A broken iPhone caused a small fire onboard a British Airways Boeing 787-9 as it was descending towards London Heathrow Airport. The UK’s Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) today released a report into the incident. Thankfully nobody was injured, and the aircraft wasn’t damaged.
In recent years premium seats onboard aircraft have become more complex, with an increase in the number of moving parts. This has created more opportunities for small items to become stuck. If a smartphone becomes stuck, it can be crushed, creating a fire risk. As such, many safety videos have been adapted to warn passengers of the risk.
What happened on BA206?
On September 30th, a British Airways Boeing 787-9 departed Miami (MIA) at 20:26, around 20 minutes ahead of schedule, according to RadarBox.com. The flight appears to have been completed largely without incident. However, at around 08:00 UTC on October 1st, the cabin crew spotted smoke coming from a passenger’s seat.
It would seem that the incident occurred in the first class cabin. The AAIB revealed that the seat design is around ten years old. According to information from Head For Points, British Airways’ Boeing 787-9s use a modified version of the Prime seat first introduced in 2010. Meanwhile, the Club World seat is from a 2006 design.
According to the AAIB, an announcement issued over the PA around 40 minutes before arrival woke a passenger. The passenger went to use the washroom while a crew member removed the bedding from the seat. The crew member spotted a charging cable that was plugged into the seat and disappeared down the side of the seat. At the same time, a sulfur-like smell was detected.
The senior cabin crew member was summoned. At that point, a hiss was heard before a “tornado” of smoke appeared, accompanied by an orange glow. The two members of the cabin crew tackled the fire using a “Bromochlorodifluoromethane” extinguisher.
The flight crew was made aware of the situation, with the third pilot going to investigate, while the remaining two pilots ran through an emergency checklist. It appeared that the fire had been extinguished. As a result, the flight crew opted to continue to their destination. A PAN call was issued over the radio, and a fire crew met the aircraft on arrival.
Commenting on the incident, a British Airways spokesperson told Simple Flying,
“Safety is at the heart of everything we do, and our highly trained cabin crew worked quickly and safely to resolve the situation.”
The danger of smartphones
Smartphones are designed to be safe to use in day-to-day scenarios. However, being crushed in a mechanism isn’t a typical use of a smartphone. When a mechanical seat is moved, it can crush a phone stuck in the way. In this case, it appears that an iPhone was the culprit.
Cabin crew of a Boeing 787-9 (G-ZBKF) saw smoke emanating from a passenger seat. A mobile phone had been crushed in the seat mechanism. The fire was extinguished and there was no damage to the aircraft.
— AAIB (@aaibgovuk) April 19, 2021
When phones are crushed or deformed, it can cause a lithium battery to become pierced. This, in turn, can cause the phone to ignite. According to the AAIB, a lithium battery is more likely to catch fire during or just after charging. At the time of the incident, the passenger had plugged the phone in.
As a result of such incidents, passengers are warned about the risk of seats damaging phones several times during a flight. British Airways mentions this risk during the safety demonstration with the following message,
“Take care your device does not get lost within your seat. if it does please don’t move it but let one of your cabin crew know. devices must be switched off and disconnected from the seat power socket when not being used in flight.”
Additional announcements are made during boarding and at times when passengers are likely to move their seats.
Did you know not to move a seat if you’ve dropped a phone into it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.