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Russell Crowe slams Virgin Airlines for not allowing him to check in 'hoverboards'

Russell Crowe is just a dad, at an airport, trying to go on holidays.

Until Virgin Australia refused to check-in his children's "hoverboards''.

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Warnings issued over 'exploding' hoverboards

They're poised to be the hottest gadget this season, but some hoverboards have been blamed for starting house fires after bursting into flames.

Crowe vented his disgust over the airline's no-Segway policy on Tuesday afternoon, vowing to "Never again" fly Virgin.

"Ridiculous @VirginAustralia. No Segway boards as luggage?" Crowe tweeted to his 1.85 million Twitter followers.

Russell Crowe is reportedly developing a film version of the Batavia story.
Russell Crowe is reportedly developing a film version of the Batavia story. Photo: Getty

"Too late to tell us at airport. Kids and I offloaded. Goodbye Virgin. Never again," Crowe wrote.

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Crowe then demanded a response from the airline less than an hour later.

"@VirginAustralia I'm awaiting your reply, where is your duty of responsibility in this? Why not tell me when I am booking my ticket?," he tweeted.

A 16-year-old was knocked out after falling off a 'hoverboard' he received for Christmas in Elenora Heights.
A 16-year-old was knocked out after falling off a 'hoverboard' he received for Christmas in Elenora Heights.  Photo: Timothy Connell

Comedian Joel Creasey seized the opportunity to give Crowe a good ribbing, Tweeting: "You're a millionare [sic], babe. Get some perspective. Enjoy Tiger. They don't even have real pilots x".

But today Crowe was an everyman.

Hot wheels: a hoverboard on fire in the US.
Hot wheels: a hoverboard on fire in the US. 

"I'm a father Joel, with two kids at an airport, trying to start our holiday," he tweeted in response.

It is understood the Segways were the hands-free model, part of the two-wheeled self-balancing board family - this year's hottest Christmas presents in Australia and internationally.

Crowe and his two sons, Charles, 12, and Tennyson, 9, did not progress past the check-in desk, choosing not to board their flight, Fairfax Media understands.

But better a missed flight than spontaneously combusting at 30,000 feet.

All major Australian airlines and most international carriers have banned the the "small recreational vehicles" due to safety concerns.

Virgin Australia announced it had updated its dangerous goods policy to include the self-balancing boards on its no-fly list in mid-December.

The boards are a fire and explosion risk due to their lithium ion batteries, with a plethora of news reports - and Youtube videos - attesting to their flammability.

"At Virgin Australia, safety is our number one priority. In the interests of passenger safety, Virgin Australia does not permit the carriage of lithium battery operated small recreational vehicles, such as self-balancing boards, hoverboards, aero wheels as checked-in or carry-on baggage," Virgin posted on its Facebook page and Twitter account on December 18.

Flight itineraries emailed to passengers include a link to the airline's dangerous goods page, which lists the lithium battery operated boards on its "not permitted" list.

Cheap hoverboards were blamed for a series of house fires across Europe and the United States.

The fire brigade in London was forced to issue a "hoverboard safety warning" in October after being called to two house fires in two weeks caused by the toys.

The fires started with a loud explosion before quickly spreading.

The fire brigade pointed to a BBC investigation that found the hoverboards' chargers "did not have fuses and could be at risk of overheating, exploding and catching fire".

In Louisiana, a woman is claiming her 12-year-old's new hoverboard, a Thanksgiving gift, burnt down her home.

Her board reportedly exploded into flames while charging.

Online retailers such as Amazon and Overstock have stopped selling some brands, and the hoverboards have been banned by NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay.

Mr Gay announced the contraptions were now illegal on NSW roads and footpaths, carrying fines of up to $637.

It is understood Virgin Australia have been in touch with Mr Crowe to discuss his complaint.

The problem is the batteries

There are hundreds of companies making hoverboards — not all of them strictly abiding by safety standards. And when it comes to lithium ion batteries, a few shortcuts can have explosive consequences.

The re-chargeable lithium-ion batteries located in the foot rests of the rolling electric scooters are essentially a high school chemistry experiment in a small metal tube: two metals immersed in an electrolyte solvent and partitioned by an all-important separator.

The anode (the negatively charged end of the battery) accumulates electrons, the tiny negatively-charged particles that form an electric current. The electrolyte solvent allows ions — atoms lacking one electron — to accumulate in the cathode (the positively charged end).

The electrons want to balance things out by flowing to the cathode, but they have no way of getting there thanks to the separator. When you put the battery in a torch — or a hoverboard — and complete the circuit, a current flows through. The bulb lights up. The hoverboard zooms.

Lithium ion batteries make doubly good on this process with the ability to reverse it. When you recharge one, the reaction flows the other way: the anode re-accumulates electrons, the difference in charges reappears. They're lightweight and endlessly reusable, which makes them appealing for electronics ranging from phones to electric cars.

But the electrolyte solution used in these batteries is highly flammable, explains Wired, which is why it's so important that the separator keep things, well, separate. If a current were able to flow within the battery, it would short circuit, sparking disaster.

"If there is an inherent defect in the cell, it will go off at some point," Jay Whitacre, a materials science researcher at Carnegie Mellon, told Wired.

"Small defects in the manufacturing or materials stream lead to the plus/minus sides of the batteries being shorted with each other after a small amount of use. When this happens, especially when the batteries are charged, a lot of heat is generated inside the cells and this leads to electrolyte boiling, the rupture of the cell casing, and then a significant fire."

Awareness of the problem is broad enough that one popular — if so far unfounded — explanation for the disappearance of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 is that a shipment of lithium ion batteries caught fire in the plane's cargo hold.

But batteries in hoverboards face problems that an iPod doesn't. For one thing, no one is standing on iPods while smashing into walls at high speeds. The wear and tear to which hoverboards are subjected makes their batteries more vulnerable to damage.

-with Sarah Kaplan and Fred Barbash