Samsung just can’t seem to catch a break. Per the Verge, passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight, scheduled to fly from Louisville to Baltimore, were forced to evacuate the smoky plane while still at the gate, after a Note 7 caught fire in the cabin.
That in itself is pretty unfun news for Samsung. But what’s worse is this was a replacement Note 7 — its owner, Brian Green, had exchanged his Note 7 and was using a new phone. A new phone that caught on fire.
Talking to the Verge, Green reports that he boarded the plane and powered down his phone, with about 80 percent battery power left. After placing the phone in his pocket, it began to emit smoke, causing him to remove it and drop it on the floor. Everyone was led off the plane quickly after.
His wife, Sarah Green, speaking to the Louisville paper The Courier-Journal, said her husband called her shortly afterward. “He said he had just powered it down, when it made a popping noise and started smoking,” she said. “He took it out of his pocket and threw it on the ground.”
A couple of things to note about this. One, this doesn’t fit the general profile of the rash of phones catching on fire that plagued Samsung in late August and early September. Those phones were nearly always charging for long periods, and some flaw in the battery (it’s still not clear what exactly it was) would cause these phones to burst into flames.
Two, this suggests the fire may be an isolated incident (though one that occurs at an incredibly bad time for Samsung). Battery fires are not just a problem the Note 7 faced — though it was facing them at an alarming rate before the recall. Plenty of other cell phones (and lithium-ion battery powered devices in general) face this problem. An iPhone 6 caught fire in a student’s back pocket earlier this week. A Reddit user reported that his iPhone 7 caught fire last week. Every single major manufacturer of smartphones has seen some of their handsets catch fire at some point. The difference here, of course, is that none of those are coming off a massive recall and an incredibly bad news cycle.
But the fact remains that as long as lithium-ion batteries continue to power our devices, fires like these are always possible. It doesn’t take much damage to cause them to malfunction, and as smartphones become more powerful, while their manufacturers’ try to keep them lightweight and slimmed down, they demand more and more power in smaller packages. And every lithium-ion battery carrying a charge has enough power in it to cause a phone to go up in smoke.
Update: We received this statement from Samsung: “Until we are able to retrieve the device, we cannot confirm that this incident involves the new Note 7. We are working with the authorities and Southwest now to recover the device and confirm the cause. Once we have examined the device we will have more information to share.”