All 128 passengers and six crew members were bussed to the terminal upon landing. There were no serious injuries, nor were other airport operations impacted. Though a spokesperson for the Port of Seattle told The Seattle Times the phone was “burned beyond recognition,” the owner of the phone volunteered to law enforcement that it had been a Galaxy A21.
Samsung isn’t exactly a stranger to spontaneous combustion. A few years ago, the Galaxy Note 7 earned itself a nasty reputation after almost 100 of them randomly caught fire. Samsung made an unprecedented decision to recall all of its Note 7s, causing retailers around the globe to stop selling the phone. You’d think after the rigorous testing these devices go through that phone explosions wouldn’t happen out in the “real world,” but here we are.
An investigation hasn’t yet been announced for why this particular Galaxy A21 caught fire—nor have there been any other reports of people’s A21s going up in flames (yet). That being said, it’s always possible this Samsung model combusted for the same reason all those Note 7s did: faulty batteries. According to those who investigated the Galaxy Note 7 debacle, today’s mobile phones are slimmer than ever and designed to be used all day every day, which presents a technological catch-22.
“Lithium-ion batteries are two- to ten-times more energy-dense than other battery technologies, and getting more use time without having a huge phone is a big deal,” a materials science researcher told Wired in 2017. Failing to provide enough room around the battery, the researcher said, “[causes] electrodes inside [the] battery to crimp, weaken the separator between the electrodes, and cause short-circuiting.” Some of the batteries Samsung sourced for the Galaxy Note 7 were also found to be missing insulation tape, while others possessed sharp protrusions that caused damage to the phone’s internals over time. But Samsung promised back then to put more effort into providing its batteries with sufficient room inside their phones, making it difficult to predict whether this could truly be a repeat issue.
Though they’ll have to eventually, Samsung has not yet commented on the Galaxy A21 incident.
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