An Alaska Airlines flight from New Orleans to Seattle Tacoma Airport was evacuated on the runway via emergency slides on Monday night after a passenger’s cellphone caught fire and filled the passenger cabin with smoke. Several passengers were injured in the evacuation according to a spokesperson for Seattle airport.
Alaska Airlines flight AS751 had already landed and was waiting for a gate to become free when the passenger’s cellphone suddenly caught fire. The airline said flight attendants immediately responded to the incident and managed to extinguish the fire by placing the cellphone in a special fire containment bag.
Several fire extinguishers were used to contain the fire but despite the quick actions of the flight attendants, hazy smoke had filled the cabin and a decision was taken to evacuate passengers. Because the plane had not yet reached a gate, passengers had to be evacuated via emergency slides.
All 128 passengers and six crew members were successfully evacuated but the airport said some received “minor scrapes and bruises” during the evacuation.
A spokesperson for the airport initially reported the incident as a fire in the cargo hold of the Boeing 737 aircraft but later clarified that the only fire was in the cabin. The aircraft was later towed to a gate and airport operations continued without disruption.
Worryingly, cell phone fires have become a more regular occurrence in recent years and can pose a serious safety concern due to the risk of ‘thermal runaway’ whereby lots of fire, heat and smoke can be emitted from the lithium batteries that are used to power modern cell phones and other consumer electronics like iPad’s.
A thermal runaway event can occur due to a number of reasons including poor quality charging cables and overheating. Most common, however, is damage to a device – especially when a phone gets trapped inside a passenger seat.
Sometimes, though, the passenger is responsible for causing the damage. In June, a Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas Love Field to Fort Lauderdale was forced to divert to Pensacola when a passenger allegedly smashed their cellphone during an argument with their seatmate.
The male perpetrator allegedly slapped his cell phone against his female companion’s body and it started to smoulder and emit smoke. The cell phone was placed in a special battery containment bag which is designed to prevent a potentially dangerous lithium battery thermal runaway event.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.