About that Samsung tablet that 'overheated' on a plane

You don't need to look far for reports of Samsung things catching on fire these days. In the wake of the Galaxy Note 7 recall, the media — and public consciousness — is highly sensitive to anything that looks remotely connected to the Note's unprecedented battery woes. That's true whether we're talking about a completely different phone with no known issues, or a Samsung washing machine made by a completely different division of the company.

In any case, here's today's exploding Samsung thing: what appears to be a Galaxy Tab of some description, which started smouldering on a Delta flight from Detroit to Amsterdam.

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The flight was diverted to Manchester after smoke was discovered in the business class cabin, then the (utterly destroyed) tablet was found wedged in a seat. The talk of "overheating" and "thermal runaway" here might make you think the tablet's cracked appearance is unrelated to the apparent battery fire. But what's way, way more likely is that the battery ruptured because of extreme physical damage — the kind that'll result from jamming it in an airplane seat.

As Jerry Hildenbrand explains in an earlier article:

Lithium batteries are designed to be lightweight, deliver high output, and be easy to charge. This means that the outside shell and the barrier(s) separating the electrodes are very thin and light, with most of the weight coming from the parts that can actually power your phone.Because the partitions and case are thin, they're fairly easy to puncture or tear. If the structure of the battery itself is damaged in a way that makes the electrodes touch, a short circuit will happen. The instant electrical discharge is explosive, which can (and will) heat the electrolyte and create pressure to push it out through any ruptures in the battery case. It's hot, it's flammable and it's in contact with a spark. That's a recipe for disaster.

A Samsung statement given to The Telegraph blamed "external factors" — it's easy to see why given the extreme nature of the damage.

MORE: What makes a battery explode?

Everyone is more aware of exploding gadgets following the Note 7 recall, and as a result, incidents like this are often reported in the context of other Samsung gadgets catching fire. Case in point: Reports on a Galaxy Note 2 catching fire over India last week.

What we have here is a case of frequency illusion. (Sometimes called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.) This is a cognitive bias — a trick of the mind — where something which has recently come to the personal or collective attention seems to appear with much greater frequency shortly afterwards.That's amplified considerably by the modern media, which is quick to jump on unrelated stories like the Note 2 catching fire over India, and present them in the narrative of the Note 7 battery fiasco. Had the Note 7 not had battery issues, a story about a single smartphone malfunctioning (albeit spectacularly) on an airplane, with no harm coming to anyone, wouldn't have been splashed around major news outlets as much as it has been.

The very same applies to a tablet battery rupturing after being crushed in an airline seat. Would this be getting so much traction if we weren't in the midsts of an unprecedented smartphone recall? Probably not.

MORE: Frequency illusion and exploding Samsung phones

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

79 Comments
  • Who says it was "crushed" between two airline seats? What two business class seats are so close together they can crush a tablet? The caption on the Tweet says it was "jammed in a seat", not crushed between two seats. So in other words, there is too much unconfirmed info and conjecture in this article, how about doing some research and getting back to us?
  • Jammed usually means a tight fit that you had to use pressure to put it there. At least that is how I use the word.
  • Looks like it was a little more than jammed.
  • Jammed to me means forcefully placed and put in a place not it didn't exactly fit. Also, I know people that are very careless with their gadgets and just toss/fling them around. This person may have very well damaged their divide a previous time or this time and with now placing/jamming it in a tight place caused the melt down. Would have happened with any device.
    This is getting ridiculous, all the claims of fires now with Samsung-anyone remember iPhones not too long ago catching fire...Google 'iPhone catching fire'. So since everyone is conveniently forgetting about those, the same will be for Samsung. And we can get on with things
  • Couldn't it be that other OEM also pay people to distribute these stories or to claim these stories, true Note 7 might have had a flaw but all of sudden Boom! Samsung!
  • No.
  • I wonder the same thing sometimes. Just about anything is possible these days I fail to see how someone framing Samsung at the perfect time could be impossible.
  • If they wanted to they would use a phone not a tablet. Posted via Android Central App
  • I don't buy this excuse. I used to have a colour changing phone Cover on my iPhone 4s that would turn yellow with heat. Once I put it on top of a heat Press at work to make it change colour quickly so I could show some work friends, but I forgot about it and left it exposed to 150 degrees (Celcius) for well over 15 minutes. Needless to say the phone didn't turn on until it had completely cooled down, but and no point did it explode. It just turned itself off.
  • I agree. Countless times phones left in sun at the beach or wherever, never burned up. IPhones other Android phones, nothing ever happened. The only thing I've ever seen is a warning that it's overheating and shuts down.
  • Share and enjoy. https://www.reddit.com/r/apple/comments/54te00/running_a_little_hot/
  • Did you read the article? The phone didn't burn up because of heat, it burned up because - allegedly - it was jammed into the seat, which damaged the tablet and caused the battery internals to come into contact with an electric charge, which sparked a flame.
  • No one is claiming this thing caught fire because it was "hot".  It (most likely) caught fire because it get bent, which damaged the battery.  You are absolutely correct that these devices have circuitry to try and prevent Li-Ion batteries from failing due to heat.
  • This. Phil saw this on the FAA safety message thingy he reads (because he is a huge nerd) Sunday and we had a look. My first thought — big tablet wedged in a seat = bent tablet = tear in the battery foil = shitsonfireyo. Nothing at all to do with any particular brand or model. Everything to do with lithium batteries can be more dangerous than most people know.
  • You just got lucky (or didn't get unlucky). Some iPhones have caught fire from doing dodgy things. Even on planes. The article above does a good job explaining why you think Samsung has a problem.
  • Samsung needs to get it together. There's no excuse for this
  • You're an idiot.
  • Don't hurt yourself.. I'm sure that comment took a lot out of you.
  • Your comment wan't much better.
  • No excuse for what, pray?
  • Don't believe all these stories.
  • Probably just people trying to get some money out of Samsung, like an ambulance chaser. It's a lot cheaper to settle out of court than go to court and get negative PR out of it. I can make my phone over heat by sitting on it applying heat and pressure of my own body with a phone in a chair
  • Agree. To think that people like this will be rewarded financially for being complete and utter morons pisses me off to the core.
  • Wow! Bendgate all over again... and I though isheep were stupid for bending their phones " just cuz they could". Leave it to Samsung to up the ante with fire and burns, and leave it to their fans to respond in haste. Ah well guess there will always be those that have to try out every new feature on a device.... their flight 167 to L.A. Be damned!
  • I'm sure putting the whole thing under enough pressure to crack the screen could breach the battery causing it ignite and as for everyone whos battery got extremely hot from an external heat source and not bursting into flames that is completely different from it being ruptured
  • You are right. I don't know why people want Samsung to be a horrible OEM which doesn't care about safety, whereas this incident would have happened with any destroyed device with a battery (tablet, smartphone, laptop...).
  • And these kinds of incidents *do* happen with all kinds of devices, all the time.  The media is just jumping all over Samsung devices doing it right now because it's guaranteed clicks and ad revenue.
  • We don't need to explain everything away. We all love Android but if an OEM messes up, they mess up. No need to get super defensive about it. Samsungs having a rough time right now but hopefully they'll learn from it and step things up. Android still the best!
  • I'm not defending anyone at all its just stupid comparing two completely different circumstances and saying you didn't get the same result give me anyone's phone and I'm sure if I smashed the battery up it would ignite/explode changing the factors to can external heating source is completely different giving different results
  • On this, I dont know how many times I've seen a friends iPhone screen cracked due to being dropped. It's funny, when I think of phone screens being cracked, an image of an iPhone with its glass screen or backing pops into my head.
    Yet funny enough, these same devices don't "smolder or fire". So yeah.
  • You're embarrassingly uninformed. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36955531
    http://wfla.com/2016/07/07/iphone-explodes-in-mans-pocket-lights-pants-o...
    http://www.cultofmac.com/291864/iphone-5-catches-fire-mid-flight-causes-...
    http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/12-Year-Old-Girl-I-Was-Burned-...
    http://www.kmov.com/story/32388590/iphone-catches-fire-and-burns-st-pete...
    http://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/iphone-catches-fire-mans-pants/17233918
    http://www.phonearena.com/news/iPhone-6-Plus-catches-fire-in-mans-bed_id...
    http://insider.foxnews.com/2014/02/01/ouch-iphone-catches-fire-maine-tee...
    http://www.fox10phoenix.com/news/1648947-story
    http://www.clark.com/iphone-explodes-man-pocket
    http://www.siliconbeat.com/2013/08/29/local-man-burned-up-by-apples-resp...
    http://www.technobuffalo.com/2015/12/30/iphone-6-plus-catches-fire-in-ma...
    http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/smartphone-plane-fire/
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2484293,00.asp
    http://www.wwltv.com/news/local/man-describes-how-iphone-6s-catches-fire... And this guy DIED because his iPhone caught on fire while charging.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/man-dies-in-house-fire-in...
  • Uh-oh, Facts and Sources! We don't need no stinkin Facts, cause 'Murica!
  • Actually that's not true at all. Last month an iPhone 6 exposed in the pocket of a cyclist in Sydney, Australia giving him severe 3rd degree burns. The man needed a skin graft. Earlier this year an iPhone exploded on an airplane as well. And it's not the first time.
  • Oh you need a re education. iPhone is the best thing to every come to this planet. It's perfect and first at everything.
  • Well, yeah, apple decided that these people need to be burned so it happened. They're supposed to like it. Ahh, the apple way.
  • Apple calls it iBranding.
  • ROTFL Posted from my unlocked S7 Active/ stealth black Note 7/ peerless Note 4/ or iPad Pro 12.9
  • Cracking the screen and bending the whole device are two very different things, in terms of force and stresses exerted on the internal components of the device (like the battery).
  • Ahh! Yet another (crap) article...day after day. It's the same thing (re)written over, but in different words! This isn't news anymore at all..
  • Jog on then. Nobody forcing you to read it.
  • Samsung crap! Everything they make is cheap crap! Why don't you people realize this?
  • Careful, the samboys are just as rabid as the apple crowd.. Sometimes worse.
  • I know :)) I'm not afraid, though. The internet protects me :)
  • So are the samhaters. Any chance to jump on the bashing bandwagon.
  • Cheap crap? My phone wasn't cheap, and I fail to see how what was arguably the best phone on the planet when it was released (s6edge plus) can be described as crap.
  • That would explain why they are number 1 then, huh....
  • Some serious physical damage...
    Looks like it was dropped at 20,000ft..
    regardless of conjecture, I don't immediately think dodgy battery when looking at the pic..
  • Mass Hysteria.... I say.
  • Don't forget about the dogs and cats living together...
  • Well, if the damage on the tablet itself along with the statement that it was wedged in an airline seat are true, I feel that the battery could've been punctured, causing it to short out.
  • Exactly. This seems much more likely to be a case of mechanical trauma to the battery rather than heat damage. Now the fact that the tablet is designed such that the battery can be punctured by this level of damage is another matter, and not one that I really feel qualified to talk about.
  • The grounds crew confirm that the tablet got jammed in the seat and was damage when the seat was reclined . This is way to much about nothing. And the fact it happened last week why are we talking about it?? Click bait we've been hooked into this story
  • There's blood in the water....sharks will come.
  • Not entirely related to the story here, but I was flying home last week and during the safety walkthrough on one of my connections, they asked that all Galaxy Note 7s be turned off for the duration of the flight instead of just in airplane like all other devices.
  • Lol a bad battery can burn when it's on or off. It's CYA. Does anyone else love how our lives are controlled by insurance liability?
  • The battery is even more susceptible when is damaged
  • So what's gonna happen after a while? Maybe all airplanes will have fireproof boxes that you can put your device in when it starts smoking. ;) or maybe you won't be able to use your device at all? :(
  • What about the exploding washing machines? The Consumer Product Safety Commission has determined that the lower spin speed “lessens the risk of impact injuries or property damage due to the washing machine becoming dislodged” and is working with Samsung on a remedy. A month ago, owners of the exploding washing machines filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the South Korean firm. The lawsuit claims that Samsung “has moved aggressively to collect and destroy all evidence of the defective machines.”
  • What about them? LG has had them, Hotpoint has had them......
  • ha ha.. ha... that's not thermal runaway... Like not even a little close.
  • This is one of the short comings of making products so thin.
  • Well this is true. Even removable batteries are just covered by really thin plastic and are quite bendable.
  • Lol for once Samsung just can't catch a break. Not feeling bad for a company who doesn't care about users anyway.
  • You mean the same company that just took a soaking of a billion dollars in recalling the Note 7's and promptly got new ones into the hands of those who turned them in? Yeah, they really don't care.....sheesh.....
  • Yeah especially when a very small percentage of the devices were actually defective. Not to mention some of those devices were damaged due to the user and they got a brand new device in return. Plus $25 bill credits were issued to their accounts.
  • I had a galaxy s5 that I'd left in the car while working when it was probably 100 something degrees out. When I came back the car wasn't in the shade anymore,it was sitting in direct sunlight and it was HOT,but obviously it didn't catch fire or get damaged,the battery just died from 100 to 0 in like 3 hours. Until I bought my Nexus phone I've been using Samsung year after year and I'm pretty confident in their products. Its sad to think how many gullible people are gonna be turned away.
  • The Business class ****** is a moron. Any tablet being stuff to a seat including the ever popular iPad will cause it to overheat crack the screen and burst the battery it's common sense.
  • Samsung is selling and have sold 100 of million of tablets one gets crushed in the seat . Which by the way was confirmed by the ground crew and smoother. And it's news . I see it as a isolated incident no more no less . That's only hyped up by the media ,and bad timing . Just last week a guys iPhone got jammed in a plane seat did the same thing hardly made the tech media let alone the mainstream media . Just saying . Time to dial down the Hysteria. Typing this on my safe note 7
  • Starting to think that there is a conspiracy against Samsung. All those Samsung devices (outside the galaxy note 7) suddenly starting to explode all by coincidence. Nope, can't buy it. I think some people actually make sure they're in the conditions where this would happen, and then would use this to deteriorate Samsung's image and sue them and to money.
  • This ^^
  • Here's what really happened.
    Alex was on a flight from Detroit to Amsterdam. Alex lives in Manchester.
    Alex was using a loaner tablet.
    Alex and Samsung Calendar got his dates wrong.
    Akex sees this on the flight.
    Alex sees the flight path on the screens.
    Alex wants badly to be in Manchester.
    Alex doesn't want to go via Amsterdam.
    Alex was writing another blog about the Note 7.
    Alex started thinking ...... xD
  • Hmmm. I've heard of some iPhone battery explode before but nothing like Samsung stuff. The washer and tablet thing just seems really suspicious. I have Samsung washer and dryer but mines are front load so I'm not worry about them exploding.
  • And I have a top loader Samsung washer and dryer not worried in the lest . Oh and I'm typing this from my note 7 plus haha . Let's all take a deep breath and relax and move on
  • Hard times for Samsung really.
  • Yep, the "buttgate" I joked about 5 months ago happened. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It was obvious from the beginning that this was caused by physical damage to the device judging by the gaping hole in one corner because a battery failure alone doesn't do that.
  • The FAA and the airline has already said as much ..but you know let's make much to do about nothing
  • I'm starting to worry that the result of these idiot people who are accidentally or (more likely) purposely deforming these (often older) devices so they catch fire or explode in confined spaces like airplanes is going to result in individual airlines and/or government agencies banning them (meaning devices with lithium ion batteries) from flights altogether. (Mainly because we can't ban idiots very easily.)
  • Haha so true