Virgin Atlantic bans use of Apple, Dell laptops

The airline has become the third to impose restrictions on laptops, following the recall of millions of 'exploding' batteries
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Virgin Atlantic has banned the in-flight use of most Dell and Apple laptops, following recalls of thousands of batteries by both computer makers. The decision follows similar moves by Qantas and Korean Air.

Only a small proportion of the laptops are affected by the faulty batteries, but the new Virgin policy, announced on Friday, bans passengers from bringing batteries for any Apple or Dell laptop on board.

Customers can carry a limit of two batteries in their carry-on baggage, if they are "individually wrapped/protected", Virgin said in a passenger announcement published on its site.

Dell announced last month that it would recall 4.1 million notebook computer batteries made by Sony because they could overheat and catch fire. Apple also said last month that it would recall 1.8 million Sony-made batteries for similar reasons.

Passengers can use the affected laptops on board only if the battery is removed, Virgin said. This effectively means passengers can only use Dell or Apple laptops in Premier Economy or Upper Class seats, which ordinarily are the only seats with in-seat power supplies (ISPS), according to a Virgin spokeswoman. For those passengers, Virgin will supply leads or adapters if needed.

"Where no ISPS is provided or no laptop leads/adapters are available, the use of Apple and Dell laptops is prohibited," the policy reads.

Virgin gave no estimate for when the ban might be lifted. "Virgin is in communication with Apple and Dell. As soon as this safety issue is resolved these restrictions will be lifted," Virgin stated.

British Airways said it had no plans to follow its competitors' lead. "We are relying on passengers to be aware of whether their batteries are affected, as the issue has been widely publicised," said a BA spokeswoman. "If there was a serious threat, we expect the aviation authority would take action."

Dell has said it believes such measures are an overreaction, since the product recalls have only affected particular types of batteries. "They could easily check out whether a laptop uses a Sony battery or other brand instead of banning them all," a Dell product manager told the Korea Times following the Korean Air ban. Apple did not respond to requests for comment in time for this article.

Some industry observers agree. "These have been very isolated incidents," said RedMonk analyst James Governor. "I wouldn't be worrying about it, but the airlines obviously seem to be in that kind of mood at the moment."

The battery recalls follow numerous reports of laptops overheating and, in some cases, catching fire. The Mac maker's recall, while not as large as Dell's historic recall, affects users of its iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 laptop models sold between October 2003 and August 2006, according to the US Consumer Products Safety Commission. Users are advised to remove the batteries immediately and store them in a safe place.

The Apple recall involves 1.1 million batteries sold in the US and an additional 700,000 sold overseas online and through retail stores and resellers. Apple said it has nine reports of batteries overheating, including two cases in which users reported minor burns and property damage. However, it says no serious injuries have been reported.

Dell's recall of 4.1 million batteries was the largest recall in the history of the consumer electronics industry. Dell's batteries used cells manufactured by Sony that could potentially short-circuit and cause a fire, even if the notebook was off.

Other notebook manufacturers use Sony's battery cell technology in their products, but several said last week that they had not seen the same level of incidents involving their notebooks that Dell had. There have been some reports of Sony laptops overheating. 

CNET News.com's Ina Fried and Tom Krazit contributed to this report.

Editorial standards