By all accounts, Indiana resident Brian Green did everything right. As an owner of one of the millions of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones at risk of overheating and exploding, he, like so many others, exchanged his unit for a replacement phone that had been deemed safe by the manufacturer.
So, as he sat on a Southwest airlines flight in Louisville, Kentucky waiting for the plane to push back from the gate, he didn’t think twice when he powered down the device in preparation for departure.
That was when his replacement Samsung phone started making popping noises and smoking. The plane was evacuated in response and Brian borrowed another passenger’s phone to call his wife and let her know that he’d be a little late getting home.
The incident is still under investigation by Samsung, Southwest Airlines, and the FAA and all three have declined to specify what model phone Mr. Green owned. The assumption is that one Galaxy Note 7 was replaced with another Note 7 that had been deemed safe by the electronics giant. If, however, Mr. Green had opted for a different Samsung device, that would open a vast new number of questions.
The FAA has explicitly prohibited the Galaxy Note 7 from operation during U.S. flights. This marks one of the only times the agency has prohibited the use of a specific device by name. Most prohibitions are on classes of items or other hazardous goods.
Passengers have also been ordered not to keep the devices in their checked luggage. The idea of a fire in the luggage compartment of a flight at altitude brought on by a Galaxy Note 7 igniting a suitcase full of clothing is, certainly, something that could keep officials up at night.
Nearly 100 reports of overheating and exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones have been reported in the U.S. alone, while at least one Note 7 also overheated and burned a customer in China. The Chinese incident is notable because Samsung had assured Chinese regulators that units shipped to the country had been manufactured using different components, and there was no risk of those phones causing problems.
As passengers bring more and more electronic devices onto aircraft, the importance of the safety of these devices simply cannot be overstated. The loss of hundreds of lives as a result of the fault of a common consumer electronics device is too horrific to imagine.