying about 100 phones.”
So recently, IATA updated its Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGRs) to limit the number of PEDS with which passengers and crew are allowed to travel. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, the regulations will restrict passengers and crew from travelling with more than 15 PEDs, and more than 20 spare batteries.
Passengers who want to travel with more than the allowable number of devices and spares will have to get approval from the airline involved. The revisions to the DGRs also would prevent lithium batteries from being packed with other dangerous goods, such as flammable liquids, solids and gases, which is an issue also being studied by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
IATA said the main challenge is ensuring that the DGRs are adopted across the industry. “It’s about safety at the end of the day. That’s the clear message—adoption equals safety,” said James Wyatt, IATA Assistant Director, Dangerous Goods Publications.