Your misplaced phone could set fire to the plane

Angus Kidman 13 December 2016 NEWS


No, I'm not kidding - here's what the risk is.

Qantas updated its in-flight safety video earlier this year, with a fancy expensive production shot in locations around Australia. You'll remember it if you've seen it: it's the one where none of the demonstrations take place on the plane. If you haven't, here's a reminder:

The fancy locations aside, this video also contains a warning Qantas hadn't offered before: to be careful if you've lost your phone in your seat. That can happen easily if it's sitting in your pocket and you're wearing baggy clothing. The Qantas advice? Don't try and retrieve it yourself: "just call a crew member". Presumably, this would have to wait until you've landed: it's impossible to do much with the seat when someone's sitting next to you anyway.

I figured this was just to avoid people trashing the seat mechanism, but it turns out there is more at stake. Yesterday, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) issued a warning on the same subject, which is worth quoting:

Smart phones can fall into aircraft seat mechanisms and be crushed when the seat is moved. This can result in damage to the phone’s lithium battery which can cause overheating and fire. There have been a growing number of smart phone crushing incidents on aircraft, with nine recent emergency events. Airlines are briefing passengers not to move their seat if a phone is dropped or lost and aircraft manufacturers are looking at seat design.

Note that this isn't restricted to a single model of phone. Airlines are still warning passengers not to fly with the fire-prone and entirely withdrawn Galaxy Note 7, but this applies to any recent device. As CASA notes: "The increasing number of crushed phones on aircraft is being caused by the slim design of smart phones and the risk of fire is higher due to more powerful batteries."

We use our phones everywhere, but having them catch fire on a plane is obviously a much higher-risk scenario. It wasn't that long ago that phones weren't allowed to be used during take-off and landing, which arguably makes this particular risk higher; these days, half the passengers I see on planes have their phones in their hand the entire time.

So don't say you haven't been warned. Take care of your phone on the plane. There's a lot more than simply needing to replace it at risk. Don't impersonate Adele and set fire to the plane.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on

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