Incidents reveal crucial need for passengers to leave bags behind

It has happened again. A British Airways Boeing 777-200ER sits burning on the ground at an airport, yet passengers from BA2276 continued (and in some cases exceeded) the trend of taking multiple carry-on items with them. What will it take for the industry to act?

 In March alone, we witnessed three separate aircraft evacuations via emergency slides. Turkish Airlines 726 at Kathmandu, US Airways 445 at Denver, and Delta 1086 at New York LaGuardia. The commonalities in passenger behavior in evacuating these aircraft – and now BA2276 in Las Vegas – underline a serious problem. Passengers aren’t leaving their carry-on items behind.

Some are even clearly opening overhead bins to retrieve their large luggage, and with bins growing in capacity, the impact of retrieving luggage will grow too. It’s deeply dangerous, which is why airlines advise against it in safety briefings and in shouted evacuation instructions. (“Leave your belongings! Stay low! Sit and slide!”) And why aerospace journalists this evening are pulling their hair out at the videos emerging from the scene in Las Vegas.

But the warnings aren’t being heeded.

Some within the industry have suggested that the issue is one of a language barrier. At first glance, that might well be an issue on some flights. A significant proportion of passengers on Asiana 214 – which crashed on 6 July 2013 at SFO – were from southeastern China: Mandarin or Hokkien speakers, flying on a Korean airline’s flight between Seoul and the US. How long since they heard a safety briefing in a language they speak? Was it for the same aircraft? Were there enough similarities to make it relevant?

But the US Airways and Delta incidents in March — domestic US flights, where most passengers will have spoken the language of the briefings and announcements — exhibited the same issues.

Flyers are endangering themselves and others, whether it’s on British Airways at Las Vegas:

Turkish Airlines at Kathmandu:

US Airways at Denver:

or Delta at LaGuardia:

The consequences will, in the right perfect storm of events, be serious. Someone’s purse or messenger bag will snag, snapping a neck. The best part of a hundred pounds of luggage will tumble out of a damaged pivot bin, injuring people or delaying evacuation. Someone tall with a 10 kg (22 lb) overstuffed backpack will knock out a child or shorter passenger. Those bottles of Chivas will break, leaving flammable liquid and shards of glass strewn in the aircraft or on the ground. A pile of carry-ons at the foot of the slide will cause serious head injuries, since even trained crew in jumpsuits can’t reliably avoid smashing their faces into the ground.

What about a passenger in shorts receiving serious burns on their way down the slide, who lands in a mess of belongings and broken glass?

Plus, as RGN recently discussed, aircraft evacuation testing doesn’t take rogue luggage or bags of breakable duty free liquor into account when agile gym members are selected as part of the egress testing.

These issues combine with the dangers to passengers on the ground after evacuation. 16-year-old Asiana 214 passenger Ye Mengyuan died after being run over by a fire appliance, while ATC recordings from the DL1086 LaGuardia incident suggest that the tower may not have had visibility of the aircraft after its overrun.

The industry needs to do some serious work to figure out why its instructions — which would seem, to those of us familiar with them, fairly clear — aren’t being heeded. Do safety briefings need to emphasise the consequences more? Do safety videos need to show injuries from cabin bags? Do we need to make it as unacceptable as drunk driving? Do we need to take a frankly brutal tack, like some road safety campaigns?

Perhaps a snappy ear-worm-worthy song like Virgin America’s Safety Dance?

Or is a catchy “dumb ways to die” approach, used by Melbourne’s Metro Trains?

Whatever the best way to fix the problem turns out to be, doing nothing isn’t an option. 

43 Comments

  1. Jonathan

    I don’t know if any of the methods you’d suggested would work – because there’s a more fundamental problem. In the absence of any *clear* signs of danger (fire, smoke, etcetera), there are going to be a lot of passengers who think: if I leave my bag behind, I’m screwed because I’ll have no passport/money/medication/etc. I would not want to be in a foreign country with no money or form of identification.

    Maybe if people knew their belongings would be returned to them relatively quickly (and not held up for weeks/months, like it was for the Hudson ditching or Asiana 214 – people wouldn’t be inclined to think this way.

    • Tony

      The bottom line is this: in the evacuation of a jetliner; no one not the pilots, flight attendants, or responders know if a situation will suddenly go from survivable/escapable to extremely dangerous and critical. Those standing in line awaiting to use the evacuation slides may at any moment have to deal with a flash fire. Your precious pieces of insignificance may be the very thing that slows down or even causes an evacuation to halt.

      There are multiple major scenarios that can erupt, here are the two most critical:

      1. A flash fire erupts and those with carry on in hand cause a human log jam.

      2. You jump onto the evacuation slide, your carry on causes a rupture, thereby creating what’s called a “blocked exit” putting a strain on what ever other doors are usable and slowing down a very critical time window.

      There is actually a reason flight attendants are onboard, which has nothing to do with your coke and pretzels. One the most important is to conduct the movement and egress during a very critical period that can go from green to red in a matter of seconds. Leave your stuff on the plane and get out.

    • Tony

      Thank you both Jonathan and Roger, your level, of naïveté regarding how quick conditions can change will guarantee flight attendants jobs for years to come. The lack of general knowledge that passengers have is drilled into our heads for 6 to 8 weeks of training and again each year at recurrent. It’s only that division of knowledge base that even assures our employment.

      • Roger

        Enough of the personal attacks. We both explained why some (note not every) passenger would try to take their stuff. (And neither of us said we would. )

        The existing approach is obviously not working, and we both independently arrived at the same explanation, and proposed solutions. You can be helpful by proposing other explanations, other solutions, or critiquing what we said.

        Berating passengers for “lack of general knowledge” or “naïveté” isn’t an explanation, or a solution. And it certainly isn’t helpful in high stress unexpected situations where the brain operates differently. Note the same approach has been tried to get people to use suitable passwords and backups in the online/computer world, and it didn’t work there either.

        In the spirit of being positive and trying to make progress, I have another proposed solution. Instead of the safety briefing being a “shut up and passively listen” approach, make it a test that you take using the video screen in front of your seat. You are far more likely to remember things and operate correctly on instinct when having to actively answer things than being passive.

        I also wish they would put more stuff in the airport and waiting area itself. Let people try putting on life jackets, unbuckle seat belts, put on oxygen masks (including on others), open doors, see what a smokey fuselage looks like etc. Familiarity will make evacuations more predictable.

  2. Roger

    I agree with Jonathan. Nowhere is it documented what happens to people who do evacuate. We don’t know if it takes 15 minutes, 15 days or 15 months to get your stuff back. We sure as heck do know what happens if you weren’t in an incident, and arrive without passports, identity documents, money, proof of return tickets etc, and it is always less than pleasant. The carry ons contain people’s most important stuff, ranging from documents, money, through medicine, important items for the trip, and expensive digital devices. None of it is insured, and getting replacements is expensive and time consuming.

    Having to evacuate is bad enough. Having to also lose all your stuff, and then spend lots of time and money to get new ones (renewing a passport is a pain, having to get a police report from an accident to explain why the existing one is lost even more so). It is easy to see why some people make the rational to them choice of grabbing their stuff.

    The way to fix this is for the authorities to show what happens. Create a web page that has videos and diagrams showing how to evacuate, open doors, follow lighting, queue, simulated smoke, common “mistakes” etc. Let people become very familiar with that. And at the end explain what happens when people do evacuate. How they will be taken care of for matters of bureaucracy (identity documents), money, medication, electronic equipment, contacting people etc. This isn’t something that should be feared, and people should feel that evacuating without their stuff is always the best course.

    • Anil

      Hi,
      While being stranded without money or documents is a valid concern, I personally believe that it is not strong enough to justify risking another passenger’s life by potentially delaying the evacuation.
      In my opinion, as more and more airline safety videos get fancy (with celebs, animated characters etc.), the serious message contained within them, that a dangerous situation could worsen quickly, is being lost. I personally have seen that only a handful of them actually pay attention to what is being said. Safety videos should be kept formal.
      A simple solution ( this is what I do when I fly), is to spent two minutes consciously preparing for the flight. Firstly, wear clothes which don’t catch fire easily ( certain clothing materials are flammable). Secondly, for the entire duration of the flight, I keep my passport, small USB containing my work and some money in the side pocket of my trousers. This is because I know that an evacuation could happen , and in that situation at least I have some ID and money for food. This leaves my mind free to leave my bag behind. My office work is secure in the USB as well, so no pressure to get my bag returned within a certain time frame.

      Anyways, wish everybody a safe flight. Bye

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  4. Caterina Taylor

    Yes, we do need to take a more ruthless approach. People do not understand the seriousness of the safety briefings and the consequences for not heeding their instructions. When I fly, I frequently tell passengers that in a rapid decompression, they have less than 30 seconds to get their mask on before they pass out and die (it’s more like 10 seconds) and when parents laugh at me because I drag my sons car seat with me on every airline flight he’s ever taken, I smile and tell them that the force of a crash landing and the seatbelt they’ve put on their 3 year old will literally rip their child into two pieces. The message needs to be very clear. People are stupid.

  5. Ian Hodgkiss

    1) Limit the size of the carry-on (half the current size of 48x34x23cm) for example.
    2) Have a bin at checkin clearly showing the size and all passengers have to fit their carry-on into the bin.
    3) Strictly one bag per passenger.
    4) Wider aisles. Current “squash as many seats as you can into the tube” mentality is dangerous.
    5) Prices will rise if the seat numbers are reduced. Get over it.
    6) Stop the stupidity of “fly in any weather to maintain schedule”. Too dangerous.
    7) Remove or reduce alcohol sales in-flight. Drunk passengers don’t make the best decisions.
    8) Provide socks for all passengers so shoes don’t rip the slide.
    Standing back and waiting for the comments!

  6. Lindsay

    If it hasn’t been said already, (and I’m sorry if it has because I haven’t read all the comments. ) Overhead bind should be designed with an automatic lock that for all take off and landings. I do see one problem with this however, they would.have to automatically unlock jn a power loss…I wonder if there would be a way to manually lock bins, entire sections at a time as us flight attendants secure the cabin?

  7. Bron Gondwana

    All the proposed solutions here won’t save even a tiny fraction of the lives that would be saved by lowering the speed limits everywhere and enforcing laws that don’t allow cars to be built capable of driving faster than a national maximum speed.

    But it would be massively inconvenient to people. Likewise, making regular air travel significantly more annoying/expensive for a slight improvement in safety for the few incidents that fall in the gap between “normal landing” and “everyone dies” – those ones where evacuation makes a difference – it’s just not going to fly (pun intended).

    Bron.

    • King Wenscles

      Since most people who die in automobile accidents die in intersections where, typically, the speed limits and travel are below even the slowest freeway speeds, I’d really like to know your source for your statement.

      Running into a fixed object at speeds above 45MPH significantly lowers your chances of a happy ever after life. Yes, you’ll survive, but you’ll never be the same. The older you are, the worse it will be.

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  9. Dana

    You all make very valid points. However as a Flight Attendant when we can not get passengers to even pay attention to safety videos or to abide by remain seated with seat belt on during turbulance how the heck will we get them to educate themselves and watch or read information on the dangers presented in an evacuation. We do our best but we are not able to force anyone to do what we ask of them. We can only hope nothing dangerous will happen and be prepared if it does.

    • Beth

      Dana, We cannot take the “there’s nothing we can do about it, but just hope for the best” attitude! That is as much a part of the problem as passengers who don’t heed advice. There is no single solution that is going be effective, but if different forms of educating passengers were employed, more passengers would be reached.

      Every passenger that is educated makes a difference. I like the idea of simulators in the airports. Not every passenger will use them, but I guarantee you that the ones that do will come out talking about the experience. The online interactive safety demonstration where passengers test their understanding of the safety protocols AND the potential consequences of not heeding them is an excellent idea. Airlines could jump on board (no pun intended) with this by providing a link on the flight reservation page and could even go one step farther and offer an incentive (priority boarding or free snack/beverage?) to those who complete the interactive demo successfully.

      There are so many different things you can do; the most important thing to remember comes from an Interim Manager where I work, “Question Everything”. Just because you’ve done it that way for years, does not mean it is the only way, or even the best way, to do something.

  10. Michael

    I wonder if the plane was on fire if these idiots would be still trying to get their bags out of the overhead bins?

  11. John

    I am a long time flight attendant who takes safety seriously. During the safety demo passengers should stop talking and pay attention. I think the FAA should give us the authority to issue a fine to customers who refuse to play by the rules.

    • Roger

      The result is that everyone would fake paying attention. Safety demos are very boring and very repetitive. The seat belts are not rocket science to use, and are considerably simpler to operate than car ones. Other parts like oxygen masks, life jackets and floor lighting are better experienced than described. The described brace position only works for people who are 5’3″ or less, and getting more and more difficult as seats get closer and closer together. The briefings really need to be rethought, and other ways of achieving the same goal explored.

      Remember that for the period before and after the actual flying at 30,000 feet everyone keeps making sure they have all their stuff, do not leave it unattended, have to have it available for inspection etc.

      Brains operate differently during periods of shock, going more on a base instinct. This is why the “shut up and listen” briefings do not have much effect. Getting people to be familiar with items, rather than their first experience being an emergency would greatly improve evacuation.

      Taking the approach of fines could also be done. For example fine people $10,000 for evacuating with their bags. (Or do what Finland does and make it proportional to income, so the fine would hurt everyone no matter what their income.)

  12. Jonathan

    “When you reach the bottom of the slide, get up and move away from the aircraft. Do not turn around, get out your smartphone and film the other passengers coming down the slide.”

  13. Dave

    The solution seems simple. In the event of an evacuation, overhead bins with luggage are locked shut and inaccessible to passengers. Perhaps bind need to be redesigned to accommodate this.

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  15. Toni

    Was surprised to see evacuees carrying bags, but wondered if it was because they were treating it as a non-routine disembarkation rather than emergency evacuation. It’s already a tricky enough line to walk giving safety demo essentials while not evoking thoughts of just how dire things would be if that life-jacket was needed, so can’t see neck snapping bags or Scotch fuelled cabin fires really catching on:) If it’s simply venal attachment to personal belongings, perhaps emphasizing the need for agility in an emergency would be helpful.

  16. Maybe if airlines stopped charging checked bag fees, then passengers would not feel the need to try to carry everything they have in their carry-ons. This would at least avoid having those huge carry-ons that some insist on bringing on the plan.

  17. My own take on this topic is here:

    Now up in Ask the Pilot: What NOT to do in an evacuation.

    http://www.askthepilot.com/emergency-etiquette/

    Emergency evacuations don’t happen very often, and usually they’re precautionary. But when they do occur, regardless of the reason, it’s very important that you LEAVE YOUR BAGS BEHIND! Evacuating with your luggage wastes valuable seconds, blocks the aisles and exits, and bags become deadly projectiles going down the slides. Yet time and time again people do it. The preflight safety demo, meanwhile, for all its profligacy, avoids the topic entirely.

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  19. PM

    “I also wish they would put more stuff in the airport and waiting area itself. Let people try putting on life jackets, unbuckle seat belts, put on oxygen masks (including on others), open doors, see what a smokey fuselage looks like etc. Familiarity will make evacuations more predictable.”

    Totally agree with this. I have thought this would be useful for a long time.

    Problem is, aviation has always been in this bind of promoting commerce as well as safety. You want people to be safe, to realize the risks in flying, but then if you do you scare away many potential customers. Many flyers just don’t want to think about what could go wrong on a flight– and won’t. They literally just won’t think about it or they won’t get on the plane.

    One would hope that letting people interact with the safety equipment by trying on, etc. would give them a better feeling of comfort that they’d know what to do and take an active role in their own safety but……. lots of dolts out there.

  20. Pingback: Passengers slammed for grabbing luggage after plane catches fire | Turismo en Malaga

  21. Pingback: Passengers slammed after British Airways plane catches fire | Turismo en Malaga

  22. The comments in this article in relation to Duty Free “booze” highlight the advancing case for making Duty Free shopping an arrivals delivery business and not an outbound export business.

    A subject we highlighted and initiated in 2009. The benefits of arrival shopping and pre-order are clearly illustrated by this unfortunate incident, but commendable evacuation.

  23. Michael Kelly

    In all my years flying throughout the world, my personal experience has shown that passengers flying domestically in the United states carry more luggage on board than passengers elsewhere. I do not know why this happens, but I have lost count of the amount of times I watched passengers trying to defy the laws of physics in trying to get something huge into an overhead bin, that clearly will not fit

  24. Dirk

    I travel several times a year and my observation of most people travelling by air is that they enter their own personal world where nothing ever goes wrong and everything has them as the top priority the second their feet passes that door into an airport. Personally, I still listen to the safety briefing every single time I fly. I don’t believe that just because I was on a flight last week I would be exempted from listening to a safety briefing this week. I always try to be aware where my nearest exit would be
    I don’t think the safety briefing is lacking in info or not mentioning anything a LOGICAL person doesn’t already know.
    All these “what happens to ME after if I get out safely and I leave my belongings, I could get stuck in a foreign country for days!!”, that is total BS because that is entering into your “all about me, screw the other person” mentality.
    The main objective of an evacuation is to get YOU and everyone else inside that airplane OUT SAFELY in the FASTEST way possible.
    You know what? In case you do evacuate and You leave your passport, money, personal belongings, etc. behind, guess what? Get over yourself! You’re not the ONLY one facing the same predicament. A hundred more will be in the same situation and I pretty sure, with all of you SAFELY outside that wreck, the last thing a “foreign government” or local authorities would be concerned about is your NOT having a passport or cash on hand.
    The minute that airplane takes off, you have left Planet ME…get over yourselves!

  25. Lisa

    As a flight attendant, I can tell you people do not take the safety demos seriously nor do the majority even pay attention. Passenger sit there on their phones, talk loudly so they can be heard over the annoucent, keep their headphones on or outright ignore you. I want to tell them, we do this because every demonstration is a result someone dying. Passengers think it’s joke that we show you how to use your seatbelt, not so funny when I see panic on someone’s face who sits there like an idiot pressing the buckle because they don’t know how to open the seatbelt. The problem is there is a growing number of self absorbent passengers who think the flight revolves around them, like a passenger, who during a medical emergency, reaches over the seat to ask a flight attendant, who is in the process of assisting a ill passenger, for another drink. This is not just about airline safety procedures it’s about passengers and their total disregard to following the simple rules of flying.

  26. Evelyn

    After reading most comments I have come to the conclusion that I will carry ON ME my passport, CC and money. Waist belt will handle this nicely. My life is a priority in an emergency evacuation of a plane but my id and money are needed especially if I am in a foreign country. Everything else is replaceable and I would still be able to safely disembark! A fanny pack with these essentials(including any vital medications) could be stowed under the seat and easily retrieved and belted on. I definitely would not try to retrieve anything out of the overhead bins. Common sense people!!!!

  27. Lee

    Those who are flight attendants calling passengers ‘idiots’ because they don’t know who to fasten their seatbelts — You are in the wrong job.
    That ‘idiot’ could be my grandmother, who is hard of hearing.

    Putting demonstrations at the airport is a bad idea. Many people simply would not fly. Many people I know are already nervous about flying. Afterall, MH370 is still missing and nobody is certain of it’s location. Some may think that passengers are ignorant or naive, personally I think most don’t want to think about ‘what if’.

  28. Lets not forget how serious the airlines are about this. Charging extra for the “leg room” of an emergency exit row diminishes the flight attendents’ prerogative to remove someone from that row if they believe the person is not able to assist.

  29. CW

    We live in a society that is so brainwashed into buying and owning material goods above all else, especially our lives. I don’t have any sympathy for those that die trying to save their material possessions, but I do feel sympathy for people who have to die because of others stupid choices in life….

  30. Anonymous coward who is at the pointy end of a jetliner

    The real issue is the whole hospitality angle where he passengers have no respect for the crew. On a ship they’d have to walk the plank, unfortunately legislation/implementation and policies for dealing with passengers not listening to crew is not very effective. In some countries before you restrain a in ruly passenger you have to give them a formal warning and if he continues to mis behave you need to get another passenger to agree to be a witness. In some countries the legislation has been diluted to the point where the crew files a police report and not the airline. The should catch each one of these passengers who got out with their luggage and charge them with endangering the lives of other passengers and prosecute them which might set an example for other air travellers.

  31. Kilrah

    ” What will it take for the industry to act?”
    What do you want the industry to do? The only thing they can do is tell people to leave things behind, which they already do.
    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. It’s just how people are now, and “fixing” that has to be done at a whole other level.

  32. Betsy

    Here’s a thought. If the airlines would stop charging a small fortune for checked baggage people would be more apt to check it in and less apt to bring everything but the kitchen sink into the planes to begin with.

  33. flystar

    I think as some comments have said before, one of the fundamental problems with humans is the lack of understanding the consequences of abstract dangers. The danger of a flash fire is abstract until it happens. With all the research after British Airtours 28M on how to make accidents more survivable, the side effect has been that it seems to feel like a diffrent way of deplaning, not an emergency. Just listen to the FA screaming “leave your belongings” and being ignored.

    One side note on saftey briefings – especially in the Virgin one, which in itself is cool: They tell you how to inflate the life vest, and then tell you to wait until you are out of the plane. With the overwing hatches on most narrowbodies, this gives the wrong message. This could be easily changed during presentations.

    Speaking of overwing hatches, especially the unhinged ones, and other ideas of personally adressing passengers: Only once – on what until then I considered was an below average leisure airline – did the flightcrew aproach me, and verified that I was capable of understanding the language, was aware of how to operate the hatches, and briefed me (and the peron on the oposite side) on when to open them, in a question/answer type of a dialog. This made me wonde why this is not standard. I later remembered how you are told in first aid lessons to personally adress a person standing by and watching to call an ambulance, and my conclusion is, that this seems to be the only efficient way to adress and alert the personal resposility we think a person should have.

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