I was doing some research for a Part 135 Operator regarding dry ice. In the process, I discovered that there have been very few reported incidents involving carbon dioxide incapacitation aboard aircraft resulting from the sublimation of dry ice.
In the incidents that have been reported, the aircrew recognized symptoms of air contamination and took appropriate precautions to avoid any serious consequences. The incidents that have occurred demonstrate that maintaining adequate input and proper circulation of fresh air into the cabin environment is the single most important precaution that can be taken when dry ice is transported.
In the absence of adequate ventilation, a small amount of dry ice can produce unacceptable levels of CO2 in an aircraft. In addition to ventilation, you should consider using the supplemental oxygen supplies.
Another consideration is the use of dry ice as an explosive device. With the YouTube videos on the increase and constant desire of red-blooded Americans to blow stuff up, the use of dry ice bombs is on the rise. Take into consideration the following three incidents in which dry ice was used to explode water bottles.
Two men were arrested in the dry ice explosions at Los Angeles International Airport. They were baggage handlers who thought the simple bombs were "a game" and "a funny kind of joke." The explosions didn't cause any injuries, but one did cause a temporary shutdown of a terminal. Three plastic bottles containing dry ice were found, but only one had exploded. "These guys were playing around. It was kind of a game to them. They thought it was funny. They had no intent to attack innocent victims. There was no political motive or agenda," Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Michael Downing said. The "playing around" resulted in the suspects being held in lieu of $1 million bail and facing a charge of possession of an explosive or destructive device near an aircraft.
In 2011, a high school chemistry student in suburban Chicago lost his left eye after a plastic bottle containing dry ice and water reportedly exploded during a class demonstration. Family of the student sued the school, alleging that proper safety precautions, including the issuing of goggles, had not been taken.
A 22-year-old Disneyland employee was arrested on suspicion of setting off a so-called dry ice bomb in the Toontown section of the park. The explosion in a trash can was reported and forced the evacuation of Toontown for two hours while police investigators and the Orange County Sheriff's Department's bomb squad moved through the amusement park. Police initially examined the possibility that the device was related to other incidents in recent months involving dry ice explosions in the city. Investigators believe the dry ice was placed in a plastic water bottle and pressure that built up in the container caused an explosion.
In these incidents, while it took some knowledge to construct a dry ice bomb, it does not appear that any of the individuals involved in these incidents were aware of the potential consequences of their actions. They were all very serious incidents with very serious consequences that could have included more serious injury or death of people. Do you have a bachelor/bachelorette party in the back of your aircraft? Perhaps you’re transporting an immature individual who thinks that it would be funny to play with the dry ice in the catering and an expensive brand of bottled water? You never know in today's world.