At noon today, October 15th, Samsung Note 7 phones will no longer be allowed on airplanes, the U.S. Department of Transportation has ruled.
“The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 device is considered a forbidden hazardous material,” reads the press release issued by the DOT. Passengers carrying one will be denied boarding and those who try to evade the ban surreptitiously, “are increasing the risk of a catastrophic incident” and could be subject to prosecution.
Samsung is still unable to identify what about its newest gadget is causing the batteries to go into thermal runaway, spewing flames and toxic smoke. But the Samsung mystery is prompting a few airlines to get out ahead of the Federal Aviation Administration which has no requirement for battery fire containment devices and begin to stock the cabin and cockpit with them.
I’ve written about this for The New York Times, interviewing Michael Gilchrist owner of PlaneGard about a fancy metal case he sells to Air Tahiti Nui, for its long-haul flights. RunwayGirlNetwork’s Mary Kirby recently interviewed Baker Aviation about its soft-sided bag. Both are billed as protecting flight crew and passengers from the special hazards of lithium ion. Its not just the fire and the explosions that send small but super-hot particles flying. The smoke is “a poisonous organic vapor mixed with cyanide gas and carbon monoxide,” says Gilchrist. Lithium ion battery fires aren’t like regular fires, they cannot be extinguished, they must burn their way through the fuel they produce.
What strikes me each time I write about this threat, including the costly misjudgment that caused the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to be grounded for 4 months in 2013, I am struck by how little seems to be known about it. No global database records in-flight battery events, which means there’s no way to get a proper understanding the scope of the problem.
As the maker of one of the world’s most popular digital devices, Samsung is in turmoil over the spectacular collapse of the Note 7. Where the smart phone fails with consumers, however, it provides a useful lesson. It points out how unprepared airlines are to deal with the hazard of the lithium ion cargo that passengers enthusiastically bring with them on the airplane.
Read the full statement from the US DOT here.
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.