The US Is Considering Banning Samsung's Exploding Smartphones on Planes

By Matt Novak on at

Last week, Samsung issued a recall for roughly 2.5 million smartphones after it was discovered that at least 35 of the devices had spontaneously burst into flames. Make that 35 and counting. The US Federal Aviation Administration still hasn’t decided whether it should ban the devices on planes. The agency is thinking about it, however.

Gizmodo reached out to the FAA, TSA, and major US airlines this weekend about whether they will restrict the devices from being carried onto flights. Tonight, the FAA finally told us that it’s still working on exploring the issue but that no final decision has been made. Any official recall for a battery-powered device like this could mean that the devices wouldn’t be allowed on future flights.

“The FAA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are working on guidance related to this issue,” an FAA spokesperson told Gizmodo over email. “If the device is recalled by the manufacturer, airline crew and passengers will not be able to bring recalled batteries or electronics that contain recalled batteries in the cabin of an aircraft, or in carry-on and checked baggage.”

If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Samsung has already “recalled” the Galaxy Note 7, but the South Korean company hasn’t actually recalled it the right way. The proper way to institute a recall is to get the US Consumer Product Safety Commission involved from the beginning. Samsung didn’t do that. And now, federal agencies like the FAA are left scrambling and days behind, trying to figure out what to do.

Samsung has sold about 1 million Galaxy Note 7 devices worldwide since the new model’s introduction in August, and it’s voluntarily recalling about 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 devices that have been produced. Samsung is offering consumers refunds and a replacement product that the company says should be available in a few weeks. But the devices are still for sale in some retail outlets since Samsung didn’t initiate an official recall with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

When reached for comment in the past few days none of the major US-based airlines had any plans to ban the phones. Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and American Airlines told Gizmodo that they did not have any specific plans to ban the Galaxy Note 7 on their flights. Other major airlines didn’t return our messages, presumably because “new phone who dis?” But a ban from the FAA—should that come to pass—would be observed by all the airlines.

In late 2015, the FAA banned so-called hoverboards, the self-balancing scooters that became infamous for containing batteries that would overheat and literally burst into flames. The hoverboards were restricted from flights, prompting notable hotheads like Russell Crowe to figuratively burst into flames.

It’s not clear how a hypothetical ban on a specific model of phone would be enacted. Would TSA agents look at each phone very carefully? One imagines it wouldn’t be that much harder than making sure your toothpaste is in a 100 ml tube rather than a 101 ml tube.

Your potentially explosive Galaxy Note 7 is still welcome on all flights as far as the FAA and major US airlines are concerned. The UK's Civil Aviation Authority hasn't said anything on the matter, so presumably they're fine on any flight you might be getting on in the coming weeks.

But please remember that your 101 ml container of toothpaste is a danger to everyone on board. There have been precisely zero cases of toothpaste containers spontaneously bursting into flames in the past month, to our knowledge, but you can never be too careful.