ATW Editor's Blog

Aircraft evacuations, bags and social media


Something has struck me about the images that have come out of two recent aircraft incidents that involved emergency evacuations - the tragic Asiana crash landing in San Francisco and then today's incident involving a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, which appears to have suffered a nose wheel collapse on landing at New York LaGuardia.

What you see first is how many passengers, having slid down the emergency chutes, are carrying their bags; in some cases, two bags. What you realize next is that many of the first photos to be tweeted are taken by the escaping passengers, who clearly reached for their mobile devices and cameras as soon as they were clear of the aircraft.

Thinking back to the heaven-knows-how-many safety and emergency procedures I’ve listened to the past year or so as the plane backs away from the gate, I’m pretty certain that instructions are not always given to leave your personal belongings behind in the case of an emergency evacuation. I think – but could be mistaken – that I more regularly hear instructions to remove high heels before exiting the aircraft. But I’m one of those people who does pay attention to the safety brief every time, and I'm annoyed when others blatantly leave their bags on open floor space and their seat backs in recline during takeoff and landing.

Several years ago, I was part of a media team that conducted a simulated emergency evacuation drill at Southwest’s training center in Dallas. Even though it was a simulation, and we “passengers” had no bags, it was an adrenalin-inducing experience when the flight attendants started to yell at us to get out. And get out we did, fast as heck and down the chute in what seemed like half a second.

Had the situation been real, I’m pretty sure I would not have taken time to collect my personal belongings, let alone think about photographing the experience. And I’m not convinced it’s a good thing to realise that my fellow passengers on my next flight might well make bags and photos their priority.

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Jul 25, 2013

While most (if not all) in this industry will agree that bringing your bags during an evacuation can mean the difference between life or death for someone, I don't entirely agree with your comments about smartphones. Phones today fit in your pockets and are often carried there, so your assumption that passengers on the recent evacuations stopped to gather their mobile device is not necessarily true. I've spent 15+ years in the industry and my cellphone is usually in my pocket during critical phases of flight when flying as a passenger - or in my coat pocket during winter months (i.e. coat is worn during takeoff/landing). If someone takes photos or videos after they safety evacuate an aircraft, have moved far away from the hazard(s) and/or when no further assistance is needed at the bottom of slides to help others passengers or assist injured passengers, I don't see what is wrong with someone capturing images that may prove invaluable to investigators after an incident. Photos and videos have proven to be great training aids over the years - and after seeing both passenger and crew behaviours during incidents which were captured on film/video, procedural changes can be made as a corrective action or preventative measure for the future. Now with two recent evacuations where passengers were photographed carrying baggage, perhaps airlines will use this "evidence" to revisit the topic and rethink how their crew carry out evacuation duties (e.g. should a F/A forcibly take carryons away from a passenger to speed up the evacuation and get more people out of an aircraft faster)? While taking pictures should absolutely not take priority over getting yourself or others out of an aircraft, I see more value than harm in documenting the accident when conditions permit.

on Jul 26, 2013

I was a witness (from ground) to an emergency evacuation of an aircraft with 300 pax after a brake fire. It was chaotic to say the least, though the cabin crew were controlling it very well to a point.

One of the problem was the pax not heeding to the order to leave their hand bags behind. Several pax who were afraid of leaving behind their passport, valuables, cash etc moved forward towards exit with their trolley bags, which were collected by the crew before they slid down. But soon, the aisle & galleys become clogged with these bags and evacuation came to a stand still. So crew actually had to stop the evacuation for a few minutes and threw these bags down the slide to make space, and then the evacuation restarted.
The evacuation drills do not really reflect the actual behavior of pax in an emergency. Many pax do not want to leave behind their passport and valuables no matter what you may say. When panic sets in after seeing the smoke, the behavior of pax is just unpredictable and uncontrollable. I do not think you will ever have a perfect evacuation, so it is sometimes better to let pax take their valuables with them to quickly evacuate the aircraft, I think.

on Jul 26, 2013

Well, I guess, one lesson to learn from such incidents is to carry your passport on your self and not keep it in your cabin bag.

Other than that, no worldly possession is probably worth the risk when there is an emergency.

But, then we are all human and individuals at that so there can never really be a perfect situation...!!

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