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Airlines are banning ‘hoverboards’ after fires trigger safety concerns

Watch five videos of hoverboards catching on fire. (Video: Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)
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Hoverboards have gone from a hot gift this holiday season to literally the hottest gift this month as regulators are investigating reports of the batteries catching on fire, raising safety concerns about the devices.

Delta, American and United announced Thursday afternoon they are restricting the electric scooters from flights, joining British Airways, Virgin America, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue. United’s policy is immediate, Delta’s takes effect Friday and American on Saturday. (Update, Dec. 11: Lufthansa announces it is also banning hoverboards from flights, effective immediately.)

Also, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently investigating at least 10 hoverboard fires in nine states.

“We want to get to the bottom of what’s going on with these products,” said spokeswoman Patty Davis.

The organization started receiving reports in August of emergency-room trips as consumers suffered injuries after falling off the self-balancing scooters. But reports of fires also began to emerge — some of which have happened while the devices are charging. Several of these incidents were caught on video. And now safety experts are warning that some manufacturers may be cutting corners to meet demand for the popular toy this holiday season.

[What happened when I tried to commute to work on a hoverboard]

Hoverboards, which are like skateboards that move as a rider leans one way or the other, can cost as little as $200. Celebrities from Justin Bieber to Wiz Khalifa have posted videos of themselves on devices, which helped popularize them. In general, the hoverboards rely on rechargeable lithium batteries, which have raised concerns for airlines in the past.

“The reality is the safety and fitness of these products is unknown. Are there well-constructed ones that are safe? Maybe. Are there ones that are clearly having problems? The answer is that appears to be the case,” said Sean Kane founder and president of the Safety Institute. His 15-year-old son asked for one for Christmas, but will have to settle for something else. “Consumers need to just wait and see how these product fare unless they want to be that beta tester.”

Online retailer announced Wednesday it would stop selling the electric scooters due to the safety issues.

A British regulatory agency recently detained 15,000 of the 17,000 “hoverboards” entering the country citing safety concerns. It cited noncompliant plugs without fuses, which increase the likelihood of the devices overheating, catching fire or exploding. They warned residents who already purchased hoverboards of clover-shaped plugs.

haDavis encouraged consumers who are purchasing hoverboards to look for one that is certified by a national testing laboratory. Such models will include a logo on the hoverboard or its box, such as “UL.”  She also recommended only charging the hoverboard’s battery when present.

Hoverboards are generally being sold by little-known companies and brands that buy them from Chinese factories, making it more challenging for consumers to know what model to trust. Razor, maker of the popular children’s scooters, recently acquired a patent for the scooters and is shipping its own models. Thursday it urged consumers to avoid cheaply made imitations.

This post has been updated.