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E-cigarette causes fire on American Airlines flight

Commentary: A plane makes an emergency landing Thursday after an e-cigarette "malfunctions."

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


An American Airlines MD-80, similar to the one involved in the incident.

Tom Pennington, MCT

An e-cigarette has something new in common with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Both have smoked up airplanes.

On Thursday, an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Indianapolis was diverted to Little Rock, Arkansas, when "a passenger's electronic cigarette in their possession malfunctioned," a spokesman for the airline told me.

As to the nature of the malfunction, "it appears the device went into thermal runaway, which resulted in a small fire. Thanks to the quick actions of our crew members, the fire was extinguished," the spokesman added.

Thermal runaway is when something overheats and that overheating creates a further, higher-magnitude increase in temperature.

The plane was an MD-80 and the airline says that none of the 137 passengers and 5 crew members were hurt. The passengers were put on another plane and the incident has been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration.

One can always speculate what this malfunction might have been. The fact that there was a fire might lead some to conclude that, as with the Note 7 -- which exploded a little too often -- a battery might have been responsible.

E-cigarettes are allowed on planes -- but not in checked baggage -- as long as they're not used. However, this incident comes soon after another at New York's Grand Central Terminal in which, a man's lawyer says, an e-cigarette exploded in his pocket.

Can it be that airlines might consider adding e-cigarettes to their now-standard "Note 7 is banned" announcements?