MacBooks can’t fly

MacBook Pro 2016/207

Not since the Note7 disaster has there been so much reaction to exploding batteries than the current MacBook battery recall. MacBooks can’t fly as checked-in baggage but wait, there is more.

Put bluntly all MacBooks can’t fly as checked baggage or air freight. While the battery recall issue only affects the million or so MacBook Pro Retina 15-inch sold between late 2015 and early 2017 there is no easy way for the fast-moving airline passenger and freight industry to know which ones are affected.

Apple’s recall program is here, and you can check your serial number to see if you have one. If so, stop using it and disconnect the charger. The replacement is via an Apple Authorised Service Provider or an Apple retail store. It may take one to two weeks, and there no loan program is offered.

If you are in doubt, the specs for the affected models are here. A lot of people like this model as it has dual USB-3, HDMI out, two Thunderbolt ports and a MagSafe charger port.

GadgetGuy contacted the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority to ask why MacBooks can’t fly

While it has not issued a formal statement, it was able to make unofficial comments.

Q: Why the blanket ban on MacBooks as check-in luggage?

A: The issue is that all MacBooks look alike and during check-in baggage scanning (X-ray) all it sees is the silhouette and significant component placement (specifically the Apple logo). Until Apple can come up with a way to identify ‘safe’ MacBooks during X-ray the fast-paced airline passenger and freight industry has to follow strict guidelines for lithium-ion battery checked luggage safety.

MacBooks can’t fly

Q: How long will the MacBooks ban last?

Technically it is indefinite until the [X-ray] technology can identify the affected models. That is not easy. We know that you can visually identify it by the MagSafe adapter and dual USB, but airlines can’t afford to slow down the baggage system to manually check.

Q: What about air freight?

MacBooks can’t fly. This will impact people sending [all] MacBooks for repair and even could stop Apple using airfreight.

Q: International bans?

The US Federal Aviation Authority and European Union Aviation Safety Agency have alerted airlines. It is safe to say that all international airlines are complying.

Q: Are MacBooks OK as cabin baggage?

Yes, but announcements will be made at check-in and again at the gate alerting people of the fire danger in checked baggage (see European update later for more information).

Q: What about other brands/models

The ban kicks off when an official recall notice is mandated. As far as we are aware, there has been no other relevant laptop recall in the relevant notice period. However, there have been dozens of lithium-ion battery recalls, and this is just raising awareness of the issue.

GadgetGuy’s take – MacBooks can’t fly #Macboom could equal #MacBust

MacBooks can’t fly

As far as we can tell, sales of the affected MacBook Pro models number somewhere over a million units.

CASA knows that a unilateral ban on MacBooks can’t fly is overkill and its advisory is for specific models only. But until there is an easy and quick way to check, MacBook owners (of all types) must carry these as cabin baggage.

There is a more significant issue however alluded to by CASA, and that is strict enforcement of carriage of lithium-ion batteries of any type in checked-in luggage. IATA guidelines are that devices with Lithium-ion batteries should only have a maximum of 30% charge. There would be chaos at airports should that be enforced.

Travel with a laptop or tablet is now an inalienable right. Some airlines perhaps have overreacted banning the use of all MacBooks in flight as well.

14 August 2019 – In light of the recent EASA guidance EasyJet customers are advised that they are not allowed to switch on or charge older generation 15-inch MacBook Pro units supplied by Apple Inc. between September 2015 and February 2017 during their flight. 

The Express UK reports that cabin stewards have been in heated arguments with passengers over what comprises an affected notebook stating, “If it has an Apple logo then its hands-off during flight. We don’t have the knowledge or time to argue whether it is affected or not.”

As for the freight issue – we asked Australia Post/Skytrack for an answer. It responded that Lithium batteries cannot be sent by air and it will assess the MacBooks can’t fly issue and get back to us.

We know Apple will be doing everything it can to contain the issue. Its statement, “Customer safety is always Apple’s top priority, and we have voluntarily decided to replace affected batteries, free of charge.”