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Here’s Why The Crew Worry About Dropped Mobiles on Planes

2 October 2018

You’ve seen the airline safety videos asking you to get help from a member of crew if you’ve dropped your phone. Sound a little dramatic? Not according to bastion of international airline safety, Qantas.

When passengers were given a pre-flight Qantas safety briefing on board an A380 flight from Sydney to New York in 2016, they were “told to ask the crew for help if they lost their phone… and not, repeat not, to try to find it themselves.”

Sounding a bit nanny-state, the new announcement piqued the interest of a reporter from The Register – an online technology website, who upon landing, whipped up this headline on September 6: ‘QANTAS’ air safety spiel warns not to try finding lost phones

What was all this about then? How could an innocent mobile phone, accidently dropped, cause any harm? The announcement it seems, was issued in response to the fire risk that lithium-ion batteries – which are used to power mobile phones – pose if they are damaged by the moving mechanisms in reclining seats. Since then, similar announcements have been witnessed on British Airways and Cathay Pacific.

According to the piece, “The Register asked QANTAS why it now makes that announcement and was told the reason is this Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation into a May 2016 fire aboard a Qantas A380 flight from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth caused by “a crushed personal electronic device (PED) wedged tightly in the seat mechanism.”

“The incident took place in seat 19F, a business class seat that uses some mechanical jiggery-pokery to extend into a flat bed (or so we’re told: your correspondent seldom cracks Premium Economy). The ATSB report doesn’t explain how the phone made it into the seat, but says a passenger on the flight “alerted the cabin crew to the presence of smoke in the cabin.”

“Two of the cabin crew proceeded to the source of the smoke with fire extinguishers. At the same time, the customer services manager (CSM) made an all stations emergency call on the aircraft interphone to alert flight crew and other cabin crew to the presence of smoke.”

“Once the crew figured where the smoke was coming from, they “removed the seat cushions and covers from seat 19F while the CSM turned off the power to the centre column of the seats. When the seat was further dismantled.”


The remains of the phone which started smoking after being “crushed” in a seat mechanism CREDIT: QANTAS/ATSB

“The cabin crew assessed that the crushed PED contained a lithium battery.”

“For what it is worth, the ATSB says the QANTAS crew’s response to the smoking phone “provides an excellent example of an effective response to an emergency situation.” So excellent that the flight made it to Dallas as planned about two hours after the incident.”

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