After incidents of smartphones overheating and smoking onboard, airlines are taking actions to prepare for any future incidents.
In early September, foreign airlines began banning the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, after multiple reports of the phone’s battery overheating and exploding. Shortly after, FAA made an official statement regarding the device, urging passengers not to use, charge, or even turn them on in-flight. US airlines soon issued a systemwide ban.
Samsung later officially recalled the device, and offered replacements to customers. However, earlier this month, a replacement Galaxy Note 7 caught fire on a Southwest flight. Within the same week, 5 other replacement phones “exploded” in the US alone. This prompted Samsung to halt productions of the device, and later issuing a recall and refund.
According to the Associated Press, Alaska Airlines began deploying fire containment bags as early as May. All 219 Alaska aircrafts are now equipped with the bags, which can help prevent a disaster if a battery does begin to emit smoke in-flight. The bags are bright red, and are designed to hold devices as big as a laptop. If a battery overheats and catches fire, the bags can be sealed shut with Velcro and zippers. Additionally, a ceramic felt that lines the bags can withstand temperatures up to 3,200 °F. One company sells these bags for over $1,800 each:
Virgin America has also equipped their fleet of about 60 planes with these fire containment bags.
Delta, during their Earnings Call this morning, said that they too will be stocking fire containment bags for overheating smartphones. According to a transcript, Gil West, COO of Delta, said during the call:
…what we’ve done is of course really the target training with our flight crews along with equipment. There are some other modifications that we’re adding with containment bags as an example, that with any device that did experience a lithium battery fire you can put it in a containment bag that would certainly contain any possible scenario.
Delta said that they had been planning to add these new equipment, but that their plans were prioritized in light of recent events. Other airlines, including American, JetBlue, Southwest, and United, said that they don’t have plans to equip aircrafts with these bags. However, their crews are trained on how to deal with such events.
By and large, smartphones catching fires in flight are extremely rare. However, one small fire on a plane could potentially lead to a catastrophic event. I won’t be selecting carriers based on whether they use fire containment bags, but kudos to all the airlines that are preparing!