A Virgin Atlantic flight out of New York City was forced to make an emergency landing in Boston following a cabin fire that authorities suspect was sparked by a phone charger.
The London-bound plane was rerouted to Boston Logan International Airport, where all 217 passengers and crew were safely evacuated, Massachusetts State Police said in a statement. One passenger refused emergency medical treatment for a smoke-related complaint.
The preliminary investigation has homed in on a phone charger, according to Massachusetts State Police, after wires were found protruding between passenger seat cushions where the fire originated. The blaze was extinguished by the flight crew.
According to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, spare lithium batteries, the type typically found in external battery packs, are prohibited in checked baggage. Several airlines also have placed restrictions on “smart bags” that come with built-in smartphone chargers because they could potentially explode during a flight. But such restrictions generally don’t apply to carry-on bags, so long as the batteries are powered down, under the rationale that a cabin fire is more easily extinguished than one in the cargo hold.
Airlines began to change their policies after a number of smartphone battery fires, including one in 2016 that forced the evacuation of a Southwest Airlines Flight.
The Department of Transportation banned the particular smartphone model involved, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. But airlines cited the proliferation of lithium batteries and consumers’ reliance on backup chargers in statements announcing new rules. In a sign of how widespread battery-powered devices have become in recent years, many passenger airplanes are equipped with charging docks at every seat.
When asked about the Virgin Atlantic incident, the FAA said in a statement, “Incident response and investigation is the top priority for the Hazardous Materials Safety Program and the FAA takes all incidents seriously.”
Arline passengers are advised to alert the crew immediately if battery-powered devices feel hot, fall into seats or begin to smoke.
In a statement, Virgin Atlantic said, “The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our top priority and we are currently investigating to fully understand the circumstances.” Customers were offered overnight accommodations and new flights to London.
The incident marked the second emergency landing of the day at the airport. An American Airlines jet out of Chicago landed after a cockpit light warned of a possible mechanical issue.