"Samsung Galaxy 7 notebooks are not allowed in the cargo hold."
That's a quote from an actual airline employee, who made the announcement at a United Airlines gate in Denver. I overheard it during my travels a couple of weeks ago, before the Department of Transportation banned the explosion-prone Note 7 smartphones from all U.S. flights.
At the time, I thought it was funny. The gate worker not only got the advisory wrong (Note 7s were still being allowed in the cargo hold, as long as they were powered down), but she didn't even know if the Note 7 is a phone or a laptop.
If airline personnel are confused about this, maybe many consumers are, too. One Gizmodo reader recounts a tale about a woman giving her Samsung phone (which was not a Note 7) to her husband before boarding the plane because she thought the device was banned.
This kind of confusion, however anecdotal, could be a disquieting signal for Samsung and its shareholders.
I originally thought Samsung's smartphone business would ultimately be OK in the long run because people will understand that the battery problems are confined to just one single Samsung product (Galaxy Note devices account for only about 10% of Samsung phone sales). But I'm not sure people understand that.
Many people outside of tech and media circles don't make a big deal out of hot new phones and specs and feature sets. To some people, a Samsung phone is a Samsung phone and that's it. Add to this the fact that the Note 7 battery blowups are now a big enough topic of public conversation that they get mentioned on Saturday Night Live (and even they got it wrong, calling the Note 7 the "Galaxy 7"). The take-away for many people may be simply that "Samsungs blow up."
On the other hand, anybody who would plop down $800 for a Galaxy Note 7 would probably know damn well what they bought. But the potential damage from this whole affair could be the impression it has made on Samsung's existing and future non-premium phone buyers. If those people simply associate the brand name with unsafe phones, that could do some real damage.
Since my flight through Denver, the Department of Transportation has issued a full ban on carrying a Note 7 onto a flight on one’s person or in one's luggage.