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When you arrive at the airport then board the aircraft, you will no doubt be thinking only of the destination you are heading, those loved ones you are leaving behind, or are excited to meet up with. You may be wondering if you’ve packed enough underwear or if your electric toothbrush might have switched itself on in the hold. You will be wondering what to watch first on the in-flight entertainment, you will also be thinking about food no doubt, and how fast the hosties will be trundling through the cabin with the drink service.

Before that- on boarding you will probably have slowly walked down the aisle, as further down there is someone taking ages to put their bag in the locker- you tut at them (inwardly or outwardly). Then another person stands up and retrieves a bag they have already stowed away just to grab something else out of it. The boarding takes ages, everyone goes slow but also, they all want to go fast at the same time so they can get their butts on that seat for the next few hours, then you find your seat and also struggle to squeeze your cabin luggage in the overhead locker, it will either be already full up or your bag is just a bit tight- especially if you’ve just thrown in that bottle of duty-free gin. You might have to store your luggage under your seat, not good for your leg room, but good if you are one of those types that are in and out constantly; headphones, laptop, notebook, book, hand cream, face cream. You may have to keep your bag by your feet as you have passports and flight/ hotel documents you want close to you; you may even need your medication close to hand.

Depending on the size of the aircraft and how many doors are in use, it can take between 20 minutes and 40 minutes to board.

Then the cabin crew stream through after delivering their safety demonstration and check your bags are tucked right under the seat in front of you and that you don’t have blankets etc obstructing the aisle. This part will probably annoy you; you know everything is all good.

You did vaguely watch the safety demonstration, didn’t you? - Sure one of them looked rather hot so you paid them a bit more attention, but its fine, you know that with the law of averages that this journey will go smoothly, just like every other flight you’ve been on, so you are confident that reading the duty free brochure or looking out the window at the plane being pushed back from stand is better than listening to the cabin crew for 3 minutes. But just what did you miss during the announcement? Was it the part that said your nearest exit may be blocked, or perhaps the part that said, ‘IN AN EMERGENCY PLEASE LEAVE ALL HAND LUGGAGE BEHIND’

So- I just mentioned how long it takes to board an aircraft, but what about how long it takes to evacuate an aircraft in an emergency? That's every passenger and crew member getting out of their seats and down the evacuation slides, also factoring in that some exits may be blocked and unusable. 90 seconds. Yes just 90 seconds, that is based on a fully loaded aircraft and only half the exits in being in use. This is an industrywide standard as after that amount of time toxic fumes and flames overcome the cabin and make an escape impossible. This theory is set on passengers vacating the aircraft alone and not counting for retrieving their hand luggage- of which this can significantly increase evacuation time.

And so your fears come true… you are involved in a plane crash, you have had little or no warning, the chances of survival are huge though, people fear of plane crashes, but it is really one of the safest modes of transport – read our post here on how to survive a plane crash -. The cabin crew will be shouting their evacuation drills, guiding passengers to the exits, calls like ‘come this way’ , 'leave your belonging behind' will be shouted. You will undo your seatbelt and head to the exit. There the cabin crew will be telling you to ‘sit and jump’ down the slide. If everyone does exactly that then the evacuation will be as smooth as possible.

When passengers stand up and go under their seat to retrieve hand luggage or stand opening the overhead lockers/ bins/ compartments and grab their bags this is when the rate of evacuation slows. And when the evacuation slows it increases the chance of injury and death, especially in a smoke-filled cabin, when the aircraft is on fire.

But people do grab their luggage and it is a very worrying concern. Amid the mayhem those grabbing their bags are wasting ever so precious time, blocking aisles and hampering the escape route of their fellow passengers.

There is nothing so important in your luggage that cannot be replaced, your luggage should not be a priority over someone’s life!

You may not actually understand the impact you taking your luggage means so here it is a bit simpler-

Why can’t I take my luggage?

· You could impede an exit by blocking it with your bag

· It is thick arid smoke inside; you pick up your bag but drop it and cannot see it for the smoke stinging your eyes- it becomes a trip hazard

· You can’t see properly, and you are shaking you rush to get your bag and knock someone else out

· You will be exiting the plane by a giant inflatable slide- your bag could easily tear the slide- rendering it out of use. This slide will probably be like no other slide you’ve been on before

· Those duty-free bottles are highly flammable, and you are exiting an aircraft which is on fire, will not mix- especially if there is broken glass.

But I have important items in my luggage!

Your passport? – Inform your countries embassy- they will understand

Your money? – claim on insurance

Your phone? - claim on insurance

Medicine- there will be paramedics treating passengers after the crash- let them know

Books, pants, that extra pair of shoes that wouldn’t fit in the hold… - replaceable

You know what is not replaceable?! Someone’s life! What is in your bag that is more worthy than someone’s actual life?

I am only one person

If you are the only person on a packed plane to take your luggage then the chances are slimmer, but you most definitely won’t be the only one, if everyone thought I am only one person then the consequences would be devastating

There is a queue

There is a build up of people moving towards the exit, you think you can just grab your bag no matter what has been instructed to you, but you could be the one that now causes a build up behind you and so on

It could be you

You could be the person at the back of the aircraft that cannot escape. You are the one choking on the fumes and smoke, waiting on your turn to get out of the aircraft. That time might never come. You also thought about taking your bag but everyone in front of you thought about taking their bag too, that now you won’t make it off the aircraft

Why have people taken their luggage?

· It could just be as simple as they are cowards who think of no one but themselves and their laptop. They want to defy what has been instructed. They don’t care about other people. Other humans. Their interest is their own survival. Even though they may also be risking their own survival.

But there are several other theories-

· Maybe you did hear that part and took a mental note that of course you would leave your belongings behind- you’ll be in too much of a rush or a panic to think about your bags. But panic and fear take over- as one minute your flight was going normal and smooth and before your very eyes your life is flashing in front of you. When you leave your house, instinct is to grab your wallet and car keys, in this situation you may just grab your bag as you know you brought it on board and now you are leaving. You haven’t even thought about what the consequences will be.

· You could slide down and out of the aircraft, be stumbling in shock, heading to safety, look down and you’ve somehow got your bag with you! You’ve been overcome with emotion that you honestly didn’t even know you had picked it up, actually you can’t even remember vacating the aircraft!

· You may have Normalcy bias – which is a belief people hold when considering the possibility of a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects, because people believe that things will always function the way things normally have functioned. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare themselves for disasters. Amanda Ripley, author of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why identifies common response patterns of people in disasters, check out her findings and more on Normalcy bias here

For years the trend of passengers collecting hand luggage from an aircraft crash has grown at an alarming rate on airlines across the world. It is down to each human at the end of the day, but of course factors such as charging a small fortune to place luggage in the hold is making more people cram more onboard with them. There is talk of having a locking mechanism on the overhead compartments but practically that probably won’t solve anything. One which I think could be possible, is to fine those who exit a burning aircraft with their luggage. Another idea is to enforce more clearly labelled safety cards and stronger worded oral briefings to embed this idea into people.

Below are various aircraft incidents where passengers can be seen bringing all manners of luggage with them from the stricken aircrafts…

* Please google these flights to see those passengers on the tarmac with their luggage!

(due to copyright licencing we cannot share images)

May 5, 2019 Aeroflot flight SU1492 Sukhoi Superjet 100 the flight returned to Sheremetyevo shortly after take-off, bouncing on landing and causing the landing gear to collapse. The aircraft caught fire and slid on its belly to a standstill. The jet had 73 passengers and 5 crew. Only 33 passengers and 4 crew members survived. 41 people died including 1 crew member who helped guide passengers from his exit which could not be opened. Passenger evacuation was completed in 55 seconds, although it is telling that only 37 of 78 passengers and crew escaped with their lives. The rest likely died from smoke inhalation. Images from the aftermath show passengers carrying hand luggage- this would without a doubt have caused a significant delay in evacuation which contributed to the loss of life.

October 28, 2016 American Airlines flight 383 Boeing 767-300ER aborted take-off and caught fire on the runway. Passengers again seen wandering away from burning aircraft with personal belongings.

August 3, 2016, Emirates EK521 crash landed at Dubai in 2016, numerous people wasted precious time rummaging in the overhead compartments. As the cabin filled with smoke, crew could be heard screaming at people to leave their bags and jump and slide.

September 8, 2015 British Airways BA2276 a boeing 777 crash landed in Las Vegas on fire after an engine incident. Passengers could clearly be seen departing the aircraft with wheeled suitcases and other baggage.

March 5, 2015. Delta Airlines DL1086 an MD-88 overruns at New York – La Guardia Airport on landing in snow conditions. No serious injuries were reported among the 125 passengers and 5 crew members, but passengers carried their baggage away from the plane

July 6, 2013, Asiana Flight 214 lands short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport, semi-cartwheeling to a near-catastrophic stop. The Boeing 777 catches fire. Passengers are photographed fleeing with their carry-on luggage

Once again-

If you have to evacuate an aircraft in an emergency, leave your belongings behind! Get out as quickly as possible! Save your life not your luggage!

Pam has been cabin crew for over 10 years, and whilst thankfully, never been involved in an emergency landing, knows full well what passengers are like with parting with their luggage

Check out our other flight safety posts!




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