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:

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 do we need a catchy “dumb ways to die” approach, as used by Melbourne’s Metro Trains?

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