Nowadays when you fly, you may hear an announcement about the risk of cell phone fires, and to immediately notify a crew member if you misplace your phone. This story is an example of why.
Alaska flight evacuated over cell phone fire
Yesterday evening an Alaska Airlines flight had to be evacuated at Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA) due to a cell phone fire. Specifically, moments after AS751 (operated by a Boeing 737-900) landed from New Orleans, a passenger’s cell phone caught fire.
The crew acted swiftly to get the situation under control, using fire extinguishers. Nonetheless the cabin filled with smoke, and it’s reported that some passengers even sustained minor injuries.
Even with the fire under control, the crew made the decision to evacuate the plane, presumably given the smoke in the cabin. So the 128 passengers and six crew members were evacuated using the emergency slides. A short while later, passengers were bussed to the terminal. Below you can see some pictures of what the inside of the cabin looked like, as well as the tarmac after passengers evacuated.
Why do phones catch fire on airplanes?
The actual science behind this is beyond my area of expertise, though I do want to share a couple of observations. Nowadays many airlines make an announcement that you should immediately inform a crew member if you misplace your phone, and to not adjust your seat.
I totally see how this can cause a problem with the fancy airplane seats we see nowadays, which can be moved by the touch of a button, and where your phone can easily be wedged in a place that can’t be reached. It’s not that hard to fully crush your phone in an airplane seat without even noticing it.
The surprising thing here is that we’re talking about an Alaska Airlines 737, which simply features manual recline buttons. It’s not like the recline in economy (which is where the fire seemed to be) is that great, so to me it’s a bit surprising that one of these rare fire stories isn’t coming from a fancier seat.
Then again, I guess with hundreds of millions of people flying every year, something like this is bound to happen every so often. It’s no different than how you’re not supposed to use cell phones at gas pumps — cell phones can explode or catch fire, and understandably you don’t want that to happen at a gas pump (even if the risk is only tiny).
Planes aren’t as dangerous as gas stations in terms of the immediate risk of an explosion, but they are risky in terms of the challenge of containing a fire in an enclosed space, especially if it’s not immediately dealt with.
So I’m not sure whether to be surprised that something like this happened, or be surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.
An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 encountered a scary situation yesterday upon landing in Seattle, when a fire broke out in the cabin due to a cell phone. On the plus side, at least this happened on the ground, and was caught quickly. Unfortunately there were apparently some minor injuries, and the plane was also evacuated as a precaution.
Anyone have a better scientific explanation or theory of what exactly could cause this, especially when we’re talking about a seat with minimal, manual recline?