Samsung’s recalled Galaxy Note 7 smartphone will be banned from US airline flights. The order comes from the FAA and the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and follows an announcement from earlier this week that Samsung is ending production of the phone entirely. The ban takes effect Saturday at noon eastern time.
The devices will not be allowed on planes even if they are turned off, a dramatic escalation of the current restrictions which only require that the phones be turned off and not charged or stored in checked luggage.
“We recognize that banning these phones from airlines will inconvenience some passengers, but the safety of all those aboard an aircraft must take priority,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. “We are taking this additional step because even one fire incident inflight poses a high risk of severe personal injury and puts many lives at risk.”
It’s not surprising that the FAA would make this move. Dozens of the recalled phones have been catching fire, including one on a Southwest Airlines jet that was parked at the gate. Samsung has yet to explain exactly what happened to cause its phones to spontaneously burst into flames, but reports suggest that Samsung itself may not even know the cause yet.
Banning a single consumer device, especially one as widely owned as the Note 7, is perhaps unprecedented. The banning of hoverboards from many planes would be the closest comparison, but that was for an entire class of devices that were admittedly fire-prone because of cheap materials — and it was an airline-by-airline ban rather than something coming down from regulators.
It’s not clear which entity would be responsible for stopping passengers from bringing the Note 7 on board a plane. A TSA spokesperson we spoke to said that TSA agents would not be searching for their phones specifically, but if “they encounter one at a checkpoint, they would inform the owner that the phone is not allowed on the aircraft and direct the passenger to leave the checkpoint and come back without the phone.” If a Note 7 phone is discovered in checked baggage, TSA will turn it over to the airline.
“Samsung, together with carriers, is working to communicate the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new order to ban all Galaxy Note7 devices in carry-on and checked baggage on flights,” said a Samsung representative in an emailed statement to The Verge. “We have encouraged airlines to issue similar communications directly to their passengers. Any Galaxy Note7 owner should visit their carrier and retail store to participate in the U.S. Note7 Refund and Exchange Program now. We realize this is an inconvenience but your safety has to remain our top priority.”
Samsung is expected to lose billions on the unexpected shutdown of the phone, and likely billions more in goodwill and brand equity as consumers choose to avoid Samsung products.
We have reached out to the FAA and PHMSA for comment.