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17 October 2016

Passengers Who Bring Fire-Prone Samsung Phones on Planes Face Fines

The FAA says Samsung Note 7 phones won't be allowed
aboard passenger or cargo aircraft, even if they've been
shut off.
Passengers who bring fire-prone Samsung phones on planes face fines
by Mary Schlangenstein and Alan Levin, Bloomberg, 17 October 2016

Passengers who try to carry Samsung Electronics Note 7 smartphones on flights will have them confiscated and may face fines under an emergency federal order that significantly expands restrictions on the devices, which have been linked to almost 100 incidents of overheating and fires.

The devices won’t be allowed aboard passenger or cargo aircraft even if they’ve been shut off, the Federal Aviation Administration announced. About 1.9 million Note 7s have been sold in the United States.

‘‘We recognize that banning these phones from airlines will inconvenience some passengers, but the safety of all those aboard an aircraft must take priority,’’ Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement, noting that even one in-flight fire poses “a high risk of severe personal injury and puts many lives at risk.’’

Samsung on Tuesday halted production and sales of the device following the latest spate of smoke, overheating, and fire incidents in what was supposed to be a version that replaced a faulty lithium-ion battery with a safe one. The company estimates the crisis will cost it $5.3 billion in profits.

The government urged passengers not to try to side-step the order. ‘‘Passengers who attempt to evade the ban by packing their phone in checked luggage are increasing the risk of a catastrophic incident,’’ the Department of Transportation said. ‘‘Anyone violating the ban may be subject to criminal prosecution in addition to fines.’’

Travelers who have the phones were urged to contact Samsung or their wireless carrier immediately to arrange for a replacement phone.

The government considers the Note 7 ‘‘forbidden hazardous material’’ under US law. Anyone observed with one of the phones will be prohibited from boarding the aircraft.

Samsung is working with US officials and airlines to notify owners of the phone about the emergency order, said SungIn Cho, a spokeswoman for Samsung Electronics America.

‘‘We have encouraged airlines to issue similar communications directly to their passengers,’’ Cho said. ‘‘We realize this is an inconvenience but your safety has to remain our top priority.’’

The action by aviation regulators follows the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s announcement on Thursday that it was almost doubling the number of Note 7 phones covered under a government-sanctioned recall. The consumer agency has received 96 reports of overheating batteries in the United States, including 23 since the first recall on Sept. 15.

At least 13 people reported being burned and in 47 cases there was damage to property, according to the consumer agency.

Its chairman, Elliot Kaye, on Friday also renewed calls to consumers to take advantage of the recall. The fire hazard “is simply too great for anyone to risk it and not respond to this official recall,’’ Kaye said.

For passengers who arrive at an airport with a Note 7 and can’t return it to their car or hand it to someone not flying, American Airlines will place the device in an area for storage of hazardous materials. The person can reclaim it after the trip, said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman.

The airline also is updating announcements for passengers checking baggage, before clearing security, at airport gates and on board planes about the ban, he said.

Regulators in September ordered passengers and airline crews to power off any recalled Note 7s that were carried aboard flights and forbade the devices from being charged. The Note 7s were also prohibited from checked bags. The expanded action bans the devices from all flights.

FedEx and United Parcel Service had already said they wouldn’t ship the phones on planes, restricting them to ground vehicles. The devices also have to be packed in special boxes.

Delta Air Lines is adding special containment bags for phones or other electronic devices that overheat or catch fire to at least some of its aircraft. Southwest Airlines is selecting a vendor for similar bags and hopes to have them on planes in early 2017.

A number of foreign-based airlines adopted the US ban on Saturday, including Qantas Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, and Alitalia.

Lithium-based batteries power millions of devices, from smartphones to power tools. They hold enough energy to create heat and sparks if they fail, which can ignite the highly flammable chemicals inside.

The initial wave of Note 7 failures were linked to batteries made by one of two suppliers in a way that was prone to short circuits. More recent incidents involving replacement phones containing batteries built by a second manufacturer appear to result from a different flaw, a person familiar with discussions between government agencies and Samsung told Bloomberg.


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