An iPhone Is The Latest Thing To Catch Fire On A Plane

An iPhone Is the Latest Thing to Catch Fire on a Plane

Lithium-ion batteries and aircraft have some bad blood: Boeing's 787 Dreamliners were grounded three years ago because of battery fires, the US FAA banned all lithium batteries in hold luggage, and now an innocent iPhone has caused a fire on an Alaska Air flight. According to a KOMO news report, a girl on a spring break flight from Washington State to Hawaii had her iPhone 6 spontaneously combust mid-air:

All of the sudden there was like 8-inch flames coming out of my phone, and I flipped it off onto the ground and it got under someone's seat, and the flames were just getting higher and a bunch of people stood up.

Under heavy loads or physical abuse, lithium-ion batteries have been known to explode, releasing the considerable stored energy inside in the form of heat, rather than electricity. It's the reason hoverboards — which contain cheap batteries that get stood on all day — catch fire (and have been banned by all major airlines), and the reason lithium-ion batteries are supposed to be carry-on only.

The airlines aren't likely to ban all portable electronics any time soon, but it's still a slightly scary reminder of how much potential energy we're all carrying round in our pockets. And, why airport security is really one big joke.


Image credit: KOMO News



    Budget carriers typically run lower cabin air pressures to save on fuel. Could this be a factor in these exploding batteries?

      I would imagine that if it were to have any effect it would be to make fires less severe if there is a lower cabin pressure and subsequently a lower partial pressure of oxygen for the fire to react with.

        The thing is, it's a chemical reaction, so the amount of oxygen has no bearing on it.

          I would think for the actual heat reaction yes, but the actual fire would still very much depend on oxygen

        But it would make the battery and internal components expand. Still plenty of o2 just less pressure.

          out of curiosity, how does it expand? I would have thought that even if it's not exactly air tight the difference in air pressure would be negligible enough to affect the battery sitting inside the device (or even if it was outside by itself).

            Reduction of pressure. Lithium batteries aren't solid. It's actually a gel. Hence why they are so fragile. Bending them causes connections inside the cells the short. The cells are very closely packed so it could be possible that slight expansion could have an effect on say an already partially damaged cell. The change in pressure mighty seem like much but next time you're flying take a bag of chips with you and watch how they react.

    Do phone cases limit the cooling of the device when in use?

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