Deadly Stupidity: What NOT To Do in an Emergency

Passengers flee a burning 777 in Las Vegas. Photo by Jacob Steinberg

Passengers flee a burning 777 in Las Vegas.     Photo by Jacob Steinberg.

September 9, 2015

NOT THIS AGAIN. Yet another incident with passengers taking their carry-on bags during an evacuation. This time it happened in Las Vegas, after a British Airways 777 caught fire during its takeoff roll.

I cannot overemphasize how unsafe this is. Luggage slows people down, impedes access to the aisles and exits, and it turns the escape slides into a deadly slalom. This time it’s particularly striking, because while most evacuations are precautionary, this one was a full-blown emergency. The airplane was on fire. If that isn’t reason enough to leave your things and get the fuck off the plane as quickly as you can, then heaven help you.

This is just the latest in a string of disturbingly similar incidents. Flight attendants are yelling, “Leave your stuff!” but they’re being ignored. People are digging through the bins for their computers and backpacks; here’s a guy coming up the aisle with a 35-pound roll-aboard. On YouTube you can find selfie videos from idiotic passengers who thought it was cool to film themselves going down the slide.

As noted, evacuations are usually precautionary: the plane isn’t on fire or about to explode; still, the crew might not be fully certain of what it’s dealing with, and this is never a situation to take lightly. Seconds count, and the goal is to get everybody out as fast as possible. What at first might seem an abundance of caution can quickly turn to terror.

Aboard British Airways flight 2276, the evacuation process may have felt orderly and calm. How would things have unfolded, however, had a fuel tank exploded, or had the smoke and fire suddenly spread inside the plane? Now people are screaming. There’s a mad rush for the exits, but the aisle is clogged with suitcases dropped by panicked passengers. Your computer, your Kindle, your electric toothbrush, your underwear and your Sudoku books — none of those things is worth risking your life over. Not to mention the lives of the passengers behind you, who can’t get to the door because your 26-inch Tumi is in the way.

And although you can’t always see it in videos or photos, but those slides are extremely steep. They are not designed with convenience — or fun — in mind. They are designed for no other purpose than to empty a plane of its occupants as rapidly as possible. You’ll be coming down from over two stories high in the case of a widebody jet, at a very rapid clip, with others in front of you and right behind you. Even without bags people are often injured going down the slides. This is expected. Add carry-ons to the mix and somebody is liable to be killed, smacked on the head by your suitcase or baby stroller.

People and their belongings exit a burning Air France jet in Toronto, 2005. (Eddie Ho, Toronto Star)

People and their belongings exit a burning Air France jet in Toronto, 2005.
(Eddie Ho, Toronto Star)

Screen shot 2015-03-19 at 2.55.16 PM

It’s aggravating, because of all the gibberish that is crammed into the typical pre-flight safety demo, one of the most potentially valuable pieces of instruction is almost always missing: a warning on what to do – or, more accurately, what not to do – in an emergency evacuation. This should be a bold-print, high-emphasis item in any briefing, stated and loudly. Instead we get complicated, twenty-step directions on how to use a lifejacket — as if anybody might remember them as they’re jumping into the water. (I could also mention that while neither is likely, a runway evacuation is a lot more likely than a water landing.)

Leave your things behind. It all will be returned to you later, no worse for wear. And if, in that rarest of rare cases, it winds up incinerated, you should be happy to have lost it. Lest it have been you in there.

Don't even think about it.

Don’t even think about it.

As to the malfunction that caused the emergency in Vegas, it’s hard to know exactly what went wrong, but it appears that an uncontained engine failure touched off a fire. In other words, the left engine’s fan, compressors or turbines came apart. Fragments then burst through the protective nacelle and penetrated the fuselage and/or underside of the wing.

High-speed takeoff aborts are among the most hazardous maneuvers that exist. Luckily, this was a medium to low-speed abort. The jet was relatively early in its takeoff roll, at around a hundred miles-per-hour, when the engine failed and the fire erupted. The pilots promptly aborted the takeoff and shortly thereafter ordered an evacuation. Harrowing as things appear in the TV and online footage, this was a pretty straightforward scenario, and something the pilots had rehearsed many times in the simulator.

The abort itself would have gone something like this: At the first indication of the engine failure or loss of power, whichever pilot was at the controls — it could be the captain or the first officer — would have announced the likes of “Abort!” He next would have pulled the engines to idle and disconnected the autothrottles, maintaining control until the plane came to a stop. The other pilot would have lifted the reverse levers and made sure the wing spoilers had deployed. He’d also have assisted in keeping the airplane straight and made the appropriate callouts with respect to spoiler deployment, speed, etc. Wheel braking would’ve been taken care of automatically via the “RTO” (rejected takeoff) feature of the autobrakes. (Procedures vary carrier to carrier, but this is how British Airways does it. At some airlines, regardless of which pilot is initially at the controls, the captain takes over and performs the abort maneuver.) With only one engine producing reverse power, maintaining directional control may have been tougher than normal. The 777 has a system that automatically corrects for asymmetrical thrust, but I don’t know if it works in this scenario.

Once the plane had shuddered to a stop, the pilots would have run through the necessary checklists. Presumably, in this case, that meant the engine failure or engine fire checklists, followed by an evacuation and shutdown checklist once they realized fire had spread to the fuselage. Somewhere in there, when time permitted, they announced to air traffic control that they’d discontinued the takeoff and were evacuating passengers on the runway.

From that point, things were mostly in the hands of the cabin crew. For all of the attention being lavished on “the pilot” (there were three pilots in the cockpit for this long-haul trip to London, a captain and two first officers), it was the flight attendants who faced the toughest challenge and who are owed the greatest thanks.

Many have wondered what might have happened if the same engine failure had occurred once the plane was aloft, rather than at the start of its takeoff roll. That’s something that can’t be answered. The dynamics would have been different in several ways, and it’s hard to say if there would have been a fire of the same kind, in the same place — or a fire at all — had the 777 been airborne.

Reportedly this was the captain’s second-to-last flight before his retirement (we’re reminded of the United captain whose 747 suffered a blown cargo door and an explosive decompression some years ago on his final flight). He has since told his bosses that this, instead, will have been his last day on the job. Whether he had a proud or nearly disastrous end to his career depends how you see it, I guess.

Traditionally, at the conclusion of a pilot’s final flight, airport fire trucks will drive out and spray the aircraft with water as a tribute. Done, and done, though I don’t think this was quite what he had in mind.

And lastly, because somebody is bound to ask about it… As heard in the exchanges between the BA crew and the Las Vegas tower controllers, the radio call-sign for British Airways is “Speedbird.” This was the nickname of an old corporate logo — a bird-like colophon worn by Imperial Airways and, later, BOAC, two of the predecessors of today’s British Airways.

The "Speedbird" logo atop the tail of a BOAC VC-10.

The “Speedbird” logo atop the tail of a BOAC VC-10.


In the London Times, Commentary From Patrick Smith on the British Airways Fire.

The London Times published the following story of mine about the Vegas incident. The article borrows from my original post, above.

London Times Front Page

THE RUNWAY FIRE involving a British Airways 777 last week in Las Vegas brought out the best and worst of those who were there.

Taking the latter first, maybe the most disturbing thing revealed by photographs and video footage is the number of passengers who took their carry-on bags with them during the evacuation. It can’t be overemphasized how reckless this was. It was particularly striking in this instance, because while most evacuations are precautionary and may lack a sense of urgency, this one was a full-blown emergency. The airplane was on fire.

Luggage slows down an evacuation and impedes access to the aisles and exits — at a time when seconds can mean the difference between life and death. On board flight 2276, the process may have seemed orderly and calm. How would things have unfolded, though, had a fuel tank exploded, or had the smoke and fire spread inside the plane? Now, suddenly, people are screaming and panicking. There’s a mad rush for the exits, but the aisle is clogged with suitcases. Your belongings can be replaced, and aren’t worth risking your life over — to say nothing of the lives of those behind you.

Equally egregious is taking a bag down one of the emergency slides. You can’t always tell from photos, but those slides are extremely steep. They are not designed for convenience; they are designed to empty a plane of its occupants as rapidly as possible. You’ll be coming down from two stories high in the case of a 777, at a very rapid clip, with others doing the same in front of you and right behind you. Even without bags people are often injured using the slides. Add luggage to the mix and somebody is liable to be killed.

And, troublingly, this is something we’ve seen on other recent evacuations as well. Cabin crews are trained to instruct passengers to leave their things behind. The problem is, not everybody listens. Perhaps the most valuable takeaway from this accident is the need for clearer and more direct language in the pre-flight safety demonstration. As they exist today, the demos are tedious and crammed with the equivalent of legal fine print. Nobody pays attention, and we can hardly blame them. These presentations should be shorter and more concise, and among the bullet-points should be the instruction to leave your belongings should the need arise to evacuate.

The BA crewmembers, for their part, appear to have performed admirably. This was a textbook example of what an aviation academic would call “crew resource management” –- a proverbial team effort between the cockpit and cabin crew, for which everybody should be grateful.

For the pilots, this was something they’d rehearsed many times in the simulator. Despite how harrowing the footage appears on TV, it was a pretty straightforward scenario –- and one that could have been a lot worse. High-speed runway aborts are among the most hazardous maneuvers that exist. This, however, was a low to medium-speed abort. The jet was relatively early in its takeoff roll, and got no faster than about a hundred miles-per-hour. The abort itself would have gone like this: At the first indication of the engine failure, the pilot at the controls — in this case it was the captain, though it could have been either the captain or the first officer, depending whose turn it was to fly — would have announced the likes of “Abort!” He next would have pulled the thrust levers to idle, disconnected the autothrottles, and maintained control until the plane was stopped. The other pilot would have lifted the reverse levers and made sure the wing spoilers were deployed. He’d have further assisted in keeping the plane straight and made any appropriate callouts. Once the plane had shuddered to a stop, the pilots would have run through the necessary checklists. Presumably, in this case, that meant the engine failure or engine fire checklist, followed by an evacuation checklist once they understood that fire had spread to the fuselage.

Once the plane had shuddered to a stop, things were mainly in the hands of the cabin crew. For all of the attention being lavished on “the pilot” (in fact three pilots were in the cockpit for this flight to London, a captain and two first officers), it was the cabin attendants who faced the toughest challenge and who deserve the loudest round of applause.

This was, you could say, an incident of extremes. On the one hand, it was the nervous passenger’s worst nightmare come to life. All the statistics in the world can’t conceal what a terrifying example this was of everything that can, and sometimes does go wrong. Absolute safety is impossible; the occasional accident will still occur, and some of them will be deadly.

On the other hand, and maybe a bit ironically, it underscores all that is safe and reliable about modern-day commercial aviation. On the runway in Las Vegas, despite a fast-spreading fire and the ill-advised behavior of certain passengers, not a life was lost. Such an outcome serves as a testament not only to the professionalism of the onboard staff, but also, in a broader sense, to the decades-long evolution in the way air crews are trained. The media’s habitual fixation on even minor mishaps may lead one to think otherwise, but in truth, flying has become a lot safer than it used to be. Gone are the days when ten or more large-scale catastrophes were the norm in any given year. Better training, together with vast improvements in aircraft technology and more potent regulatory oversight has brought us to an age in which major crashes happen far less frequently than they once did.



British Airways 777 on the runway at Las Vegas.

British Airways 777 on the runway at Las Vegas.



One possible and partial solution to the luggage issue was submitted by a reader in the comments section below: how about rigging the overhead bins with a locking system that prevents them from being opened during takeoff or landing? This function could be armed and disarmed similar to how it’s done with the door slides. The benefits of such a system are obvious. The downsides would be the possibility of malfunctions and the weight and cost of the hardware. Either way it’s an interesting idea.

And for a slightly different perspective, here are some comments from Christine Negroni, aviation safety journalist and author of the Flying Lessons blog:

Like you, I found myself shaking my head when I saw the videos or read reports of people taking their carry on luggage off the plane. Then I interviewed a passenger on Asiana 214 [the 2013 crash-landing of a 777 in San Francisco] who had done so and was surprised by his explanation. He told me that when the plane came to a stop and the evacuation began, he acted by habit in gathering his things and only afterward did he realize what he was doing. So I think we cannot discount the effect of altered state of consciousness as playing a role in this behavior. You may have read about this as a form of “negative panic.”

As a pilot, your perspective and ease in flying is not representative of the average passenger, even the average frequent flyer. You can imagine that being in command of the flight, you would be aware of the event as it developed and would therefore be prepared. For the passenger faced with an emergency landing, the time frame is much more compressed.

In another emergency evacuation about which I am writing for my newest book, the emergency landing of an All Nippon Airways 787 Dreamliner in Japan, one passenger told me that when they landed, it went so uneventfully that even though they were evacuating on the runway, he did not feel any sense of danger. It is a credit to how secure passengers feel in some evacuation scenarios that they do take the time to retrieve their things.

All of this is to say that what really needs to follow instances of passengers exiting the plane with their carry-ons is a study of why they do it. In fact, this is done. When I interviewed Boeing vis-a-vis the Asiana event, I was told their survival factors group does passenger surveys, and the NTSB does as well. What happens to this information after that is a legitimate question. Pushing safety authorities to examine this is more effective than bashing passengers for they way they behave in an unpredictable, unexpected and certainly frightening events.

Patrick responds: Passenger shock or panic is indeed an important factor, but if you ask me, this only emphasizes the need for better safety briefings and, maybe, changes to the way flight attendants are trained.


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170 Responses to “Deadly Stupidity: What NOT To Do in an Emergency”
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  1. Don Frew says:

    I carry all of my medications (13) with me when I travel. Some of these meds are such that if I suddenly stop taking them I could DIE. If we are going down in the middle of nowhere I MUST take them with me. It would be more disruptive to try to grab just the critical ones than to take the whole bag (a briefcase) with me. What should I do?

  2. Tim says:

    People were stuffing suitcases in overhead bins long before airlines were charging to check luggage. I found myself in a sort of quandary whenever I saw a woman or elderly person trying to lift a suitcase into the overhead bin. I found a sort of compromise; I ignored them and didn’t snark them by telling them that they can check their suitcase at the ticket ccounter or at the gate. I once found that the reason many people put their suitcases in the overhead bin is so that they don’t have to bother with going to Bag Claim.

  3. Tim says:

    Although I haven’t worn a suit for several decades, I still wear natural fabrics; Levis, heavy cotton shirts, and leather lace up shoes or boots for fire retardant protection. I can carry my wallet and passport in my Levis pockets and my boarding passes fit in my shirt pockets. The only items I carry are a paperback book and a small camera or smart phone that I can put in the seat pocket.

    Safety briefings include too many details that are rather Silly; how many people don’t know how to work a seat belt? I don’t recall ever being told on a civilian airliner how to properly use an emergency slide.I did once get a safety briefing on a military contracted DC8 that mentioned how to use an emergency slide, with emphasis on jumping down the slide and to quickly get away from the aircraft after reaching the ground.

    We were flying with a stop in Alaska, and we were told that if the Weather was cold to get indoors or on a heated bus as soon as possible.

  4. Tim says:

    My dad was an airline employee and my first commercial airline flight wa when I was 7 years old and I flew as a non-rev unaccompanied minor on a turboprop Electra. I wore a wool suit with lace up leather shoes. I was told that I had to wear a suit because it is what one wears while flying, and that it was wool because wool would help protect me if there was a fire. The Electra didn’t have a problem with huge carryon bags because there were no overhead bins, there was an open hat rack and all carry-ons had to be put under the seat. Civilization as I knew it ended when overhead bins were installed on aircraft and people started stuffing full sized suitcases in the overhead bins.

  5. Vince says:

    Patrick, I too was aghast at the people with their carryon luggage coming down the slide. I am an ex-Flight Attendant and also hold a Private Pilot license. Of course the airlines are partially responsible for charging for checked luggage. I have another solution. The FA’s should say in the pre-flight and evacuate announcements that anyone with carryon luggage will have it taken away from them before they are allowed on the escape chute as it is dangerous to the other passengers behind them and in front of them, passengers who guaranteed that will sue the airline. plus more importantly it can puncture the chute and render it useless and jeopardize all the lives of the people behind them that because of you cannot promptly or at all evacuate the plane. So don’t even think about taking anything with you because we will take it away from you before we push you down the chute. If you don’t want to give it up then step aside and let the people in compliance off first. If you don’t understand this announcement or have any questions please ask for Flight Attendant to explain it further for you or for a translation. The safety of all the passengers is the airlines primary responsibility and any person violating this request should alleviate the airline from any liability.

  6. Walter says:

    How about a safety helmet, gloves and safety boots? Lol …..

    • Tim says:

      With people trying to carry or throw duty free booze bottles down emergeny slide you might want to include leather or chainmail pants.

  7. Jean says:

    It might be a good idea to wear unisex clothing (like trousers and a hiking vest) that can accommodate your wallet, meds, and any other items that you may need as soon as you disembark, whether you do so in the normal or the emergency way.

    • Isabel says:

      My work pants have voluminous cargo pockets; I used to wear them to fly all the time–all my important stuff (wallet, phone, boarding pass, keys) in the pockets is surprisingly little hassle. Now all that stuff is in a zipper pouch in my carryon, to be distributed among my pockets after security (I don’t want to be among the idjits who hold up the line) .

  8. Dianna says:

    Long ago in the 70’s, as a flight attendant for TWA, I participated in a 747 evacuation at JFK. We were returning from Madrid with a full aircraft of vacationing passengers. The evacuation was a “cluster”. I won’t go into the details. Suffice it to say, we would have been injury free were it not for the sliced legs and feet of passengers following a lady who threw her duty free bag down the slide which contained several bottles of booze. Everyone needs to take an evacuation seriously. Leave your luggage on the plane.

  9. musings says:

    Long ago, when there still was a World Airways, I was a passenger during an evacuation which involved an engine on fire while the plane was still at the gate, and the pilot was suspicious about something and trying to make a check. This was at LAX in the late 70’s or early 80’s.

    I was probably the first person off the plane, which was still hooked up to the jetway, but I watched as my fellow passengers expressed their curiosity at the smoke coming out of the engine, and they crowded to that side of the plane so they could see it. Soon they too were going down slides, the jetway, any way they could get off, in a full scale evacuation.

    It was surreal that passengers would imagine themselves safe while an engine burned. Did they also take luggage? I did not notice, when I met them back at the lounge and we waited for another plane.

    This event was never reported.

  10. Alan Bowen says:

    I fly BA every couple of weeks, I know the words of the safety video virtually off by heart ” move to the nearest exit, taking nothing with you” are the words used, the safety card clearly shows a big X across a pictorial of a piece of luggage on the diagrams for emergency evacuation. The real problem is people simply ignore the video, no one looks to see where the nearest exit is(they are reminded to look again in the landing comments by the crew) and it is years since I saw anyone take the card out of the seat pocket in front of them and even glance at it. Perhaps the crew should be forced to intervene and tell people to shut up whilst the video is playing, I once told a very annoyed Air Canada flight attendant that I hadn’t heard a single word of the safety announcements because of the noise of others chatter and although reluctant, and unhappy I had the nerve to complain, they started at the beginning and told passengers who were not interested in listening to at least be quiet for the 5 minutes out of an 8 hour flight!

  11. Nancy B says:

    Excellent article & thanks.

  12. Ian says:

    I remember reading a book titled “Just in Case” about 30 years ago, written by a psychologist employed by an airline [Pan Am?] to study people’s reactions to, among many things, emergencies on airplanes. I don’t remember if he mentioned “negative panic” but I do remember that in an emergency most people just sit there. Might be worth reading again; I see that it is listed on Amazon. In any event, if any fool thinks I am going to wait for him/her to gather luggage in an emergency evacuation, they are mistaken.

  13. Scott Hawthorn says:

    I have often wondered what I would do in such a scenario. Why? My meds! I could die or suffer badly without them (mostly diabetes meds). I have sure as hell learned that if I check them in my cargo bags, they might not arrive with me.

    • Ian says:

      These people who say that they need the meds in their bags. Could the not stuff a few days meds in their pockets, enough to last them until the ones lost in the fire get replaced?

  14. Thomas says:

    Why don’t you make such an announcement before each takeoff ?

  15. Joseph says:

    I think the idea of locking the overhead bins is a good idea, however, I have this fear that some idiotic passengers will hold everybody back while insisting and shouting for the bins to be opened so they can take their precious stuff out. It could possibly make the situation worse. How about a stiff fine and a few of years in jail, emphasized by the flight attendants during the safety briefing. I think the fear of going to jail for, say, 5 years if you are caught bringing your carry-on out during an evacuation might be a better and cheaper deterrent.

    • Katarina says:

      If pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers, who are cognizant of all dangers involved in their areas of aviation and are trained to deal with them, shouldn’t be prosecuted when involved in accidents, even when it is partly their fault, then passengers, who are not trained in aviation accidents and may not know the dangers involved, shouldn’t be prosecuted either.

      • Joseph says:

        I stated that an announcement will be made at the beginning of the flight about the penalty for taking your luggage along in case of an emergency evacuation, so all passengers will be aware of this. Secondly, there are lots of less dangerous things people are arrested for right now for doing on airplanes. A guy defecated on the serving trays and was arrested for it. I think uncouth as that may be, it’s less likely to cause loss of life than dragging your on-board luggage along the aisles during an evacuation.

    • Pete Arthur says:

      Or better still. Anyone that’s caught walking away with hand luggage is carried back to the aircraft and thrown back in to replace the bag in the O/H locker.

  16. John W. says:

    Re: the last part of post related to passenger inertia, inability to realise a real threat is imminent. What about a loud siren? Seriously. We have these in a wide range of buildings and situations. A really really loud siren that gets people out of their seats and makes them realise this is an ***emergency***.

    • John W. says:

      Just to add: maybe this would interfere with pilot or cabin crew instructions. But maybe some kind of “emergency” alert, however brief, would knock passengers out of safety bubble and get them more primed to listen to whatever needed to be said by the crew.

  17. Tom Zimmermann says:

    Airlines should take note on how Air New Zealand does safety videos. Theirs are by far the best/funniest and thus most entertaining to watch. You will actually pay attention.

    I think many people’s fears are about getting stranded in a foreign country without money and passport. While I get that, it does not excuses endangering lives by getting your bags. Why not wear a waist bag (as opposed to a waste bag *snicker*) that fits under your trousers. Your belongings are on your person at all times easily accessible, and there is no chance of pickpocketing. In my days of travelling I had one on me morning to night, and on planes…

    • Anonymous says:

      In these days of ‘morbid obesity, I don’t want more stuff around a passenger’s waist to crowd me into my seat.

      They would need to widen the seats if they were going to do that. Actually, they need to widen the seats anyway. That, however, turns the profit margin downward, so safety or not, it will never be done.

  18. MW says:

    I’m a follower of air accidents, but I can only off hand think of four uncontained engine failure incidents.
    United Airlines flight 232, a fan disk failed in the tail engine of a DC-10, causing extensive damage. Heroic flying saved the lives of over half those on board.
    Qantas flight 32, an A380, control systems were extensively damaged but the plane landed without casualties.
    British Airways flight 2276 (this one).
    An Air New Zealand 767 had an uncontained failure (a turbine disk, I think) shortly after takeoff from Australia bound for NZ in about 2002. There was minor damage to the leading edge of the wing. It probably seemed like a routine engine failure until the pilots looked at the engine after landing and saw it had holes in it.

    I think this sort of failure is like Russian Roulette. Fragments go in random directions, and in most directions nothing vital is hit, but some directions can be catastrophic. (Of course it also matters how much uncontained debris there is. The UA-232 failure was always going to be very serious.) Presumably incidents like the Air New Zealand one happen fairly frequently on a world-wide basis but only make local news.

    As an aside: some people say they’ll take their bags in an evacuation because the need medications. I’m not buying it. If you need the medications to stay alive, call an ambulance after the evacuation. Whatever you need, the local emergency room has it, and they don’t need a prescription to administer it.

  19. Nicholas Robinson says:

    I think it’s the New Yorker—could be wrong—that inserts some random cartoon, except with no punchline. Readers are supposed to contribute a trenchant punchline, and then they publish the result the next week. Or something.

    I was just wondering what anyone would come up with as a caption for these photos of people getting off burning planes with their luggage. ie.: (*Thought bubble*: “Medication; check.” “Forged C-Notes: check.” “Pipe bomb: check.” “Tuscaloosa in Business Class Voucher: check”)

    . . .

  20. dan neuharth says:

    Mr Smith . . . When I first saw the images of the passengers running away from the plane with their carry-ons, I too was upset . . and for the reasons you explained.
    “Passengers and their carry-ons” are a reason I dislike flying . . jamming them into the over head prior to departure, then the wrestling them out of overhead prior to exiting . . and there are always those who stow their gear a few rows aft of where they are seated . . and must ‘swim’ against the tide to get their fricking bag . . . I check everything . .walk on with just a book, magazine, or newspaper . . no muss, no fuss.
    I’ve just recently found your website and have enjoyed your information and insights . . keep up the good work!!

    Dan Neuharth
    Lodi, California

    • Nicholas Robinson says:

      Hey! Who you callin’ MISTER SMITH?

      It’s Patrick to you.

      (Don’t worry, we’re a forgiving lot here. Insert smiley face.)


  21. Jen says:

    I always listen to the air crew evacuation instructions but on a recent flight two women across the other side of the plane – 6 seats away! We’re extremely ignorant away nd totally ignored the steward and we’re talking so loudly to each other I could hear what they were saying. The rest of the plane was silent. I really felt like telling them to shut up but that’s not my style. I wished the steward would have said something.

  22. Katarina says:

    My apologies if this is a dumb idea, it makes good sense to me.

    When travelling put all your essentials in a small bag, say half again as big as a letter-size envelope, preferably one with a wrist strap, and put it in the seat pocket in front of you. In case of evacuation, you can grab it without delay and it won’t slow you down nor get in your way.

    Inside you should have ID and/or passport, driver’s license, cash, at least one credit card, a debit card (if you have any), a one or 2 day supply of medication, doctor’s prescriptions for your meds, medical insurance card or info. Perhaps your cell phone as well, if it fits.

    Or put all that in a fanny pack and wear it around your waist through the flight. Or, yet a third way, wear cargo pants and stuff the pockets with the essentials.

    It won’t hurt to be ready for an event as unlikely as an emergency evacuation.

    • John says:

      A little note,
      Medical Insurance is not valid outside the U.S.

      • Katarina says:

        I live in Mexico and pay my insurance locally. It does cover a great many services in the US and Canada, though they handle it mostly through reimbursement of expenses made by the customer.

      • Sean says:

        Not true in all cases. Mine is valid worldwide, with out-of-network coverage, and a $3k out of pocket max per plan year

      • Guy Hamilton says:

        My medical insurance is valid everywhere except the USA.
        This is quite common with medical insurance and the reason for it is obvious; medical care is so swingeingly expensive in the USA that the price of insurance would go up considerably if it were valid in the USA.
        To be covered when travelling to the USA one can buy additional travel insurance.

    • musings says:

      This kind of serious consolidation of important papers and cards, held on the person, was how my late parents-in-law traveled. They knew about disaster, because they had survived WWII and escaped during the Hungarian Revolution. They always treated moving from one place to another as very serious, and did not live in a false bubble, yet even so they traveled and had fun in their retirement years.

  23. Dylan Smith says:

    A few years ago Flybe (a regional carrier here) had their recorded safety briefing about an evacuation with “You must leave all your belongings behind” spoken at extra loud volume (it sounded twice as loud as the rest of the briefing).

  24. Katarina says:

    Two thoughts:

    1) If you decide to get your carry-on from the overhead bin during an evacuation, I may decide to push you down to the floor and step over you towards the exit. If you want to risk your life, that’s your business. If you want to risk mine and everyone else’s, you’re in for a rude awakening.

    2) Perhaps airlines or civil aviation authorities should offer to train frequent fliers on emergency evacuation techniques. I’m not sure how this would work or what’s required, but I’ll be trying to find out soon.

    • Rod says:

      Right: I MAY find it necessary to knee you between the legs, apply a karate chop to the back of your neck, then stomp on yore face. All in the objective interests of rapid evacuation mind.

  25. Rod says:

    BBC: “I know the papers are saying now ‘he’s a hero’,” the pilot told NBC. “[But] we have to remember there are two other pilots and cabin crew who all behaved very, very well.”

    • SirWired says:

      Yes, in this particular incident, the cabin crew had much more to do with the successful outcome than the pilot(s). Their job involved stopping the plane (which was not going particularly fast), and running down the engine fire checklist. (A checklist that is a lot easier on the ground vs. the air; call for help, cut the fuel, pop the fire bottles (and they should have already been released automatically), kill everything else, leave.)

      The cabin crew, on the other hand, is tasked with getting a pile of untrained people out of the plane (on the side that’s NOT on fire) before said fire fills the cabin with smoke not compatible with breathing.

      I know which I’d rather have as MY job.

  26. JoJo says:

    This was a fascinating article! Yeah, it’s aggravating to see passengers disembark with carry-on luggage in hand. The FAA must stop this behavior through tougher rules.

    The other thing that is aggravating, that is not covered in this article, is that the airlines will put just about anyone in the seats next to the emergency exits. I have seen people who are clearly unfit to even help themselves, allowed to sit and potentially block exits. It’s almost as if the flight crew doesn’t think it would matter if an 80 year old lady or man with poor mobility would inhibit an orderly evacuation.

    The airplane manufacture build aircraft to stringent specs, only to have oblivious passengers and crew ignore obvious safety issues, when confronted with emergencies. Why don’t flight attendants enforce rules regarding the need for able bodied passengers to be sitting next to exits?

    And what about passengers who wear flip-flops on board? Ya think it might be a problem if required to evacuate? Why do airlines allow this? It’s crazy.

    • Nicholas Robinson says:

      I think a general rule of thumb when it calls for anything involving humanity is, anyone who can be stupid, will be stupid, and in all cases there will always be a significant percentage of the group who will excel in stupidity above and beyond the call of garden-variety stupidity.

      Call it Nick’s Corollary: Anyone who can be stupid will be stupider than usual when anything remotely important is at stake.

      Nothing excels like exellence. And even stupid people have their reputations to uphold.

    • Randy says:

      I always fly in flip-flops. I can run quite well in them, and would do so to get away from a burning plane.

  27. Craig says:

    Personally, if I were ever in this situation I would welcome a flight attendant announcing: “Leave your bags behind. If you see anyone try to take his or her bag from an overhead bin and thereby risking the lives of everyone else you have my permission to beat the living s*** out of him or her.”

    That kind of shock announcement can have a very positive effect in that kind of emergency situation. First – it gets people out of a trance-like state if they are in it. Secondly, it labels that behavior what it is – and means that anyone still trying it is clearly an outlaw. Thirdly, it can remind those of us who pride ourselves in being good citizens on planes that yes – this means US too.

  28. Nicholas Robinson says:

    All anyone needs to know about the dangers of a fire on a plane stopped on a runway can go find out right here (apologies if the HTML doesn’t work.

    Yes, it is amazing how fast these things can get out of control;

  29. Eirik says:

    Just watched on CNN, what looks like one of the passengers filming after the evacuation and at least 50% of those you can see on that video had their luggage. And it wasnt just the laptop bag but rather large carry on suitcases etc.

    Too early to say what caused the fire but cant help but think what if this happened 2mins after take off – or maybe the speed of the airplane/engines played a role and was just waiting to happen once the engines reached a certain speed, meaning (in this case, luckily) before it reached V1?

  30. John Schroeder says:

    Great column as always Patrick. One question: what would have happened if the fire occurred right at “wheels up’? Or, if the pilots did not notice until the plane was airborne? Is their a system or procedure for containing a fire in this circumstance or is the only option to fully take off and attempt the return and land?

    Thanks again.

    • SirWired says:

      If this had happened too late to abort takeoff, as long as the other engine stayed good, (and nothing else went wrong, like losing controls), then the plane would have theoretically been able to come around and land. (The specs for planes and airports take into account an engine failure during takeoff.)

      Of course, it’s highly likely that a plane with a large fire pouring out of the engine is going to have said fire spread, kill some important hydraulics or other control lines, etc., so by no means would a successful outcome been assured. (Not to mention the immense cockpit workload for dealing with an engine failure, fire, and landing all at the same time.) The plane would have had a chance, but it would be dicey.

      • Mo says:

        I was on an MD-80 leaving PBI flying to DCA. Starboard engine failed right before or after wheels up. We circled around making some seemingly drastic maneuvers (which I’m sure just seemed that way to a passenger) with the port engine sounding louder than usual and a couple minutes later were back at PBI landing amongst a convoy of emergency vehicles. Not sure exactly what went wrong, but it couldn’t have been life threatening as we ended up pulling back up to a gate and deplaning through the jetway. There was a huge line at the rebooking counter so I called the 1-800 number. I was told they couldn’t rebook me because I hadn’t been “released” from my “current” flight yet. She said maybe they could re-board us. I responded that I doubted anyone would be back on that plane given that I could see it out the window and there were about 10 mechanics heads aimed in and a ton of smoke coming out. She got her manager’s approval to rebook me on another flight!

  31. Edward Szeto says:

    Even if a note was in the safety instructions about leavng your carry on stuuf or if every flight attendent made sure it was part of the announcent, it wouldn’t matter because most people aren’t paying attention. I always give the FA my attention during the safety announcement (even though I’ve flown enough to be able to recite it back if asked) for two reasons: firstly, because it’s respectful to the FA; and secondly, to always remind myself what to do in an emergency. You play how you practice.

    Now how about my personal pet peeve: how many people actually know how many rows it is to the nearest exit? Seems like very few people take the time to look around. 🙂

    • Patrick says:

      Nobody pays attention because of the poor quality of the demos. Rather than offering useful information in a concise and no-nonsense way, they are tedious: a sort of legal fine print come to life. And now, too, airlines are trying to outdo each other by making their demos all cute and quirky, which is not only annoying, it also defeats their purpose.

      More here…

  32. Elisabeth Roberts says:

    Thanks, Patrick. I posted this to my FB page. I witnessed an ATR flip over on liftoff at Logan airport years ago and it turned into an instant barbecue. Thank god it was empty, and the pilot escaped, but with serious burns. People have no idea how fast s*** can happen. And I love flying.

  33. TJ says:

    Would the captain really take the controls at such a critical moment rather than letting the FO abort? It seems like a swap would just waste precious time and disorient the new PF. (I just got through reading the report on SWA 345.)

  34. J P Gosselin says:

    I always enjoy reading your articles. Thank you so much for sharing.

  35. Rod says:

    Ward’s remark on the difference between car and plane safety belts merely makes me think they should all be standardized, precisely because people will go into a panic or negative-panic state — either way their actions may well have little to do with the pre-takeoff briefing, even if they actually paid attention.
    I don’t fly often but I did yesterday and they definitely said Leave Your Belongings Behind. I know this because I glanced at my knapsack on the floor and wondered whether force of habit would prevail over conscious reasoning.
    An automatic locking system has got to be the way to go.

    • Orv says:

      Car seatbelts aren’t standardized, either, and some designs have had problems — either with jamming, or unintentionally opening under high G-loads. I think making airplane seatbelts more like car seatbelts would be a safety downgrade.

  36. Sara says:

    Why do the safety cards tell you to remove glasses before using the emergency chutes?

  37. Ralf Weber says:

    I seem to recall that I flown airlines that had the phrase “in the case of an emergency evacuation leave all your carry on items behind” in the safety announcements. Can’t remember which one from the top of my head.

    • MikeR says:

      Ironically, a message to ‘leave your stuff behind’ *is* in the BA safety announcement.

      • Patrick says:

        I was told by another reader that this is no longer true. In any case, even those carriers whose announcements do make an effort, this instruction tends to get lost in all the rest of the annoying babble, and nobody really hears it.

        • Craig says:

          It’s in the United briefing – both the recorded pitches and the pitches read by live attendants. I notice because it is the only part I really listen for.

          But a lot of people are selfish by nature, air travel seems to bring out the worst in them, and on top of that some times people just aren’t logical about the impact of their actions on others. There are people, I’m sure, who given the opportunity to save a person from a fire would risk their lives to help them, but at the same time if there were a fire in row 35 would still stop to get their overhead rollerboard before exiting out at row 20 while everyone waited. These are the same people who, when there is a long line of people on the jetbridge to get onto the plane, will take 2 or more minutes to carefully arrange their rollerboard, shopping bag, and overcoat into the bin overhead while everyone else waits for them.

  38. I do think that people can go into a state of semi-shock and do what comes automatically in a crises – when I was leading group of people out of our building on 9/11 with two buildings furiously burning and the thought that our lives were in gave danger, I went to the emergency exit and the woman behind me exclaimed “stop, stop” – I turned around to find out why, thinking i may have missed something, she said “you can’t go out that way, it will set the alarm off”

    • J. Martelino says:

      I agree with you. The problem with shock is that your mind wants to try to default to a normal situation to make sense of the abnormal situation. This can be dangerous if you have not prepared yourself for the unfamiliar situation. Pilots train constantly for a plane evacuation, even though most pilots will never have to experience that disaster.

      However, the average passenger, like the average car driver or the average skyscraper tenant, knows objectively what they are supposed to do. However, when they are subjectively in an unfamiliar, shocking, situation, the mind would want to play a trick to normalize the situation.

  39. Bill says:

    What are the chances that a woman would evacuate the aircraft without her purse?

    • Elisabeth Roberts says:

      Bill, I fly with my wallet in a jacket or pants pocket. So the chances are very good this woman will leave without her “purse.”

  40. Cam Beck says:

    Thanks, Patrick. Fascinating and helpful as always. Here I will confess my crime in advance. I travel with a “soft” briefcase about 12″ x 15″ x 2″it contains a Mac and an iPod which, in turn, contain much of my past life.. If ordered to evacuate the aircraft, I would be torn, tho I know you are right.

    Perhaps I will invest in a rubberized belt and, in emerg, strap my “life” to my middle, becoming,in effect, a slightly overweight male passenger.

    This method worked well when I travelled Morocco – U.S., impeccably dressed, w/certain consumables which delighted college students from Harvard to UNC. It was a lucrative import enterprise until a close call at Logan persuaded me to stop. The VERY NEXT FLIGHT in from Heathrow, clean as a whistle, I was stopped and given a “secondary” search by Customs agents.

    Well, I guess I went a bit off topic here, trying to show what a cool guy I am. But–to be totally, serious, one w/considerable experience in strapping valuables to be person.

    • Fry says:

      There are many online (and external drive) backup solutions available. Look into them. Even leaving aside the possibility of losing your laptop in a freak accident, you definitely should not depend on a single device to preserve data that is so important to you.

  41. Ward says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your take on leaving personal belongings behind, Patrick.

    However, I do think the seat belt instructions are important and people need to listen, even if it seems obvious. The seat belts most of us are familiar with are in our cars and are very different from those in airliners. The car belts clip at our hip, the ones in the airliners fasten in the center. The ones in cars release by pushing a button, the airline belts release by pulling up on a flap.

    I have heard that passengers (some of them survivors) of aircraft crashes have been found still strapped in their seats. In an emergency it is easy to understand how someone might instinctively reach for a button by their hip to release the belt and thus remain strapped in.

  42. Catherine says:

    It was reported that passengers had to wait out in the cold for fifty minutes after evacuating AC264 that recently crash landed at Halifax Airport during a snowstorm. Yes everyone got out alive and with minor injuries but one wonders why it took so long and if injuries had been severe if the outcome would have been much worse. Some people were in stocking feet and had no coats. Unfortunately reports like this may not do much to encourage people to leave belongings behind.

  43. Katherine says:

    I’m slightly surprised, Patrick, at your comment about the seatbelt part of the demo ( recent former 10 year FA and FA/Pilot trainer here), in that the sim evacuations done with real people have shown that due to most pax more frequent use of car seatbelts (buttons, not latches), valuable time is wasted when some pax attempt to press a non-existent button while attempting to release their seatbelts. I believe this is why that part of the safety demo still exists….maybe some of the few people who still watch it will remember the difference in an ‘unplanned’ emergency.

    As far as leaving belongings behind, the fact that most thinking FAs know that some pax will not do it strikes fear into the hearts of those who are charged with evacuating an aircraft in under 90 seconds. I agree with you wholeheartedly that this needs to be a highlighted part of the safety briefing.

    Great last post on Germanwings, by the way. Sheesh, what gets into people when common sense and logic go out the window?

    • Katherine says:

      Thanks for your reply, Patrick. I agree, the frills have to go. Although ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are still useful.

  44. Jim says:

    The Germanwings co-pilot’s psychological problems makes me wonder about other people with such problems.

    I was on a USAirways flight last week, sitting in seat 10D in an exit row. The woman in 10F — in the window seat by the exit door — had a comfort dog with her. As we were landing, she put the dog on her lap and petted it furiously, which suggests she was a very nervous flyer. I suspect that, if we had crashed, she would not have done her job. She either would have frozen in place or opened the door even if there were flames outside.

    Doesn’t it make sense to prohibit people with comfort animals from sitting in exit rows?

  45. Mary says:

    I once had to evacuate a plane whose engine was on fire. The slides didn’t inflate fully and most passengers had to use the wing exit. (couldn’t use the one blocked by the fire) It’s a long way to the ground from a plane wing. The only people I saw taking their bags with them were the flight attendants! They heard quite a bit of grumbling from passengers who had to wait hours for the plane to be towed back to the terminal at a semi-closed airport.

  46. Narwhal says:

    Years ago, when Douglas Aircraft Company was in final phases of FAA certification for the DC-10, I and my co-workers in the Missiles Division were invited to go the Long Beach factory to participate in the evacuation test.

    We entered the plane from a simulated terminal boarding area via jetways and could not see out because windows were covered. The plane was filled to its rated passenger capacity and the ‘pilot’ made some flight announcements, then the ‘stewardesses’ (that what hey were called in those days) did their thing. The only hint that we were in test was that someone distributed styrofoam purses and hand luggage and other debris in the aisles.

    There was music and airplane noises and some movement simulating taxiing.

    Then, suddenly there was and emergency warning and we were told that we had to evacuate. The lights went out and there were other noises.

    AS we followed the Crew directions to the exit the plane suddenly leaned over to one side about 10 degrees or so and down some in the front.

    We discovered that the doors on the lower side would not open (this was part of the test), so everyone crowded to the other side; when the doors finally opened we found that the slidesdid not deploy (This was NOT part of the test!!!).

    Luckily, VERY LUCKILY, there was a prearranged abort alarm and no one got pushed out for the 2 story drop.

    ALL of us were in near panic for a minute or two.

    After this experience I will NEVER EVER carry any thing except what is in my pockets. I am flying from Brazil to Switzerland next Monday and will be wearing my multi pocket FLYING JACKET with passport/documents, glasses case, earplugs smart phone, and chewing gum. MY expensive camera and lenses will stay in the overhead. (I can always use an upgrade courtesy of the airline)

    The idea of locking the overhead has my vote.

  47. Speed says:

    Several commenters have expressed concern about difficulty replacing prescription drugs lost in an aircraft fire in the event they escaped.

    Stephan R. Stapleton wrote, “Replacing medications in a different state from one’s home state is relatively difficult and often impossible until the next week day.” He wrote further, “Even assuming I am evacuated from the plane here in the US, getting my prescriptions renewed and gain access to them again could take days.”

    xxPaulCPxx wrote, “How, in this day and age, can every pharmacist in every back corner of the world not have access to critical prescription information 24/7? I’m not talking about Africa – I’m talking about IOWA!”

    If your prescription was filled by a Target Pharmacy, and a refill is remaining on the scrip, it can be filled by any Target Pharmacy. This according to the pharmacist at my local Target Pharmacy.

    Anyone travelling with life sustaining drugs should have a contingency plan. There are lots of ways to lose or misplace them other than a plane crash — all more likely.

    • Betsey Sanpere says:

      Regarding the prescription issue: In the US, you can get a pharmacy to transfer a prescription but as I learned last year, that transfer will also cover all refills as well and, when you return home, you will not be allowed to move it back to your “home” pharmacy. Especially if it is something life-saving, such as Insulin, have it in a small bag ( for under your seat) along with passport, credit card, glasses, cellphone/charger and driver’s license. After all, you may have to rent a car.

  48. Fragman88 says:

    Well Said. you and your bag may make it out, but a secon or so delay for each of half of 400 Passengers will accumulate, and add about 3 minutes for the evacuation of the poor buggers at the back of the queue (That would be me as the skipper).

    I have never had to do alive evacuation, but have prepared for a couple as a precaution. Part of my briefing to the Pax is that if I see any Cabin bags, duty free etc. when I’ve cleared the aeroplane and evacuated myself, I will enlist the help of the Fire Service to confiscate and burn it, and they would be happy to assist. Your laptop is not worth the life of even one passenger at the back of the exit queue (Or me and my Chief Purser).

  49. Speed says:

    1.15.3 Evacuation of Passengers and Crewmembers
    (page 40)

    NTSB description of the evacuation of Asiana 214 at SFO, July 6, 2013.

  50. Randall says:

    The “total stranger” is worth as much in God’s sight as I am – even Mr. Stapleton. We all have lives to live and loved ones. No one has a right to endanger a stranger – that is close to criminal negligence, not to mention epic selfishness.
    Bottom line: anything you want to take with you needs to be in a pocket or pouch that fits inside your clothing, so it can’t snag on anything. I have traveled places where being without ID might be beyond massively inconvenient. So the passport, DL, a lot of cash ($ and Euros), and a credit card go into a pouch hung from my neck inside my shirt. Important meds are the same way. You could wear cargo pants for an insulin kit.
    If you are a medevac case with a large heart monitor and defibrillator, you assume a small additional risk by traveling. But as someone pointed out, the EMS folks at the bottom of the slide have that stuff. You can’t take it with you, and it is not likely to survive the trip down the slide in any case.

  51. Radi S. says:

    Thank you for another great post, and thinking about it I’m surprised that no airline emphasises that people must leave everything behind in an evacuation, seems that this needs to be addressed.

    One major question I’m always concerned about is the emergency exit seats. Most budget (and even non-budget) airlines sell those as extra legroom seats. I can see how this is good for business, and many people simply get them for the room, but those seated in those rows must be able to open the exits. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but often elderly people use these rows for the extra space, and I doubt a 70-year old person would be able to open a door after impact, in smoke, and in a hurry… A part of me thinks airlines should not be allowed to market these seats as such, or at least have a sort of ‘limit’ to who can sit there to make sure the passengers there are able to open the exits, do you think there should be some control over this or is it not an issue?

    I can’t help but wonder what went on in the Delta plane at LaGuardia: according to the Aviation Herald, there were 23 minor injuries. Of course, that’s better than anything serious, but how is it that on the Turkish A330 in Kathmandu, AVHerald states only 4 people had minor injuries as a result. Could it be because the A330 is twin-aisle? I can’t help but think people trying to take their bags helped cause those 23 injuries… That said, it’s good they were only minor.

    • Craig says:

      Well, of course the flight attendants are supposed to verify that the people in the seats are able to open the doors in an emergency but unless the adult opts out they can’t do much – especially with the time pressure the attendants are under before leaving the gate.

      However, realistically in an emergency either the people in those rows would operate the exit doors or someone nearby who is able would shout “let me open it” and those people seated would get out of the way (since there is extra room to move by if you are willing to push).

  52. LJT says:

    Hey Patrick- Just wanted to let you know, I work for a major aircraft manufacturer. It is in our pre-flight “demo” to leave all cabin baggage behind to avoid obstructing exits. It’s too bad that’s not included on all carrier demos…

    • Rura says:

      One would imagine however that its is primarily common sense?
      The plane is burning, you’re in trouble. Your primary reaction should be to run not grab your stuff.

      Alas it is human nature to be attached to our things. A problem that has, and will lead to many losing their lives.

  53. Gunnar Edholm says:

    Good that you illuminate this issue Patrick!

    Can’t remember steward’s telling this… Patrick, ask the airline companies to make this a part of their security information before start and place signs on the luggage compartment to impress it.

  54. Ramapriya says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your penultimate paragraph; I’d even mentioned on another aviation forum about how in all my 500+ flights, I’ve not once seen this being emphasized. A passing mention can hardly be expected to be heeded when panic strikes.

    A slightly more unconventional method could have more efficacy – much like it is with smoking (it is in my neck of the woods), it should be mentioned during the safety demo that carrying stuff during an emergency evacuation would be regarded a criminal offense 😉

  55. dede c says:

    I would feel better if the airlines had some plan to help people who left all ID, all $$, all chance of getting $$, phone (and any chance of contacting a friend) after evacuation. I have no faith that I would be able to get out of the airport much less back home. I would still reach under my seat for my purse!

  56. Patrick says:

    Okay time out. You people arguing for the right to grab your belongings during an evac aren’t getting it. Think of it this way:

    If the plane DOESN’T burn to the ground, you’ll quickly get all of your stuff back, safe and sound, so what’s the problem?

    If the plane DOES burn to the ground… well then you’ve just escaped with your life, in which case does that medicine or driver’s license really bloody matter? Not only that, but you’ve helped save the lives of others.

    Something you stuff in your pocket is one thing. Any sort of large or bulky bag, however? No way.

    • Stephen R. Stapleton says:

      “If the plane DOES burn to the ground… well then you’ve just escaped with your life, in which case does that medicine or driver’s license really bloody matter?”

      If the medication can’t be replaced within six hours, yes, it does matter. Being forced into the Hobson’s choice of dying by smoke inhalation on a plane or dying from a stroke or seizure once off the plane isn’t a great choice. Replacing medications in a different state from one’s home state is relatively difficult and often impossible until the next week day. I can’t imagine trying to do so abroad, even in a relatively sophisticate first world nation. A doctor can’t issue a prescription without an examination and the necessary supportive tests, so days can pass. Some of my medications I can do without for a day or two, though I will suffer some uncomfortable reactions. Some can cause a possibly fatal reaction in as little as six hours. There is also a great likelihood sleeping without the CPAP will cause dangerously high blood pressure levels.

      May I also suggest to some of my critics that one can easily access the overhead compartment without blocking the aisle. If I stand aside to allow the people in my row to pass and then step back out of the aisle to the seating area to access the bin and get my CPAP and medication, the only person I’ve delayed is myself. I am not holding up the line. Rather than being the 400th person off the plane, I can be the 650th.

      That aside, assuming through some set of circumstances I do hold someone up and, as a consequence, they die. I do not have a duty to that person. I am simply not required to sacrifice my life for others. Spock is quite wrong, the needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the one, UNLESS that one is willing to make the sacrifice. I am not.

      If this scenario is troubling to you all (and, judging from the reaction, it is), then I think there needs to laws and regulations to ensure the proper replacement of medications and medical devices in required time so people are not faced with the choice of death now or death later. Beyond that, I would additionally suggest getting used to traveling with people like me, who I think is more common than not, people who will leave you to die to save themselves.

      • xxPaulCPxx says:

        I agree with Mr. Stapleton:
        Most of us are able bodied individuals – granted. Assume the plane is burning – granted. Can you really take for granted the life story of all 300 people on that burning plane?

        Mr. Stapleton makes a great case for the atrocious nature of our medical system. How, in this day and age, can every pharmacist in every back corner of the world not have access to critical prescription information 24/7? I’m not talking about Africa – I’m talking about IOWA!

        We should have a moment in the safety briefing where we should reflect – do we need to be among the first evacuees, or the last off the plane? Ideally, the cabin crew should assist getting the doors open and getting the first evacuee’s off the plane. Those First evacuees are every abled bodied person who chooses to go first. The crew would then evacuate any disabled bodies – such as physically handicapped or elderly. After they are off, the crew is relieved of duty and can evacuate themselves, leaving the LAST BY CHOICE.

        These LAST BY CHOICE people can then evacuate the plane with any additional items besides their bodies that they see fit. It can be meds, CPAP, overhead luggage, laptops… it doesn’t matter. They have left every able bodied person escape, and every disabled person escape as well. If there is something they hold near enough to their well being that they will STAY in a burning plane to bring it with them… well who am I to argue?

      • Pillai says:

        Mr.Stapleton, if you are that kind of a human who will die if you do not take a pill every six hours, I suggest a fanny pack. Wear it, never take it off, sit with it, sleep with it, and when there is an evacuation, you have it.

        Now if your CPAP machine needs to come to – that’s another matter altogether.

        • Tim says:

          In the past well over 20+ years I have been using CPAP, even during naps, I would never had considered taking it off of the plane with me during an evacuation. I have severe sleep apnea, not using a CPAP for a night or two is not going to kill me (literally).

      • Richard says:

        If you are allowed to choose your life over everyone else, I trust that means we can do the same and push you back into your seat to get past you if you are carrying luggage?

      • Mary says:

        Believe me, when you are in a real evacuation, people do not calmly walk down the aisle as they would deplaning. In normal circumstances, your getting something out of the overhead might not impede other passengers, but emergency evacuation is just not the same.

      • JamesP says:

        There are going to be emergency personnel at the bottom of that chute soon – it’s not like you jump off and then walk to the terminal where you’ll have to wait around for a taxi to take you to the pharmacy. If you tell the EMTs you’re going to die without your nitro (or whatever medicine you need *right now*), you’ll be given some and then taken to a hospital where a doctor will confirm and write a new prescription to be filled right there at their pharmacy (and probably paid for by the airline).

        Jee-zus, first responders are not going to let people die for lack of medicine, right after they had to jump off a burning plane. And if it’s that critical, wear it in a pouch around your neck.

    • Roger says:

      I think you are more optimistic about what happens than what really does. Here is a good article on what happened to the Hudson ditching people – – and note how much was up to the discretion of the airline/insurer, and not worldwide legal requirements.

      It would be nice if someone (hint hint) wrote an article about what does actually happen in evacuations, and how much is discretionary versus standard.

    • Elizabeth Matheson-Dameron says:

      I know, Patrick, and I agree with you. I just wondered what to do when you are stranded in the event of the unthinkable with no ID, no money, no credit cards, no passport, no medicine, no nuttin’ but what you came into the world with. And really, I am thinking of being in another country, not the USA.

      • Orv says:

        Even in the U.S., they’re not exactly going to be helpful. With no ID and no credit cards you’re not getting on another flight, and you’re not renting a car either. I have no idea what I’d do. Hope that I could get hold of someone on a payphone to wire me money, maybe — except you can’t make a long-distance call without a credit card, either.

  57. Kalanit says:

    Wow, Stephen, you’re pretty spoiled and entitled. I was going to flame you further, but it ain’t worth it.

    • G. says:

      Stephen’s either irredeemably selfish and self-centered, or trolling for a fight. It doesn’t matter. If he ties up the aisle in an emergency, he’ll get cold cocked and pushed out of the way.

  58. Is it okay if I grab my handbag with my six thousand dollar hearing aids and my identification?

    • Kalanit says:


    • Bwco says:

      I also wear hearing aids and generally take them out when I am flying. Its a major inconvenience to replace them, never mind the fact of not being able to hear while I am waiting for replacements. When I take my hearing aids out, I put them in their case and the case goes in a shirt or pants pocket. They never leave my person. Evacuation or not, I don’t trust them to be stored in a bag.

  59. Mark Maslowski says:

    Thanks for this, Patrick!

  60. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    Once again I write to defend taking my stuff. At my age, I have medications that I must take to sustain my life and health. I am not leaving them behind. Period. I also sleep with a CPAP machine, which I travel with. I am not leaving it behind. Even assuming I am evacuated from the plane here in the US, getting my prescriptions renewed and gain access to them again could take days, particularly if I am in an area not serviced by Kaiser. Replacing my CPAP could take longer. If I am evacuated abroad, who knows how long until I have access to either medication or the CPAP again.

    I am even going to assume the worse and my doing this may, actually and in fact, endanger someone else. So be it. Except for people that I love to whom I have some duty, I will pick my life over that of someone else. Perhaps selfish and I will admit that, but I will not suffer a stroke or heart attack because I left my medication on the plane to save some total stranger.

    Should an airline install an emergency lock on the overhead bin, I will keep my CPAP bag, which also carries my medications, with me under the seat in front. I don’t check it because its loss would impose too great a burden, nor will I leave it behind.

    If women can take their purses, which they do, then I can take my CPAP bag.

    • Mark Maslowski says:

      So, you’re going to endanger all the people behind you while you stop and get your stuff? Any THING, even medication, can be replaced – human lives cannot!

    • Mark Maslowski says:

      “Perhaps selfish?” That’s the very definition of selfish! You really need to consider other modes of transportation, one that don’t involve putting people at risk for your convenience.

    • Alex says:

      “Perhaps selfish and I will admit that, but I will not suffer a stroke or heart attack because I left my medication on the plane to save some total stranger.”

      By definition someone who clearly shouldn’t be allowed to fly.

    • King Wenscles says:

      There is no one thing there that can’t be replaced within 24 hours. Me dying, because you don’t want to be inconvenienced is not acceptable. Your cavalier attitude is barbaric.

    • Mark says:

      How many other people’s lives would you be willing to sacrifice so that you may retrieve your mediation?

      I will be kind and suggest that the answer is zero for you. However, that was clearly not in your consideration when you posted.

      In your position, I would step aside and be willingly the last off if my possessions were that personally important to me.

      Stay well.

    • Bill in St. Louis says:


      If you evacuated in this manner, you would be perfectly safe and taken care of at the local hospital. They have CPAP machines and medicine. They’re not going to let you die from a drug-treatable condition. Obviously you have more needs than the average airline passenger, but the life-threatening situation would end after you were safely evacuated. You simply tell the responders of your health problems, and then the doctors at the hospital, and you’ll probably be admitted as a precaution, even if you are uninjured.

      What you’re defending is not your life, but your convenience. And there’s no justification for putting your convenience ahead of the lives of others.

    • Nicholas Robinson says:

      This microcephalic referred to himself in this post NO LESS THAN THIRTY-TWO TIMES. “I.” “Me.” “My.”

      Does anyone even exist in this guy’s world other than himself? This has got to be up there for some kind of record.

  61. Elizabeth Matheson-Dameron says:

    One question comes to mind….in the event of the unthinkable…you land, evacuate, and the plane IS consumed by fire. Your passport burns up. Your medication, credit cards, money, picture ID, etc. are all incinerated. What happens then?

    • Speed says:

      Elizabeth Matheson-Dameron asked, “What happens then?”

      The same as would happen if they were lost in an automobile accident, house fire or robbery — all more frequent than airplane crashes. You thank God you’re alive and go about replacing them.

      You do have copies stored in a safe place to make the job easier, don’t you? I don’t carry a purse so my money, credit cards, picture ID and passport are in my pockets so chances are that if I make it out OK, they will too.

      • Roger says:

        Note that all your examples are close to home, where you have friends, family, acquaintances, doctors etc. Now try being very far from home (the point of most plane travel) and it gets really tricky. Say your id or wallet got left behind or destroyed. How long will it be to get things back on track? How will you even fly home without them. As an example to renew my passport and green card takes about 3 months and costs over $1,000.

        What needs to be clearly communicated (and acted upon) is making sure that passengers in an evacuation know they will be helped and these kinds of issues will be dealt with very quickly and smoothly. They should not be fearing an evacuation.

        Note that up to the point of an evacuation they get to deal with airlines that nickel and dime for everything. Everything is an optional extra that costs, with complex rules. That doesn’t help the confidence. And is it the airline, the airport, the civil authorities, or the Red Cross who deal with the evacuated passengers?

        In the absence of information, and based on prior cues and experience, passengers are going to make decisions about likely outcomes. At the moment some are making bad decisions. Yelling at them will not change that – instead the whole thing needs to be clear and reassuring.

        • dragonzflame says:

          Well, hopefully you have travel insurance, for starters. If you were in a foreign country you’d contact your embassy for emergency travel documentation. And as for the money, I guess you’d contact your credit card company and have them cancel your card and re-issue it.

        • Anna says:

          What needs to be clearly communicated (and acted upon) is making sure that passengers in an evacuation know they will be helped and these kinds of issues will be dealt with very quickly and smoothly.

          I would not be surprised if fixing this would do a lot towards making evacuations go a lot smoother. I don’t believe for a minute that airline safety demos are the only source of this behavior, and improving the demos will only solve part of the problem.

        • Nicholas Robinson says:

          “Say your id or wallet got left behind or destroyed. How long will it be to get things back on track?”

          How long would it take for your relatives to “get back on track” after your funeral?

          The statements in this comment are nothing short of lunacy. But like I said before, even stupid people have their reputations to uphold.

        • Guy Hamilton says:

          The total loss of all documents far from home happened to my colleague and his wife. The woman was carrying her wallet and both of their passports, which included visas for the African country in which they were working, in her handbag. The bag was stolen on the street in Italy.
          They went to their embassy and got emergency replacements for their passports in a day. Then their embassy helped them to deal with the embassy of the African country in which they worked. The visas were replaced in a few days, a process which usually took weeks.
          There are processes in place for these very common emergencies. That’s what consulates are for. It’s part of their job.
          People are robbed, beaten, lose passports, lose money, are involved in accidents, fall ill, etc every day outside their own countries.
          As for medicines, as has been said, if all else fails go to hospital. But first, in the so-called “developed” countries there are procedures. In many of the countries thought of as less-developed, they don’t require prescriptions. I have bought “prescription” medicines, in Asia, Africa and N and S America without a local prescription, simply by asking for them. And before anyone gives me a lecture on this,I don’t diagnose for myself. They were medicines previously prescribed to me and for which I simply needed some more. Some medicines are not available in some countries. But a local doctor or hospital can prescribe an alternative that will suffice until you can get what you need.

    • King Wenscles says:

      I had my passport stolen in India one time. It was massively inconvenient. I lived to laugh about it.

  62. Christina says:

    I hope I never need to know this answer, but I’ll ask just in case: how do little kids fare in these situations? I travel occasionally with an infant in his own car seat (so separate purchased seat). Is there a secret for getting him down the slide safely, or do you just wing it?

  63. Dan says:

    Further to the speed going down the evacuation slide: My aunt was on a flight that had to be evacuated and said that she went down the slide so fast that her panty hose melted and stick to the bottoms of her thighs.

    • XBradTC says:

      Ladies, please don’t wear pantyhose when flying. It’s a small risk, but any fire will melt the hose to your legs, and is an extremely difficult to treat burn.

  64. Kevin Brady says:

    It really is unbeleivable – I wonder if people go into some kind of mental denial about the situation and are so used to exiting an aircraft taking their belongings – I have been down an evacuation slide and can attest to Patricks’ comments about how steep and fast it is, and I only did it on a narrow body – I can’t image a 747 and I would think on an AB380 you might need a parachute!

    I remember a Pan Am 747 where they hit the approach stantions on take-off out of SFO and had to evacuate upon landing and some idiot brought a bottle of vodka which broke upon hitting the ground and people got cut.

    Your pictures here are worth more than 1,000 words. To add this to a pre-flight briefing makes so much sense.

    • Roger says:

      People do go into a form of shock in emergencies. For example the SQ006 report mentions people “frozen in fear”. As a teenager I encountered a car crash victim who insisted on walking home, while bleeding profusely from the head. People do not think in long detail, logically, or remember everything they need to. Instead they revert to simplicity, instinct and familiarity.

      Note how much effort has been put into dealing with this for pilots. Checklists ensure the right things are done in abnormal situations, not relying on memory. Roles are clearly defined. CRM ensures that everyone’s efforts add together, and less is likely to be missed. And then there is annual training and experience dealing with the situations. Despite all that “pilot error” still happens.

      The solution is not something that works when people are thinking clearly in normal situations. It is to ensure they are most likely to do the right thing during emergencies by addressing instinct and familiarity.

      • Kevin Brady says:

        You are right Roger, but how do you ingrain that into people when they don’t even listen to the pre-flight safety briefing?

        I was under the South Tower of the WFC when UA 175 barreled into it – some people just stared in shock – I had to grab a woman who couldn’t even move – I wonder if there are studies as to why some people freeze, why others act, etc..?

        • Roger says:

          I think the safety briefings are stupid and a waste. They don’t help with learning or familiarity. They should be done in the terminal where people can go at their own speed, try on masks and vests, watch footage of how to evacuate properly, and finally have interactive “tests” which are more effective at seeing if things have been retained.

          A mobile phone “game” would be a nicer approach than the “shut up and have your eyes glaze over while we show you how a seatbelt works, again”.

        • Mark says:


          In my not inconsiderable experience of people, I have found the same reactions quite common.

          I suspect evolutionary science can answer this for us.

          Staying still can be a good survival mechanism, in certain circumstances. Such as where a top level predator is nearby. Not so great for dodging a rock fall or some other similar dynamic hazard.

          I don’t think people who react in this manner (i.e. don’t react) are even conscious of themselves being in that semi-catatonic state at the time. Sometimes even afterwards.

  65. Jon says:

    I hope that I am never in a situation where I have to do an emergency evacuation, but I assume that if I ever do, at least half of the passengers will try to take their luggage, or a selfie, or just stand around taking their time.

    People seem to have a collective stupidity when it comes to flying on planes. And they all seem to have a happy disregard of the rules – just look at how many people use their phones after landing, but before arriving at the gate, right after the announcement asking them not to.

    Locking of the overhead bins sounds like a seriously good idea to me – one that would save lives if implemented.

  66. Nick says:

    Of course I agree, but with one caveat. Being diabetic, you can be sure I’m going for my insulin–which means a glucose meter, insulin pens, pen tips–not a roller board suitcase but more than I can put in my pocket. I try and have it easily accessible and in a small, soft hang bag that can be seized separately from my other carry-ons. Everyone these days has a medical excuse for everything, so let me underline my point. I am emphatically not using my condition to justify carrying along something big that is going to hurt myself or someone else. But let’s all recognize that life requires judgment. The reader’s suggestion that they lock the overhead bins makes my heart sink. I have no problem imaging myself being yelled at by a steward or passenger to leave my small, soft handbag. People should be reasonable all around and have good judgment.

    • Speed says:

      Nick wrote, ” People should be reasonable all around and have good judgment.”

      A reasonable person possessing good judgment would get the heck out of the burning airplane without his “glucose meter, insulin pens, pen tips” stored in an overhead bin. They won’t do you much good if you (and everyone behind you) die in the fire.

      EMS has the tools necessary to diagnose and treat diabetics.

      And your diabetic alert bracelet will notify responders of your medical situation.

      • Stephen R. Stapleton says:

        Avoiding dying in the fire so you can die later from die later from complication due the lack of modification seems to be six of one, half a dozen of another.

        • Mark Maslowski says:

          No, it’s NOT six of one, half a dozen of another. Not even frickin’ close. An immediate danger is really, really different than the infinitesimal risk of not being able to replace lost medications. PLUS, there are other people’s lives being put at risk. It really scares me that some people actually think this way!

        • WillCAD says:

          It’s the difference between CERTAIN death now, or POSSIBLE death later.

          I’ll choose POSSIBLE death over CERTAIN death any time.

          Leave your crap, get the hell out of everyone’s way.

      • King Wenscles says:

        Doesn’t matter if I know you’re diabetic or not. Unresponsive for some other reason than trauma, you’re going to get glucose and Narcan. Every time. Never fails. Saves your brain and keeps you breathing.

      • Orv says:

        I think what this argument comes down to is that people have no trust that first responders will help them with medical issues other than immediate risk of bleeding out, or that they’ll be able to get help getting home afterwards. They assume (based on good experience, at least in the U.S.) that they’ll be left in the cold with nothing.

    • King Wenscles says:

      Jet A/A1 flashes at 100ºF and auto-ignites at 245º. Then it burns around 1,500ºF. You stand around exercising judgment and you are going to be standing there alone. I can’t control how much or where the Jet fuel is, that leaves getting as far away from it as possible, as quick as possible.

  67. Roger says:

    Runway Girl network had a good post on this subject, and make sure to also read the comments there, including mine!

    In short people aren’t being irrational for themselves, but are for the group as a whole. There isn’t a lot of communication about what happens in these evacuations, other than you will end up in a bad place. Note how the whole flying experience is all about don’t forget your documents, don’t forget medications, don’t forget valuables, don’t leave your stuff unattended, and you are in a world of hurt if missing any of the above. Suddenly having to do the opposite during an evacuation, goes counter to instinct and “training”. Additionally reports are that you could get all that stuff back ranging from weeks to years, so another calculation enters people’s minds – is it worth it? For some the answer is yes. Ever priced replacement passports? Tried to do without a driver’s license/ID? Need your laptop for the important business meeting tomorrow morning? In a foreign city and need your meds? This is thousands of dollars and months of time.

    The answer is not to fight human nature – yelling ever louder at people about a rare situation won’t change that. It is to make the concerns go away. Have practise life vests, oxygen masks, door and slides at the airport, where most people have hours to spend. The first time you put on a mask or vest, open a door, or use floor path lighting in smoke should not be during an emergency. Have more random drills – for example cruise ships have them. An evacuation should be more mundane, familiar and practised.

    Have an international standard for what happens to people who are in evacuations. The response personnel and passengers should know what will happen about passports, ids, medicines, and possessions, and it should not cost people a lot of time and money.

    Finally use some stick too – eg a $10,000 fine for evacuating with your stuff, and being banished from all airlines.

    • Catherine says:

      This is an excellent topic to cover. It’s bad enough having to endure the thoughtlessness of some passengers and their baggage during a normal flight, let alone in a life or death situation.
      I have sometimes tucked my passport, id and credit cards into an interior pocket of a jacket when landing and taking off, just in case. But even those items may be blown off during a crisis. I like the idea of a fine, similar to the smoking fine, announced during the safety video because in a crisis there may not be a flight attendant to bark orders at people who try to retrieve their baggage. And as suggested by Roger, the fine should be hefty. A business person desperately trying to close a million dollar deal won’t be phased by a $2,000 penalty. Having their name added to the no-fly list for a period of say three years (similar to dui automatic revoking of drivers licence)would be a bigger deterrent. And in the case of fatalities, maybe the these people should consider that the families of those victims who didn’t get out could bring a crippling joint civil suit of involuntary manslaughter against anyone seen leaving the plane with baggage.

    • Stephen R. Stapleton says:

      If I had some real honest belief the airlines would ensure I would receive replacement medications and medical equipment within two hours of evacuation, I would leave behind such stuff more readily. However, my repeated experience with an airline is they will say anything and promise the moon, but leave one hanging without a second thought. Thus, if there were some real laws on this subject that forced carriers to be fully responsible for rapid replacement, I think that would help.

      • King Wenscles says:

        Do you have empathy for anyone? Or are you more worried about the cost of your replacement meds than causing the deaths of other human beings?

        • Stephen R. Stapleton says:

          Yes, I have empathy for others, surprising as they may seem, but I do not have such a high level of empathy that I will sacrifice myself for others. That seems to upset people, but I happen to think most people, if given the honest and stark choice of dying themselves and saving someone else *or* saving themselves meaning some stranger will die in their stead, will, when push comes to shove, will save themselves. I didn’t see many wealthy people on the Titanic push third class passengers on to those life boats. In that case, 34% of third class children survived while 33% of first class men did (only 16% of third class men survived). Vastly more third class children could have been saved (as children counted as half a passenger on a lifeboat) if first class men had made the sacrifice. They did not.

          While my comments here have shocked and upset some, I am trying to discuss my reaction honestly, as opposed to mouth the right words, but do otherwise.

          As for the cost of my replacement meds, that depends on what you mean by cost. If you mean the actual financial payment required, I am not the least worried about that. The drugs I take are fairly common and not expensive (one is actually so cheap that it is cheaper to buy it at the drug store than through Kaiser and its required copay). On the other hand, if by cost you mean the burden imposed, then yes, that is exactly what I am talking about. That cost could well be the loss of my life, so yes, that is precisely what worries me. I see little benefit to avoiding death by smoke inhalation on a plane to die six hours later from the lack of necessary medication or that night because I don’t have my CPAP.

          • Mark says:

            “…but I do not have such a high level of empathy that I will sacrifice myself for others…”

            To quote Inigo Montoya (regarding your usage of “empathy”): “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

            Believe me, neither you nor I are that important in the scheme of things that we are worth the untimely death of others to save our respective lives.

            Apparently I severely overestimated you with my earlier generous reply.

      • Guy Hamilton says:

        If you’re that close to the edge, you shouldn’t travel. Stay at home!
        I cannot abide these self-indulgent, self-absorbed, “poor-old-me” old people who use feebleness and age as a weapon. And I’m what many would call old, myself.

    • not an anon says:

      I agree with Roger here — people have “don’t ever lose your carry-ons!” drilled into their head from early on in their travel experience, and an evacuation suddenly faces them with a scenario where they need to act counter to that long-term training.

      While better support for evac’ed or diverted pax (document replacement, critical medical needs) is definitely something that is needed in today’s busy airline world, there’s also a low-tech solution for at least some of it: pockets! I’ve been passenger-in-coach a few times now, and even if I had to take the slide or toss the hatch, I still would have my ID, phone, and other critical things with me. Have pills you can’t spend a day without? Throw a day or two in an old pill bottle and stick it in a pants pocket. Traveling internationally? Keep your passport in a pocket vs. in a carry-on purse and you’ll still have it with you, even if the unthinkable happens and you have to scramble out of a wrecked plane or float away from a ditching in a slide/raft.

      As to Nick — would attaching that pouch of diabetic supplies to your belt (or a belt loop on your pants, for that matter) when you go flying be feasible? That way, you don’t have to spend the extra fifteen seconds fumbling for them should an evac happen…

      • Orv says:

        I’ve done the “old pill bottle” thing, but I’m always afraid the TSA will confiscate it if they notice the contents don’t match the label.

  68. Speed says:

    You have 90 seconds to get out of the airplane. This is what it looks like. Airlines should show this video instead of the standard safety briefing.

    Every time I fly and sit patiently in my seat for the 100 or more people getting off the plane in front of me, I wonder how long it would take in a real emergency.

    • Elizabeth Matheson-Dameron says:

      Does anyone help handicapped persons evacuate?

      • bob says:

        would someone answer elizabeth’s question. i face the same dilemna. i can’t walk without a walker, and if i get to the bottom of the slide, i can’t get up from the ground without help and without being crushed by those coming down behind me, nor get away from the burning aircraft when i get to the ground. that’s one reason why i don’t fly anymore.

        • MS42 says:

          You are relying on the goodness of other passengers and the flight crew. ASK FOR HELP, explain your need, and ASK AGAIN. If there’s no immediate emergency, wait for the airport’s first responders to take you off the plane, usually LAST.

      • Speed says:

        I hope someone with airline experience/training will answer. This (from 1977) is an analysis of the problem, not a solution.

        One passenger on US Airways Flight 1549 was in a wheelchair according to Wikipedia.

        On a recent SouthWest trip, a disabled passenger was seated in the first row aisle seat. I don’t know if this was for convenience or safety.

      • Guy Hamilton says:

        Patrick can doubtless provide a more definitive answer but my understanding ie, I’ve been told, is that policy is, quite rightly, to put the handicapped far away from the emergency exits and get them off last. It sounds harsh but it makes sense. It’s far more important to get the fit and able off first than to try to get the frail and handicapped off first, have them create a jam and cause many deaths or serious injuries.
        Many years ago a Royal Navy submarine on a demonstration cruise and carrying civilians became stuck on the seabed. Rather than evacuate the fit and able young sailors first, the captain sent out the ageing and unfit civilians. One of the first panicked, flooded the airlock, drowned in the lock, open to the sea. Now no one could use the lock. All died.
        To put the handicapped first would be to do similar.

  69. Rod says:

    Great photo. That Air France plane was about to go WHOOSH, yet the 300+ occupants were all evacuated — with no serious injuries — before it did.
    This was thanks to the cabin crew doing their stuff as trained. I was on an airplane once that had to be evacuated while still at the gate owing to a fire alarm. The charming, smiling flight attendants instantly transformed themselves into screaming drill sergeants who had us off that thing in no time flat.

    • Stephen R. Stapleton says:

      One minute and seventeen seconds doesn’t seem wildly bad. I am not sure things would go so quickly or so smoothly with smoke, fire, and the plane sinking into water, but it does sort of set expectations. I don’t know if the full 853 passenger capacity participated, but even getting 600 people any where in 1:17 seems darn good.

      • Speed says:

        Stephen R. Stapleton wrote, ” … getting 600 people any where in 1:17 seems darn good.”

        But it would be impossible with Stephen R. Stapleton standing in the aisle trying to get his CPAP and meds down from the overhead.

        • King Wenscles says:

          Add in a Nick holding people up looking for his diabetic supplies and you’re looking at ten minutes to evac.

        • Stephen R. Stapleton says:

          One can, as I’ve written elsewhere, access that bin without standing in the aisle. I wold not block the aisle when an alternative that also results in my grabbing my medical bad is available.

          • Sweet Marie says:

            With all due respect Stapleton you will recall that we are advise to “open the overhead bins carefully as contents may have shifted during flight” and that is for a REGULAR landing. I imagine all of the contents of the overhead bin would end up spilling into the aisle with you then digging frantically through it with your backside in the air and will die anyway because of your gross stupidity. Going forward when flying please be sure to ask for the window seat so that at least your seat mates have a fighting chance.

            This has never really occurred to me – from now on meds and important paperwork travels in a cross body bag with me.

  70. barf says:

    Possible part-solution : motordriven central lock for the overhead bins. Safety restrictions on size of bag etc under the seat.

    • Jim says:

      Good idea, but I would have it as an electromagnetic lock tied to the seatbelt sign. That would solve the geniuses getting up to open the bin before the airplane made it to the gate, or in turbulence.

      As much as I’d like to do away with the seatbelt part of the safety demo, I have seen passengers get it wrong – the release upside down being probably the most potentially dangerous.

      • Alan Wilkinson says:

        Would stop:
        emergency plane exit bag grabbing
        bag grabbing during turbulence
        bag grabbing before the plan had come to a full stop after landing
        No amount of customer education will fix this problem.
        Engineer the solution