Salon has an article on the subject ..
The new airline battery rules are a good idea, mostly, though it would behoove the industry not to overstep and strike certain brands from the cabin entirely. Doing so could result in considerable numbers of potentially hazardous computers being relegated to checked luggage. Although airlines would require the removal of those computers' batteries, it's fair to assume not all passengers would follow the rules, setting up the possibility for fire in the baggage hold. It's true that all modern aircraft have fire detection and suppression capability down below; nevertheless, the greater danger isn't a small fire in the passenger cabin, where it can be readily put out with an extinguisher (there are always several extinguishers on board), but the potential for an unseen, spreading fire in a location inaccessible to the crew.
Have a look at this photo of a United Parcel Service airplane that caught fire during flight last February. The jet made an emergency landing in Philadelphia before being ravaged by an inferno that burned for more than four hours. The crew narrowly escaped, evacuating on the runway as smoke poured into the cockpit. An investigation continues, but the National Transportation Safety Board believes the fire's point of origin may have been at or near a shipment of lithium-ion batteries.
Trust me when I tell you that an on-board fire, not "terrorism," whatever that even means anymore, is the stuff of crew-member nightmare. The crew of the UPS Flight 1307, a Douglas DC-8 freighter virtually identical to the ones I flew myself for three years, was maneuvering to land at the time of the emergency. Proximity to the runway is likely what saved them. Had the fire started over the ocean or otherwise far from an airport, it's doubtful they'd have made it.
"For an air cargo pilot, there is no scarier scenario than an in-flight fire," says Jim Haney, a UPS captain and safety committee member at that carrier. He has followed the Philadelphia incident closely. "All freighter aircraft have smoke or fire detection systems, but few have any substantial means of suppressing or fighting that fire in-flight. Diverting as soon as possible is the best solution, but if over an ocean the closest airport may be many hours away. Chances of survival would be small."
Case in point, the 1987 tragedy involving South African Airways Flight 295, a 747 en route from Taipei, Taiwan, to Johannesburg. The plane crashed into the Indian Ocean after a cargo fire, killing all 159 people on board. No source of ignition was ever determined, as the aircraft plunged into water 15,000 feet deep, but much of the freight consisted of computer components, including lithium and nickel-cadmium batteries.
Scary, but for those of you already uneasy about flying, it's critical to realize that a known problem is not necessarily a crisis. The risk of fire has always been low, and is liable to be lower as airlines and shippers grow increasingly cautious. Until a change of technologies becomes feasible, this type of situation is best addressed through sensible management of in-cabin devices -- like the rules put in place by Korean, Virgin and Qantas -- and sharper oversight of checked luggage and cargo.
These batteries have large energy densities - about a third that of dynamite (although the release rates are different:-) - and they need to be taken seriously.
If you have a laptop that uses Sony batteries that hasn't been recalled, it may be reasonable to pester the manufacturer -- there have been IBM Thinkpad and Sony fires recently -- and those mfgs have not issued recalls.
Note the Sony batteries have a failure mode that doesn't require then to be under load. Homes, offices, and cars can burn too ... The probability for a high quality Li-Ion battery is very low ... someother lower than one in ten million and then only under load. Some of the units under question are worse - much worse.