A Southwest Airlines flight from Louisville, KY, was evacuated earlier today after an unidentified Samsung phone caught fire, burning a hole in the carpet and filling the cabin with smoke.
Update 1:20 ET: According to The Verge, which tracked down and spoke to the owner of the device that caught fire, it was a replacement Note 7 that exploded. The owner, Brian Green, said that he exchanged the device at an AT&T store on September 21st. A photo of the box obtained by The Verge appears to confirm this.
Fingers are obviously going to be pointed at the Galaxy Note 7, which has been recalled after being linked to a number of fires. Airlines have been banning the use of Galaxy Note 7 devices on planes for the past few weeks, although the status of any usage ban is unclear now that Samsung has started replacing defective Note 7s with safe devices.
A Samsung spokesperson told WHAS11 that “There is no evidence that this incident is related to the new Note7. We are working with the authorities and Southwest now to recover the device and confirm the cause.”
According to tweets from the last few days, Southwest flight attendants have still been asking passengers to keep their Note 7 devices turned off on the plane.
We’ll have to wait to see what the device was before knowing the fallout from this event. If it proves to be a recalled Note 7 that just hasn’t been returned yet, then it can be written off as an unfortunate accident that shouldn’t happen again.
But if this proves to be a “safe” Note 7 purchased after the recall — which appeared to be the case with one fire in China — it could be a much bigger problem for Samsung. The company has already recalled 2.5 million devices worldwide at a moment when it was meant to be competing hard against the iPhone 7.
Even if it proves to be a defective Note 7, the PR effects for Samsung will be bad. With the recall complete, Samsung is just starting to put the Note 7 back on sale and claim back its reputation. If the news is still full of stories about combustible Samsung smartphones, it doesn’t matter when they were sold — people still aren’t going to walk into a store and buy something if there’s any chance it will suddenly catch fire.