Study was of people not in distress
FAA will provide its ideas in April 2019
Ideas that could be implemented NOW
Evacuation involving no immediate threat to passengers
- Three quarters (75 per cent) of British adults who have flown in the last five years would take some belongings with them.
- Around a third (31 per cent) would only take valuables within easy reach.
- A similar proportion (29 per cent) would take all their belongings with them.
- Only one in five (20 per cent) say they would take nothing with them except the contents of their pockets.
Evacuation involving an immediate threat to passengers
- A majority (61 per cent) would take nothing with them except for the contents of their pockets.
- Around a third (35 per cent) say they would take their belongings with them.
- 23 per cent would only take valuables within easy reach.
- 6 per cent would take all valuables, but not other belongings.
- 6 per cent say they would take all their belongings with them.
Fliers too often insist on taking their luggage with them when heading for the emergency exits, a choice that could be fatal
The Wall Street Journal’s Middle Seat column added some important relevant points:
But safety investigators are voicing growing concern over a big issue. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada concluded in July that an evacuation from a WestJet 737 in Toronto in January was slowed by passengers retrieving their carry-on bags before fleeing a plane that was on fire. The London-based Royal Aeronautical Society published a study in April of 30 evacuations with a recommendation that regulators study the feasibility of locking overhead bins before takeoff and before landing.
Leave the Bag Behind
Evacuations are slowed by passengers grabbing their carry-ons and other factors.
Aisle delays lead to people grabbing their bags, which causes more delays.
Passengers attempting to get baggage from overhead bins slow down aisle traffic.
Some larger people have trouble fitting through emergency exit doors, slowing everyone down.
Bags carried by passengers have a risk of puncturing the slide.
Source: Crash investigation reports
“Until we have a situation where people do get hurt, or killed, [or] can’t get out, then the authorities probably just say, ‘Well, everything’s going fine,’ ” says Nick Butcher, one of the authors of the RAS study and a cabin-safety veteran who spent more than 30 years at the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority.
The carry-on baggage problem isn’t new, although cellphone videos from accidents have shed more light on it. Mr. Butcher thinks it may have worsened because of the increasing value of the items we carry in bags—electronics, medications and other “necessities.” And fees for checked baggage have prompted passengers to carry more stuff on board.
One other serious threat to speedy evacuations these days: airlines splitting families up when assigning seats, the RAS suggests. If children aren’t seated in the same row, parents are going to go find them before evacuating, possibly disrupting the flow.
In January, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the evacuation from American Airlines Flight 383, a 767 that had an uncontained engine failure and fire as it was rolling for takeoff in Chicago in 2016, was impeded by passengers grabbing luggage. The NTSB recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration study the hazards of carrying luggage during evacuations.
The FAA says it will review and consider the NTSB’s recommendation by April 2019.
FAA regulations require them to mention this issue on safety briefing cards placed in seat-back pockets. But the message is often easy to miss for the few who bother looking at the cards. Those cards typically have a small picture of a passenger with a carry-on bag and a red line through it.
The agency says it does encourage airlines to include instructions to leave bags behind in the orders flight attendants yell to passengers in an actual emergency. Asked if this should become required in light of recent incidents, the FAA issued a statement saying it was “up to individual airlines.”
And an FAA official noted in an interview that while evacuations may be slowed by some factors like baggage, they actually are assisted by more protections in place today to improve safety, such as materials in aircraft that burn slower. “The recent safety record is pretty good. Most evacuations are successful, even if some behavior is not ideal,” the official says.
Of course, travelers routinely ignore safety briefings. When US Airways Flight 1549 splashed down on the Hudson River in 2009, few passengers thought to grab life vests.
In an emergency, passengers still spend time in the aisle waiting to get off the plane—emergency exits are the limiting factor. So they have temptation and opportunity—while they wait, their carry-ons are in the bin right beside their head.
Canada’s safety board found that on Aug. 2, 2005, when an Air France wide-body A340 jet ran off the end of a runway in Toronto, the fuselage split into two pieces and erupted into flames four minutes later. Still, about 50% of the passengers retrieved cabin baggage as they escaped—even though “flight attendants repeatedly provided specific instructions to the contrary,” the TSB report noted.
One of the reasons why, it has been postulated, that passengers exiting an aircraft carry their personal items is that under stress, people do not tend to act entirely rationally. Scientific studies have found the high anxiety contributes to these behaviors:
- making bad decisions
- acting irritably
- more likely behaving unethically
- taking greater risks.
- may be more forgetful
These tendencies support the explanation that individuals are not as likely to adhere to safety warnings, BUT the Royal Aeronautical Society’s survey was administered to individuals who ostensibly were not subject to stress.
The FAA’s gestation period for possible regulatory responses to this irrational passenger evacuation behavior defers actions which are needed to reduce this risk. It would also be appropriate for individual airlines to take immediate actions under their SMS powers.
Here are some suggestions in no particular order:
- Public Service Announcements: Affecting behavior while onboard an aircraft may be difficult given the stress of some passengers and the passengers who are inured to the flight attendants’ announcements. This is the sort of safety message which may merit Public Service Announcements. NHTSA, in cooperation with the Ad Council, tries to reinforce certain safety behaviors, like “no texting and driving,” “click it or ticket” and “friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” This type of advertising campaigns must be effective; for NHTSA has been sponsoring them for years and the level of appearances frequently on all media is high.
Maybe A4A, IATA and the FAA could jointly design and place advertisements, The PSAs could remind, on TV and radio plus print versions, their passengers of this key safety behavior. The point should be that their own lives and the lives of their fellow passengers are more important than these dangerous possessions.
Many consumers might be more likely to retain this message by the repetition of pointed commercials and safety might well be served.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THIS INITIATIVE NEED NOT WAIT UNTIL APRIL
- Locking the overhead compartments: This is an oft-repeated solution has more negative collateral consequences—when will the locks be set; the possibility that the locks will be set inadvertently; the baggage under the seats and in laps would still be available for evacuation.
Would require NPRM and development time for mechanism
- Increase the intensity of the FLIGHT ATTENDANT EMERGENCY ANNOUNCEMENT
Flight attendant: “The Captain has indicated that this aircraft may experience difficulty landing. As we descend, please assume the bracing position. Lean forward with your hands on top of your head and your elbows against your thighs. Ensure your feet are flat on the floor. There are several emergency exits on this aircraft Please take a few moments now to locate your nearest exit. In some cases, your nearest exit may be behind you. If we need to evacuate the aircraft, floor-level lighting will guide you towards the exit. Doors can be opened by moving the handle in the direction of the arrow. Each door is equipped with an inflatable slide which may also be detached and used as a life raft.”
All passengers must leave all carryon bags behind during an evacuation. Failure to do so may result in a fine.
Failure to adhere to this prohibition will likely result in injuries or fatality to you and other passengers.
As seen in above graphic, the value of carry-on items may make a fine irrelevant to a passenger’s decision. The human consequences language may have greater impact, but see “bad decisions”, “behaving unethically” and other attributes associated with stress.
This response would not need a final NPRM to implement it
- One option might be to provide greater space on the safety briefing card which is located in the seat back pouch.
The carriers could change their briefing cards as soon as they could be printed
- A real time method of reinforcing the message at a critical point by including a warning on the overhead compartments. There may be some way to illuminate the warning to be shown only when an emergency is declared:
Airlines could adopt this on their own initiative
These are possible actions to be taken to address the problem of passengers taking their material goods. Some of them can be done today and without FAA approval. The Royal Aeronautics Society’s study shows that rational people must not fully comprehend the significance of their actions. Doing something effective NOW might minimize the likelihood of a tragedy.
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