Pilots are a clone-type collective that assimilate themselves into a borg-esque SOP-driven collective. While they’re fallible by biological standards, pilots adopt somewhat of a robotic and system-driven persona that’s cultivated from years of knowledge gained from best-practice and evidence-based investigations into human behaviour and accident investigation. While it’s unfair to suggest that pilots don’t have an impact upon the flow of the operations, Star Trek fans will appreciate the reference that the uniqueness of each pilot enhances the cockpit environment. The flight crew work at the center of their little universe while a multi-disciplinary puzzle comes together around them. However, their effectiveness in normal and non-normal operations is limited by the weakest link… and there’s one flaw in the well-oiled machine that tends to repeatedly compromise on the nature of the operation: passengers.
Pardon my rant.
In one relatively recent high profile prang – the water landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson – passengers would later gloat on television about their maritime inspired nobility by evacuating women and children first. While the behaviour of evacuating in the order one is seated relative to an emergency exit might not be overly instinctive, it’s done to ensure that the aircraft is emptied as quickly as possible with the end result of saving lives. As selfish as it may sound, it’s essentially “every man for himself” or, at the very least, “first in, best dressed”.
There was a recent news article on news.com.au that discussed research into the statistical survival rate of passengers on the Titanic, based on nationality. The findings on the report reflect a human desire to stand aside for others, citing in general terms, that being an “English Gentleman” was one reason why they were overrepresented in fatalities. It’s suggested that while the Brits happily bowed their hats and waved other passengers in front of them the Yanks swarmed the lifeboats like Oprah to a piece of cheese. The report by Australian and Swiss researchers found that although Americans only made up a fifth of those on board – they had a 15% better chance of survival than the English. They cite a range of reasons, including the socially aware nature of the English, and the fact that the Brits were more “maritime-aware” than their American counterparts.
As much as the Hudson passengers liked to think their altruistic approach assisted in the water evacuation, their politeness actually had the opposite effect. It’s important for people to operate towards a common goal and function to achieve the same end, and the only way of attaining this result is by surrendering yourself to the instructions issued by cabin crew.
The evacuation of Flight 2276 on the runway at McCarran International Airport demonstrated how passengers can completely disregard the crew safety briefing and crew instructions, potentially compromising on the safe evacuation of the aircraft. The large number of photographs that have emerged in the aftermath of Flight 2276 show virtually all passengers holding at least one bag with many people towing bulky wheelie-bags behind them – despite knowing full well that instructions were being issued to leave everything behind.
The above video shows a Chinese Airlines Boeing 737-800 that caught fire and exploded on August 20th 2007 after landing and taxiing to the gate area at Naha Airport. This incident puts the Vegas fire in perspective with regard to the limited time available to evacuate. It was only a couple of minutes after the fire was reported before the Chinese Airlines aircraft was almost completely consumed with smoke and flames. Taking the time to collect a few bags can cost lives.
It's a criminal offence to disobey the instructions of cabin crew. However...
There’s no question that the time it takes to reach into an overhead locker and retrieve baggage in a cabin contaminated with smoke, or reaching into seat pockets to pack up personal details, cost the evacuation precious time. Make no mistake: an engine fire in a heavily fueled aircraft is a ticking time-bomb with every second counting down a more dangerous condition. It’s only the quick response of emergency services that controlled the spread of fire.
A large number of passengers also decided to stop and take happy snaps.
Evacuating down a slide isn’t a pleasant experience and will inevitably end with injuries… and a heavy bag in tow exponentially increases the likelihood of harm. Carrying bulky and heavy items out of an aircraft with their sharp corners and dangling buckles can potentially deflate a slide, rendering an exit unusable. Plastic bags filled with glass bottles can break on the slide or, just as dangerous, at the tail end, causing other hazards. The screens and edges of electronic devices such as laptops or iPads can have the same effect. Despite very explicit instructions from cabin crew, it appears from various images that a very large number of those exiting the Boeing 777 took it upon themselves to reinvent best practice.
On 22 August 1985, British Airtours Flight 28M (wholly owned subsidiary of British Airways) aborted a takeoff due to engine failure on take-off. Both experienced pilots were initially unaware of the fire on the left wing (thinking it was a blown tyre). While they quickly became aware of the issue, fuel spilling from the port wing, combined with the light wind, had quickly fanned the fire into a uncontrolled blaze. 55 passengers and crew perished, 48 of them from smoke inhalation. A number of safety recommendations were made in the aftermath of the incident which included fire-resistant seat covers, floor lighting, fire-resistant wall and ceiling panels, more fire extinguishers and clearer evacuation rules. Passenger duty-free spirits were also blamed for fueling the spread of fire.
A large number of passengers can be seen carrying duty free bags off the aircraft (cheap vodka was obviously more important to them than their lives at the time)… but it’s likely a review will now be conducted as recommended numerous times in the past to examine how spirits and other accelerants should be sold and carried. The incident will also likely spark debate on the appropriateness of large cabin baggage or PED usage prior to takeoff. Perhaps it’s time for the operational arms of an airline to take back ownership of safety related considerations void of the imperialistic-style interference from inept management and marketeers.
There’s nothing that can be said to justify the behaviour of the Flight 2276 passengers. Their knowing and deliberate breach of instructions was nothing short of reckless. While the evacuation was a success by virtue of no serious injury, it was no thanks to the passengers to whom I refer and everything to do with the British Airways cabin crew that managed to herd the group despite their disability.
If the aircraft was fully loaded, the outcome may have been different.
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