British Airways Plane Fire Shows What Not to Do in Emergency

Flight attendants were irked by photos of evacuees toting bags.

— -- Thanks mostly to a well-trained, vigilant crew, all 157 passengers aboard the British Airways jet that caught fire during takeoff in Las Vegas Tuesday managed to avoid the flames, evacuating via emergency slides.

Everyone was off the plane within five minutes of the initial distress call, according to McCarran Airport. But what worried many was the sight of several passengers toting luggage on the tarmac.

“This could be the difference between life and death," said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "And yet there’s footage of passengers taking out enormous carry-on luggage.”

Bags can clog aisles, wasting valuable seconds during a crisis, experts say. They can also puncture the already-dangerous emergency slides ("six flags on steroids," Nelson calls them), rendering the exit unusable for other passengers.

Normally, flight attendants – and even some pre-flight safety videos -- warn evacuees to leave their bags behind in case of emergency.

But, sometimes, passengers grab their luggage anyway.

It’s difficult to know why passengers opt to wrestle their suitcases down from the overhead bins during a crisis. Perhaps they're trying to salvage valuables, Nelson says. Perhaps it's just habit. (After all, overhead security messages drill it into their heads: Stay with your bags at the airport.)

Some flight professionals say the industry needs to examine whether increased pre-flight instruction, or more severe commands during an emergency, could make a difference.

In any case, if you're faced with an in-flight emergency, “listen to your flight attendants," Nelson said." They’re the experts.”