SMS should begin with THE PASSENGER

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Some safety event data is not available because collection may not be relevant or probative. The priority of any data collection pertaining to aviation safety should begin with the passenger. There are good reasons to consider whether passengers are subjected to risks as they enter their regional airplane.

It happens more than the existing data shows. As the above photographs of the President hitting his head on the cabin door as he enters Marine One shows, one can be easily be  distracted and not see the edge of the fuselage entering an aircraft.  Individuals are frequently working their PDA, are focused on getting to their seat, are encumbered with carryon’s and not necessarily looking up.  This is particularly true on the regional jets for which the forward cabin door is typically smaller than the entry on larger commercial planes.

The available data does not demonstrate that there is enough evidence to add this “threat” to the airlines’ Safety Management System’s discipline.


The safety reporting systems do not include a category for such potentially injurious incidents. No numbers means that there is no existing statistical basis for assessing this risk. No data should not mean no action.

Episodic reports, however, suggest that these are not rare occurrences.

A survey of over 1,000 regional air carrier flight attendants was conducted in 2014 with the results are shown in the following charts:


The survey confirmed that more than 2.7 million passengers per year are at risk for head injury. That projects to an incidence rate of 1 out of every 60 passengers will hit their head on a daily basis. The data also extrapolates to  more than 1.16 million passengers per year who  will receive a head injury that involved a cut, bleeding, a bump or a bruise from hitting their head on the main cabin door. To put that statistic on a daily basis, that would be 1 out of every 141 passengers per day.

Those injury numbers could translate to economic consequences; costly departure delays,  time to address the injury, non-productive work to complete all of the forms and creating very bad passenger experience (in addition to the passenger directly impacted, the people on the same flight would see and be worried about these incidents.)

This first level of data would seem to justify that additional reporting. ASRS already exists as a convenient, well understood mechanism to quantify existing safety risks. The categories (28) of the NASA maintained data base are long already and the types of problems accumulated (altitude deviations, crew fatigue, maintenance, etc.) are easily recognized by cockpit and cabin crews, AMTs and the like as subjects which should be quickly reported through ASRS. The closest classification would be Flight Attendant Reports and the NASA summary includes similar incidents like these:

  • “…several passengers became ill from a foul odor in the cabin that appeared to be coming from the forward lav area.”
  • “…a Flight Attendant notes one of the passengers being violently ill. The passenger is interviewed by a paramedic on the flight and Medlink is contacted. All agree that the passenger should not be boarded but the Customer Service Representative overrules everyone and brow beats the crew into accepting the ill passenger.”
  • “When faced with an on board medical emergency the flight attendants aboard a B777 found themselves unable to locate required equipment in a timely fashion.”
  • “A Flight Attendant reports the steps on the Main Cabin Door of a CRJ-700 aircraft were incorrectly configured during a Maintenance C-Check. With cabin door open, the position of raised steps two and three from the bottom of the door had been swapped, affecting the location of the door open/close handgrip and instruction placards for door operations, emergency lights and emergency exiting of aircraft.”
  • “Flight Attendant encounters two passengers vomiting on her flights and has the flight crew call paramedics to meet the aircraft. The passengers are examined and released.”
  • “CRJ-900 Flight Attendant describes an incident with a passenger becoming suctioned to the toilet after flushing while seated with the seat up.”
  • “Four B757-200 flight attendants report illness during and after a flight on which a dirty socks odor was detected and reported to Captain. The flight continued and no medical attention was requested at the destination.”

The injuries incurred by a passenger when hitting the main cabin door would fit within the purview of the NASA ASRS process. Perhaps the quantity of existing reports might make this suggestion beyond its capacity.

If that is a correct assumption there may be alternatives, OSHA collects data about employee injury in the workplace. While the form does not apply to customers, the information to be collected would be quite relevant to this issue. That’s a potential source and OSHA may l be willing to be involved.

Another alternative is to create a voluntary sample of one or more regional carriers for 6 – 12 months. The SMS group could alert the cabin crews of the potential issues, define the specific parameters of the form, collect/analyze the data, assess potential solutions and finally take whatever remedial action needed.  The FAA could then use that sample to decide whether further applicability is warranted.

This is an initiative for which there is substantial support from the pilots and flight attendants. A few relevant quotes demonstrate that labor would find some added information:

A letter to from the IAM Congressman Tom Petri (now retired):

h22 “As Flight Safety Director for the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers, Air Transport District 142, representing more than 2,000 ExpressJet Flight Attendants, I respectfully request the Aviation Subcommittee, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention address the safety issue regarding passengers who hit their head during the ingress and egress process thru the regional jet main cabin entryway. ExpressJet is the United States largest Regional Airline with more than 28 million passengers per year.

Our safety concern for passengers receiving head injuries and bleeding in the main cabin amongst other passengers and crewmembers is a serious issue that must be solved. The safety issue has become an open conversation among FAA Safety Inspectors, NTSB Investigators, Flight Crewmembers, Flight Safety Coordinators, CDC, OSHA and the Director of the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System.

…It is just a matter of time before a passenger’s accident or a fatality transpires into a lawsuit.”

A letter from Legislative Director Jack Ruddy:

h33“…Congressman Graves participated in an Aviation listening session with the Chairman of the Transportation Committee and the Chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee in which he heard from the Flight Attendants Union. The representative from the union brought up this issue as well as several other priority issues for their membership. Please know that Congressman Graves and his colleagues on the Transportation Committee are taking these concerns into consideration as they work to address the nation’s aviation policy during the FAA Reauthorization process. Currently, the bill is set to expire in 2015 and the committee will begin its work toward the end of this year. However, these listening sessions as well as official hearings on other aviation issues are part of the investigative work the committee is undertaking prior to the reauthorization process.” 

Captain James F. Whisnant-Regional Airlines 

“In the seven years of working on this aircraft, I have witnessed numerous passengers strike their heads on the overhead portion of the entryway. Any delay by not using the head guard device is one more day of more passengers getting injured and we fail at “PASSENGER SAFETY”.”

Sara Potts-Regional Airline Flight Attendant

“I have seen many passengers and crewmembers strike their head and either collapse foreword, try to grab on to something to maintain balance, start to fall down the aircraft stairs and fall back into boarding passengers behind them on the steps or Jet Bridge.”

Victoria H.-Regional Airline Flight Attendant

“One of the most delicate parts of our body is the top of our head and forehead; it should be guarded against injury since it does bleed so easily. Bleeding in public is considered a bio-hazard.”

In this era of enhanced safety due to risk-based preventative actions, the absence of numbers can and should not be a reason to ignore a risk. The survey presented here should stimulate some response by the FAA, NASA, RAA or other safety organizations. After such a step, there may be  low cost, readily available solutions that could reduce the incidents in which passengers are needlessly injured.

A proactive solution would seem to fulfill the strategic safety goals of SMS. A 360° surveillance of airline operations, it would seem, should start with the passenger’s entering the plane.

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