– ABC News’ Ron Claiborne reporting
Years ago, I got on a flight from Los Angeles going to Baltimore. After we left the gate, we taxied to a remote part of the runway and were told to evacuate. There was an emergency.
There was excitement but no one panicked as we filed down the aisle and leapt onto the slide. Later, we learned that security had allowed someone to board the flight who they later deemed to be suspicious in some way. We also learned that the co-pilot broke his ankle on the emergency slide.
That’s my airline emergency story, a pretty benign one. The vast majority of the tens of millions of people who fly every year cannot even recount a tale as unexciting as mine. They never face an emergency. They never evacuate a plane.
And, a good number of them never pay attention to those pre-flight briefings that inform us what todo when our oxygen masks falls, the lights to follow to the nearest exit, which we are endlessly told “may be behind you.”
Next time, pay attention. It could save your life because, as rare as they may be, there are accidents, mishaps, emergencies and even plane crashes. Knowing what the do is key.
That’s why for the past five years British Airlines has been offering some of its top corporate customers a one-day “crash course” – pun intended – in what to do in case of an emergency.
About 11,00 people have paid $210 get to sit in an airline cabin simulator and experience an all-too-realistic staging of what a real emergency would be like. Smoke pours into the mock cabin as the “passengers” unbuckle their seat belts, follow the emergency lights to the nearest exit and then leap onto a very real slide.
The idea is, of course, that by practicing an evacuation in realistic conditions, you will be better prepared for the real thing. ”Time is really the proven difference between life and death,” says Veda Schook, the president of the 60,000-member U.S. Association of Flight Attendants. American flight crews strive to get everyone off a plane – no matter what size – is 90 seconds or less. ”There certainly could be a benefit to passengers receiving additional training in what to do in event of an emergency,” Schook said, though she steered clear of endorsing the program.
The goal is to avoid passengers panicking. In 1991, 10 passengers on a plane involved in a tarmac collision with another plane at Los Angeles International Airport died. Some of them could not get an emergency exit open and two passengers got into a flight. Even in the US Airways “Miracle On the Hudson” - hailed as an example of a well-executed evacuation — only 10 of the 150 passengers grabbed their life jackets.
There are ways to improve your chances of surviving an airline emergency. The most important lessons:
– HAVE A PRE-FLIGHT PLAN, INCLUDING KNOWING HOW MANY ROWS YOU ARE FROM THE NEAREST EXIT.
– ADOPT THE BRACE POSITION… HEAD DOWN, HANDS ON BACK OF HEAD. IN CASE THERE’S SMOKE, GET DOWN LOW, MOVE QUICKLY FOLLOWING THE FLOOR LIGHTS LEADING TO THE EXIT.
– UNBUCKLE YOUR SEAT BELT BEFORE OPENING THE EXIT WINDOW. DON’T HESITATE AT THE EMERGENCY SLIDE
– JUMP FEET FIRST WITH YOUR HANDS ACROSS YOUR CHEST.
Edward Galea, of the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom, who has studied how people survive plane accidents said: “Count how many seat backs you are away from your nearest exit in front of you, and your nearest exit behind you.” Why count the seats? Because if you’re involved in a fire situation with smoke, you won’t necessarily be able to see where the exit is.
Another tip: leave the bag behind. In a survey of survivors of plane emergencies, 37 percent said people grabbing their carry-luggage slowed down the evacuation. ”It’s critical that passengers leave everything when they evacuate,” Schook said. “We’re trained to enforce that rule. Leave everything because it makes a difference.”
And you don’t have to go to England and sign up for the British Airways course. What they’re teaching still boils down practicing what your flight attendant tells you before every flight. So, next time you’re on a plane waiting to take off, put down that magazine or stop talking to your seatmate and actually pay attention.