The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) did not release the brand-name of the headphones, but did say the batteries probably caused the fire.
The woman fell asleep while wearing noise-canceling headphones on a flight from Beijing, China to Melborne, Australia. She awoke when she heard a loud explosion and threw the headphones to the floor.
The battery and the headphone cover melted to the floor of the aircraft. The smell of plastic and burnt hair filled the cabin of the aircraft and several passengers fell ill.
The ATSB quoted her description of the incident:
As I went to turn around I felt burning on my face. … I just grabbed my face which caused the headphones to go around my neck. I continued to feel burning so I grabbed them off and threw them on the floor. They were sparking and had small amounts of fire. As I went to stamp my foot on them the flight attendants were already there with a bucket of water to pour on them. They put them into the bucket at the rear of the plane.”
Lithium-ion batteries have been exploding in laptops, hoverboards, e-cigarettes, smartphones, and even brand-new airplanes. The problem is the batteries start degrading almost as soon as they leave the factory. This is why your 2 year-old phone does not stay charged as long as your 6 month-old phone.
The other problem is that manufacturers are cramming higher-powered batteries into smaller and smaller devices. Violent explosions can occur if the case is too small or the battery gets too hot.
The United Nations (UN) banned airlines from carrying bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on international passenger flights in January 2016. The safety hazard is obvious. Just one defective battery could cause the rest to explode and take down an airplane with hundreds of passengers.
Those standards were voluntarily adopted by most airlines on domestic flights as well as international flights — except in the United States.
The Trump administration stalled the ban until further notice with an executive order on January 20 freezing new regulations. Passenger airlines are still free to ignore the safety standard on domestic flights, although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been urging airlines to voluntarily adopt it.
The UN standard allows for limited exceptions, but lobbyists want exemptions for medical-device batteries or shipments to remote locations in Alaska. Since 2006, three cargo jets and four pilots have been killed by in-flight fires that were started by bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries, according to the Associated Press.