Just as the pilot has a pre-flight check list as part of critical safety procedures, so too should passengers, despite the fact that flying is as safe as it has ever been. Indeed, passengers can enhance their own safety by following a few easy tips from what to wear to what to do on board.
Between 2010 and 2012, there were no fatal US airline accidents, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has yet to report on 2013. Worldwide, the numbers show fatalities halved between 2011 and 2012, continuing a long-term trend, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
These statistics are no accident. Aviation safety has evolved from a ‘lessons-learned-from-an-accident’ methodology to data-driven, risk management designed to spot negative safety trends before they become accident.
While many may assume accidents are not survivable, the fact is 90% are because safety experts, airlines and aircraft manufacturers have hardened the aircraft.
Safety advances include seats that withstand 16Gs of force to prevent separation from the floor. Hardening overhead bins in response to the weight of passenger gear has also resulted in preventing them from separating from the aircraft. Former NTSB Member John Goglia also cites flame-retardant materials, giving passengers more time to evacuate. “Safety has dictated how wide the aisle is, making emergency exits rows wider as well as the installation of emergency floor lighting making it easier to find the exits in the dark,” he notes.
Clearly, the industry has upped its game in ensuring passenger safety but there is still much a passenger can do and, as with most safety tips, planning starts before you leave for the airport.
“What you wear is very important,” said Goglia. “You want to cover up as much as possible because you may not be off the airline before a flash fire happens. You want to wear natural fibers because synthetics can melt and stick to the skin, making burns far worse with a longer recovery time. No panty hose. You want tie shoes because in every accident footwear seems to leave you.”
This begs the question – should flight attendants wear hose? Goglia mentions hose in particular because they melt to the skin.
Turbulence is the leading cause of inflight injuries and fatalities so keep seat belts fastened whenever you are seated.
Have a plan
Goglia also advises preparing in advance and include two escape routes.
“I’ve seen survivable accidents where someone, who had no other injuries, has hesitated too long to unfasten the seat belt and died from the smoke and fire,” said Goglia. “You need to pay attention to where you are and move as soon as the aircraft stops moving.”
Passengers should also pay attention to the safety briefing. Airlines are becoming very adept at keeping even seasoned road warriors from tuning out with clever video safety briefings, such as Delta Air Lines’ 80s retrofit safety video and Air New Zealand’s Hobbit safety video.
Delta Airlines ‘80s retro safety video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eduNjwNvcH4
New Zealand Hobbit safety video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCbPFHu3OOc
“Counting the rows to the nearest forward exit is important, but it is also important to count the rows to the exit behind you. It may be the closest and the forward exit may be blocked,” said Goglia, who always keeps a flashlight handy.
He also advises paying attention to crew instructions in the event of an accident. Despite flight attendant warnings, a passenger opened the door, flooding the aircraft during the Miracle on the Hudson crash.
And, once you are back on terra firma, don’t forget to fasten the seat belt in your car because flying is always the safest part of your trip.
- LEAVE YOUR POSSESSIONS BEHIND.
- Stay low.
- Proceed to the nearest front or rear exit – count the rows between your seat and the exits during the briefing.
- Follow floor lighting to exit.
- Jump feet first onto evacuation slide. Don’t sit down to slide. Place arms across your chest, elbows in and legs and feet together. Remove high-heeled shoes.
- Exit the aircraft and clear the area.
- Remain alert for emergency vehicles.
- NEVER RETURN TO A BURNING AIRCRAFT.
Exit Row Seating
- You must be physically capable and willing to perform emergency actions when seated in emergency or exit rows. If you are not, ask for another seat.
- Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the emergency evacuation techniques outlined on the written safety instructions. Ask questions if instructions are unclear.
Fire or Smoke
- Use a wet napkin or handkerchief over nose and mouth.
- Move away from fire and smoke.
- Stay low.
Passenger Safety Information
- Review the passenger safety card before takeoff and landing.
- Listen carefully to the safety briefing.
- Be able to locate emergency exits both in front and behind you. Count the rows between you and the nearest front and rear exits.
- Locate the flotation device.
- Make a mental plan of action in case of emergency.