How often do planes refuel? Are airlines prepared to deal with a lithium battery fire on board?

John Cox
Special to USA TODAY

How often do planes fuel up? And how many trips can they fly before refueling the plane? 

– Larry, Nashville, Tennessee

It varies by the type of airplane and the distance flown. Normally, an airplane will fuel when it lands. However, if fuel is expensive, it may be possible to avoid fueling at an airport by carrying extra fuel on the inbound flight. This is known as tankering. 

Many airplanes can carry several hours of fuel but will not fill up because the additional weight causes an increase in the fuel burn. 

So there is not a simple answer to your question. If the flight is a long transoceanic flight, the airplane will refuel when it lands. If the flight is short, then it is possible that the price of the fuel will determine whether and where fueling is done.

As an example, if an airplane departs Charlotte, North Carolina, for New York and plans to fly on to Providence, Rhode Island, the price of fuel in New York may be the deciding factor in opting to carry enough fuel to fly both flights. 

With everyone carrying mobile devices, including cellphones, laptops and tablets, I'm concerned about fires due to battery malfunction. Do all airlines now carry a fireproof box or device to put out a battery fire if a battery catches fire in the cabin?

– Howard S., Sturgis, South Dakota

Many airlines do have containment devices to hold a lithium-battery-powered device that has overheated and gone into thermal runaway. I do not know if all airlines have them, but the majority do.

Sadly, the FAA guidance for flight crews to deal with a device in thermal runaway is outdated and has conflicting information. This is an opportunity to improve safety by updating the guidance to flight crews.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.