Cell Phone Catches Fire On Alaska Airlines Flight

Cell Phone Catches Fire On Alaska Airlines Flight

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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.

Bottom line

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?

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  1. Erik M

    As a current flight attendant for a major airline it seems as though the crew may have overreacted a bit, and in doing so put passengers at greater risk.
    1) The crew kept mood lighting on during a fire/ while placing the item in a TCB bag.
    2) After the cellphone was placed in the TCB bag they blew the emergency slides due to “hazy conditions”….. (aka fire extinguisher spray and burning cellphone...

    As a current flight attendant for a major airline it seems as though the crew may have overreacted a bit, and in doing so put passengers at greater risk.
    1) The crew kept mood lighting on during a fire/ while placing the item in a TCB bag.
    2) After the cellphone was placed in the TCB bag they blew the emergency slides due to “hazy conditions”….. (aka fire extinguisher spray and burning cellphone plastic)
    3) They were already on the ground and stopped waiting for a gate. Why blow slides??

    Crews are taught annually how to handle “thermal runaway” because it happens quite often. Initiating an emergency slide evacuation is definitely NOT something we’re taught when dealing with that sort of situation.

    Since they were on the runway they could have very easily disarmed their doors and opened them to get fresh air in the cabin and pulled the safety strap over until “air stairs” arrived.

    Pushing grandmas down slides for a contained cellphone battery fire is overkill. Lol

  2. Duane

    It was a Samsung Galaxy A21.

  3. Leila

    I may be wrong, but I think this has more to do with the cell phone batteries than a chair reclining (unless I missed it somewhere saying that the phone caught fire while the chair was reclined and wedged in?). There is a reason why all battery packs are required to be in the cabin and not the cargo hold: li-ion batteries have a tendency to catch fire in low pressure (I have no idea...

    I may be wrong, but I think this has more to do with the cell phone batteries than a chair reclining (unless I missed it somewhere saying that the phone caught fire while the chair was reclined and wedged in?). There is a reason why all battery packs are required to be in the cabin and not the cargo hold: li-ion batteries have a tendency to catch fire in low pressure (I have no idea what the science is on this). So even the fancy suitcases with battery packs built into them must have the batteries removed and taken with you into the cabin if they’re checked luggage.

    But it does make me wonder what brand of phone this was. Samsung had exploding cell phones not that long ago and if I am remembering correctly, it had to do with the batteries.

  4. MichaelT

    Soooo...what phone was it?

  5. GBOAC

    Ben mentioned "It’s no different than how you’re not supposed to use cell phones at gas pumps"

    That's been an urban myth for many years, as there has never been a single documented case of a cell phone being responsible for a fire/explosion at a gas pump. There are other good reasons for not using a cell phone while pumping gas (distraction being one) but the idea that a cell phone can cause an explosion is bogus.

  6. Eskimo

    Phones these days with glass back or slippery material makes them prone to falling lose.

    I miss the old day where phones have rubber like or some patterns with grip.

    I guess Apple and Samsung figured out that not only glass makes it slippery, it cracks easy too. So they can sell more phones. And make the world a better place with e-waste.

  7. David Lerner

    Cell phones contain lithium batteries, they can fail and start fires (in other things too - All Chevy Bolts were just recalled!). If my phone needs a new battery, I always get a repair by an authorized service provider or the manufacturer. There are lots of shops that will replace your battery cheaper (or sell you one for DIY), but you have no idea of the quality or safety of the battery or the workmanship...

    Cell phones contain lithium batteries, they can fail and start fires (in other things too - All Chevy Bolts were just recalled!). If my phone needs a new battery, I always get a repair by an authorized service provider or the manufacturer. There are lots of shops that will replace your battery cheaper (or sell you one for DIY), but you have no idea of the quality or safety of the battery or the workmanship installing it. If these new "right to repair laws" keep growing, I think we'll see more cell phones catching fire as unskilled people do their own repairs, sometimes with questionable parts. Pinch the battery the wrong way and it can fail.

  8. Lorie

    I too am not an authority, but it is more like a defective product. If you want to do investigative journalism, start with Samsung. They have had repetitive problems with their cell phones catching on fire. To be honest, everything they make has major safety or design issues. Washing machines explode, refrigerators freeze up with sheets of ice (they overheat/mine did), dishwashers refuse to fill with water (mine too!), televisions go bad etc. i joined...

    I too am not an authority, but it is more like a defective product. If you want to do investigative journalism, start with Samsung. They have had repetitive problems with their cell phones catching on fire. To be honest, everything they make has major safety or design issues. Washing machines explode, refrigerators freeze up with sheets of ice (they overheat/mine did), dishwashers refuse to fill with water (mine too!), televisions go bad etc. i joined a FB group on Samsung fridge recall. June of 2021 there were 16,000 members. In 2 months it surpassed 72,000. It could have been a random old cell phone on the plane, but it is likely a Samsung.

  9. John

    Why are there so many bags in the picture if it was an evacuation?

    1. Sarah

      I was on this flight and the flight attendants instructed everyone to leave an their belongings behind, but there were a number of people with backpacks or purses.

  10. Never In Doubt

    Lithium batteries: “Nobody pays attention to us until we get crushed. THEN it’s all ‘who caused the fire?!?!’”

  11. beachmouse

    The free phones that come with discount phone service are often very flimsy compared to a Pixel/iPhone/premium Galaxy and it wouldn’t take much to crack case and battery on one of those.

  12. Bas

    This is when flight attendants prove that they are really important... people will freeze and panic and can cause injuries and worse... flight attendants spring into action and evacuate folks safely... I for one and grateful to them

  13. Ray

    What phone was it? I recently came across a video of a man in China whose Samsung phone exploded out of nowhere. It wasn’t even being charged!

    We need to know if this could be the next Note 7

Featured Comments Load all 15 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Leila

I may be wrong, but I think this has more to do with the cell phone batteries than a chair reclining (unless I missed it somewhere saying that the phone caught fire while the chair was reclined and wedged in?). There is a reason why all battery packs are required to be in the cabin and not the cargo hold: li-ion batteries have a tendency to catch fire in low pressure (I have no idea what the science is on this). So even the fancy suitcases with battery packs built into them must have the batteries removed and taken with you into the cabin if they’re checked luggage. But it does make me wonder what brand of phone this was. Samsung had exploding cell phones not that long ago and if I am remembering correctly, it had to do with the batteries.

GBOAC

Ben mentioned "It’s no different than how you’re not supposed to use cell phones at gas pumps" That's been an urban myth for many years, as there has never been a single documented case of a cell phone being responsible for a fire/explosion at a gas pump. There are other good reasons for not using a cell phone while pumping gas (distraction being one) but the idea that a cell phone can cause an explosion is bogus.

Lorie

I too am not an authority, but it is more like a defective product. If you want to do investigative journalism, start with Samsung. They have had repetitive problems with their cell phones catching on fire. To be honest, everything they make has major safety or design issues. Washing machines explode, refrigerators freeze up with sheets of ice (they overheat/mine did), dishwashers refuse to fill with water (mine too!), televisions go bad etc. i joined a FB group on Samsung fridge recall. June of 2021 there were 16,000 members. In 2 months it surpassed 72,000. It could have been a random old cell phone on the plane, but it is likely a Samsung.

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