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.

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