Passengers who try to carry Samsung Electronics Note 7 smartphones on flights will have them confiscated and may face fines under an emergency U.S. order that significantly expands restrictions on the devices 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 Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday. Flight restrictions will be extended to each of the 1.9 million Note 7s sold in the U.S. starting at noon New York time on Saturday.
“We recognize that banning these phones from airlines will inconvenience some passengers, but the safety of all those aboard an aircraft must take priority,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “We are taking this additional step because even one fire incident in flight poses a high risk of severe personal injury and puts many lives at risk.”
Samsung on Tuesday said it was halting 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 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 DOT said in a release. “Anyone violating the ban may be subject to criminal prosecution in addition to fines.”
People in the midst of travel who have the phones were urged by the government to contact Samsung or their wireless carrier “immediately” to arrange for a replacement phone.
The government now considers the Note 7s “forbidden hazardous material” under U.S. law. Anyone observed with one of the phones will be prohibited from boarding an aircraft, the release said.
Airlines and an industry trade group were notified of the impending ban by the FAA on Friday.
Samsung is working with U.S. officials and airlines to notify owners of the phone about the emergency order, SungIn Cho, a spokeswoman for Samsung Electronics America, said in an e-mail.
“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 it was almost doubling the number of Note 7 phones covered under a U.S. government-sanctioned recall. The consumer agency has received 96 reports of overheating batteries in the U.S., including 23 since the first recall was announced on Sept. 15.
At least 13 people reported being burned by the devices and in 47 cases there was damage to property, according to the consumer agency.
Consumer agency Chairman Elliot Kaye on Friday also renewed calls to consumers to take advantage of the recall.
“The fire hazard with the original Note 7 and with the replacement Note 7 is simply too great for anyone to risk it and not respond to this official recall,” Kaye said in the Transportation Department statement. “I would like to remind consumers once again to take advantage of the remedies offered, including a full refund. It’s the right thing to do and the safest thing to do.”
For passengers who arrive at the 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 for the carrier.
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.
Aviation regulators in September ordered passengers and airline crews to power off any recalled Note 7s that were carried aboard flights and forbid the devices from being charged. The Note 7s were also prohibited from checked bags.
The expanded action completely bans the devices from all airline flights and applies to all smartphones covered by the latest recall.
FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc., two major delivery services in the U.S., had already said they wouldn’t ship the phones via planes, restricting them to ground vehicles. The devices also have to be packed in special boxes designed to safely house recalled batteries.
Delta Air Lines Inc. is adding special containment bags for phones or other electronic devices that overheat or catch fire to at least some of its aircraft, the carrier said on a conference call Thursday. Southwest Airlines Co. is in the process of selecting a vendor for similar bags and hopes to have them on its planes in early 2017, spokeswoman Lori Crabtree said Friday.
A number of foreign-based airlines adopted the U.S. ban on Saturday, including Sydney-based Qantas Airways Ltd., Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Rome-based Alitalia.
Lithium-based batteries power millions of devices, from smartphones and laptops 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 to Samsung. The cells had been squeezed into a container pouch so tightly that when they were installed in the phones they became pinched, damaging the interior. That led to short circuits that triggered the failures, Kaye said in September.
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.
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · Mary Schlangenstein, Alan Levin