JetBlue A321 Diverts to Grand Rapids After Laptop Fire

Incident highlights concerns about storing lithium battery devices in checked baggage.

JetBlue Airbus a321
JetBlue Flight 915 was forced to make an emergency landing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after a laptop charger caught fire.Airwind/J. Darcy

JetBlue Flight 915, an Airbus A321-200, departed New York JFK headed to San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon, but was forced to make an emergency landing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after a laptop charger caught fire. The Airbus was cruising westbound near Flint, Michigan, at FL 340 when the incident occurred.

The fire was not immediately detected because the charger was stored in a passenger’s backpack sitting in an overhead bin. Once the fire was noticed, the cockpit crew chose an emergency landing at GRR as their best option and touched down on Runway 26L about 20 minutes after the fire was discovered.

Inside the cabin, someone initially noticed smoke snaking out from the overhead about 2½ hours into the flight.Cabin attendants reportedly pulled the backpack out and carried it to a rear lavatory and doused it with water, the only known method of extinguishing a lithium battery fire.

The backpack was later seen with two prominent burn holes and a charred lithium battery as it was removed by Grand Rapids firefighters who met the aircraft. None of the 158 people aboard the flight was injured during the incident and the aircraft departed a few hours later for SFO.

Tuseday’s JetBlue incident highlights industry concerns over possible new security restrictions that could force device owners to check such battery-powered items on transatlantic flights. It’s unknown what fire intensity would be required to set off the fire alarms in the Airbus baggage compartment. It’s also unknown if the aircraft’s baggage fire extinguishing system would be capable of smothering the fire.