A recent MacBook Pro battery recall could create headaches at the airport for many travelers—but even if your association isn’t a Mac shop, you should be ready for any recall issues that surface.
Last week, something fairly alarming picked up notice in the press just as the 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition was winding up in Columbus, Ohio: The Federal Aviation Administration warned that some of the most widely used laptops in the field might not be able to make the trip home.
Specifically, the FAA suggested that some MacBook Pros that were part of a recent recall—roughly half a million devices with specific serial codes produced between the years 2015 and 2017—could not fly. Imagine being at a conference and finding out that news a few hours before you’re supposed to fly out.
If you’re a close follower of travel rules and regulations, the FAA’s move isn’t actually much of a surprise. It’s part of a policy [PDF] it announced roughly three years ago, during the mass recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 over similar battery issues. If a device has a battery that has been subject to a recall, it can’t fly unless the battery has been replaced—simple as that.
But laptops are a different ball of wax entirely, the lifeblood of many organizations—without one, you can’t work. And this particular laptop model is especially problematic, because it’s one of the most widely used in office environments around the country. Despite the traditional three-year upgrade cycle for laptops, some organizations may have delayed upgrading to more recent MacBook Pro models over perceived issues with the device’s keyboards and port selection, meaning that if you have a MacBook Pro in 2019, odds are good it’s the 2015 model. This news, simply put, is just a wild inconvenience.
And the MacBook Pro is far from alone in this department. Last year, a number of models of the popular Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon laptop faced a recall over a loose screw inside the case that could damage the battery and create a fire hazard. And HP recalled a number of laptops earlier this year over battery issues.
Admittedly, I haven’t heard of a lot of inconvenienced people as a result of this FAA announcement just yet (I have seen lots of confused inquiries on Twitter, however), but I can only imagine what this had the potential to be like for someone running into issues at an airport security checkpoint or with an airline. When I heard about the news, I had visions of frustrated travelers having to mail their laptops home.
It’s a mess, and we still don’t know how this is all going to play out, or how aggressive enforcement is even going to be.
But that said, this is a pretty useful teaching moment for IT departments, whether or not they’re running fleets of MacBooks. A few suggestions to ensure employees aren’t in a lurch:
Stay on top of any recall news relevant to your equipment. The thing about the Apple recall is that it caught a lot of folks off guard, despite the fact it had been announced nearly two months ago. The standard set by the FAA is that if a device has a battery recall, it cannot fly, and once your IT department gets wind of such a recall, they should get ahead of it by servicing equipment as soon as they can. And if you have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy for things like tablets or smartphones, make sure employees are aware of any product recalls that might affect their own devices.
Make sure you have a service plan in place. If you’re dealing with a bad batch of laptops, you might find yourself having to manage a bigger service issue than usual. Odds are, if you have a fleet of laptops, you may have bought them through a reseller, rather than the manufacturer directly. The reseller might be able to help—for example, CDW maintains a detailed list of product recalls. But beyond that, a strategic approach to keeping devices serviced is important—and that includes offering backup devices, just in case. Word is that replacements for the MacBook Pro batteries can take as long as two weeks, so make sure you have some spare devices lying around, possibly giving priority to employees with pending travel needs.
Your employees may want to bring documentation to the airport. With this specific issue being in the news in recent days and the FAA making a formal statement, there’s a lot of potential for confusion at the airport: There are millions of 15-inch MacBook Pros out there with this general design, and only some of them are subject to the recall. Even if users get their batteries replaced, they still have the offending serial codes. As Forbes notes, the airport security line is already a challenging enough place without the added wrinkle. As a result, if an employee has a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, they may want to bring a printout to show that 1) their machine is not affected by the recall or 2) the battery has been serviced. If they have a recalled device, they may want to check with their airline ahead of time for guidance.
Given that associations often rely on travel as a basic function, and MacBooks are still gaining ground in the enterprise, this is not an ideal situation—but it doesn’t have to be an impossible one.
Do your homework. Keep your equipment maintained.