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  • Powering Down to Take Off: Some tech gadgets might not be allowed for travel

Powering Down to Take Off: Some tech gadgets might not be allowed for travel

It’s common for commuters to be on their cellphones during the morning train ride, business trip, red eye flight or daily work carpool. The availability of internet access virtually anywhere has created a dependence on tech gadgets being used for everything from text messages to creating PDFs for work presentations.

The habit though, can become a dangerous one, given that the contents and inner workings of many tech gadgets can bring about dangerous risks. In September 2016, Samsung officially recalled 2.5 million of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones worldwide for battery troubles. Four months later, the technology company pinpointed the issue to a flaw in the lithium ion battery cell, design failure and manufacturing defaults, resulting in fire.

These lithium-ion batteries are pretty standard when it comes to consumer electronics and can be found in most cell phones, tablets, laptops, hoverboards, drones and more. They’re a go-to source of battery power due to their small size, but large amount of power packed in, which can easily charge and recharge. However, with their highly volatile state, many airlines and trains have publicly broadcast the dangers and bans of such batteries. But this back-and-forth use of charging heats up the device and if not controlled, the unstable battery can explode.

In January 2016, a Delta Air Lines flight discovered a carry-on bag with two laptops in it had caught fire, causing passengers to use emergency exits while at the gate. Three other cargo plane crashes took place from 2006 to 2011 due to battery fires, according to an article published in The New York Times by Christine Negroni.

According to a Pew Research study in 2015, 68 percent of U.S. adults had a smartphone, and tablet computer ownership was up to 45 percent in adults. These numbers startle safety experts, especially when these devices are on board or even stowed on aircraft carriers. The Royal Aeronautical Society estimates the smallest single-aisle jet plane could have more than 500 batteries on it.

To combat this issue, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned all Samsung Galaxy Note 7s on airplanes in October 2016. According to Nicole Noll-Williams, director of Marketing and Passenger Development at the Capital Region International Airport, airports do everything in their power to ensure passengers are aware and compliant of safety standards from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

“For the airport, we recognize there is a ban on phones for airlines,” Noll-Williams said, “and it will inconvenience passengers, but the safety of the passengers on the airplane is the utmost importance for the DOT, FAA, the airlines and for us at the airport.”

With FlyLansing.com, the website provides and updates the latest on TSA banned items, including everything from aerosol containers, e-cigarettes, lighter fluid, spray paint, batteries and more. Many bans are specific on size of the aircraft.
“We want to do everything we can to help provide support and make sure the knowledge is out there to our travelers,” Noll-Williams said. “Again, it goes back to the safety of travel and anything that we can do to support those efforts – we are going to do what we can.”

The bans aren’t just on planes, but also trains and automobiles as well. Amtrak followed suit of the airlines and enacted a ban on the same cell phone back in October 2016. Amtrak officials stated that safety of customers and employees is the most important thing, and given the potential serious safety risks of the Samsung cell phone, the ban would include trains, thruway buses, facilities, stations and platforms.

From a tech industry standpoint, companies like Samsung are left to offer refunds to their customers affected by recalls. So far, they have reported a 96 percent rate of return of all recalled Galaxy Note 7 devices. The brand’s website features a special section dedicated to the recall and are offering up to a $100 credit from select carriers for customers who exchange their recalled phone, refunds and bill credits.

Surely, the effect has resulted in increased safety standards, but also led to a heavy hit on behalf of Samsung. After halting the production of the smartphone, Samsung’s stock plummeted eight percent in Seoul, wiping out about $17 billion off the company’s market value, as noted by Jethro Mullen and Mark Thompson of CNN Tech. Though the move was costly, ultimately an effort to save face from its disastrous, dangerous device is worth more to the tech giant.

Tech gadgets are often successful in making our work weeks far easier and convenient to do business on different modes of transportation, but safety need not be put on the back burner. When airlines tell you to power down your cell phone on your next flight, please listen. For the safety of everyone on board, just unplug for a while. We’ll all thank you.

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn received her degree in Journalism from Lansing Community College. She’s a concert junkie; living and breathing in both the local and national music scene. She is proud to call Lansing her home, finding a new reason every day to be smitten with the mitten.

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