The FAA is warning airlines that rechargeable lithium-ion batteries pose a risk of “catastrophic aircraft loss” because the batteries can catch fire and explode, and that current fire-suppressing systems on planes cannot control a lithium-battery fire. The reason this is potentially terrifying to travelers is that rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are found in cell phones and other electronic devices.
Take a deep breath. Exhale. You okay? While you're certainly going to see some hysterical headlines about this issue, the good news is that the high risk of fire and explosion the FAA is talking about is associated primarily with cargo containing high-powered batteries or large shipments of batteries. The battery in your phone is not going to set off the kind of apocalyptic pyrotechnics seen in this shocking FAA video. (Say “thank you” next time you have to charge your tiny phone battery: Its relatively short life is what makes it safer than, say, the battery in a hoverboard or larger piece of electronic equipment.)
Many passenger airlines are voluntarily agreeing to stop carrying rechargeable lithium-ion batteries as cargo, and the FAA is urging airlines to assess safety risks to better manage the potential dangers posed by lithium batteries. Whether this changes the we travel with personal battery-powered electronic devices like phones and tablets in the future remains to be seen.