By Mpho Tebele
GABORONE-AIR Botswana announced this week it has joined other airline companies around the world that have banned all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices from their flights following technical malfunctions of the latest mobile phone.
This means that customers will no longer be able to fly with the device, even if it is switched off or packed in checked or carry-on luggage.
In a statement, the airline states that it has been monitoring the situation closely following a spate of reported incidents involving the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices.
Air Botswana says the problem has now escalated to levels which pose serious threats to flight safety.
The company said it has been reported that the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices have a battery cell that has a risk of exploding or catching flames when in use, including on the replaced smart phones.
“Air Botswana apologises for any inconvenience that may result from this decision. However, cooperation by members of the travelling public will be greatly appreciated as this is intended to ensure that the safety needs of our customers are greatly safeguarded,” it said.
The national flag carrier joins airlines around the world, which banned the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 outright recently, after the US Department of Transportation made possession of Note 7s aboard an aircraft a criminal offence.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a widespread ban on carrying Samsung Electronics Galaxy Note 7 cellphones on aircraft went into force recently, after US air-safety officials deemed the device to be a potential fire hazard.
The publication reports that US authorities flagged the ban on carrying the phones in the passenger cabin or aircraft hold, including checked baggage, on all domestic flights as well as those into and out of the country.
The move was followed by airlines in Canada, Asia and other regions where the device had been sold.
Airlines have updated advice to passengers on their websites and are required to advise passengers of the ban before and after boarding. A Samsung spokesperson said it was working with carriers to communicate the ban to passengers.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Friday that passengers who try to carry the phones onto flights could have them confiscated and face fines of as much as $180,000, or possible prosecution, if they try to evade the emergency order by hiding them in checked luggage.
Airlines in Asia, including Singapore Airlines Ltd and Qantas Airways Ltd., followed the US lead with their own complete bans, though Europe’s main air-safety regulator left unchanged its guidance that phones could still be carried so long as they were off.
“We believe that our current recommendation mitigates the risk given the very low number of Note 7s available in Europe,” a spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said on Saturday.
British Airways for example, warned passengers that the phones couldn’t be taken on its flights to the US, Canada and Hong Kong.
The phones join a list of items banned on US flights ranging from fireworks to lighter fluid. It is unclear how many of the handsets remain in circulation after a widespread recall by Samsung, which has ceased production of the Note 7.
“They are clearly dangerous items to carry on airplanes and the industry is moving to ensure that they are not allowed in the cabin, or the hold,” Emirates Airline President Tim Clark told The Wall Street Journal.
The Federal Aviation Administration said its move toward a complete ban followed the recent official recall of the phone’s fire-prone batteries by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Reports also indicate that the main US flight attendants union welcomed the ban. Samsung recently suspended production of the Galaxy Note 7 and last week pulled the plug on the handset entirely. It is currently carrying out a recall of 2.5 million Note 7 devices.
The company is also offering an exchange programme for a Galaxy 7 or 7 Edge, with the addition of a refund covering the price difference. Alternatively, owners can request a full refund.