Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fly Guy: Why you should listen to the safety demo

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safety drill - DO NOT OVERWRITE
When was the last time you actually listened to an airline pre-flight safety demo? I mean, really listened. Admit it, you've heard it all before, and the last time you paid attention was probably when you were eight years old on your very first flight.
Not only does it make your flight attendant look foolish when nobody puts down their iPad or newspaper, but because so few people listen anymore, when there is an emergency people panic and don't follow even the most basic safety procedures. Did you know, for example, that only a small fraction of the passengers flying on that US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River exited the plane with their life vests? It's true.
Part of the problem, I think, is that they never "freshen up" the safety demo language, and they don't tell you the reasons why you're supposed to follow certain safety procedures. And there's a lot of important stuff they don't tell you at all, perhaps because you'd listen even less.
Recently, I took the British Airways safety training course at London's Heathrow Airport. It's a modified version of the same training that flight crews go through, and not only did I learn the "why" behind some of the safety demo instructions, I came away a safer flyer.
WANT TO FLY SAFER?: There's a school for that
Here's what I learned:
Why do flight attendants dim the lights on take off/landing at night?
This is done so you can acclimate your eyes to outside conditions in case you need to exit the plane in an emergency.
Why do they make you put your seat backs in the upright position?
This makes it easier for you to get out of your seat, and in case the person behind you has to assume the brace position he'll have more room to do so.
Why do flight attendants on some airlines ask you to put your shoes on for landing (except high heels of course)?
Simple, if you're landing on a hot runway and have to jump out of the plane, you might burn your feet. High heels, as you probably know, might rip the slide.
Why do they ask you to take off your headphones upon landing?
This is done so you'll be able to hear safety instructions.
Why should you put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others?
Because in a cabin decompression, air will be sucked out of the cabin so quickly that you only have 30 or so seconds before the lack of oxygen will make you groggy and "euphoric"—making it harder to put the mask on. After 45 seconds, you'd probably pass out.
Why does the seat back pocket safety card illustrate the "brace position" with one hand over the other?
I bet you haven't looked at one of those in years, either. In a crash landing, something might fall down from above on your hands, so you want to protect your "strong" hand with your weaker one so you'll be able to unbuckle your seatbelt.
It may surprise you to learn that while your pilots are waiting for take off, they're probably doing a safety drill. What if this or that should go wrong on take off, which buttons would we push or steps would we take? So they actually go through the motions of various procedures, touching and even moving the actual controls. They call these touch drills. Safety experts suggest that passengers do the same thing just before takeoff, perhaps buckling and unbuckling their seat belts three times.
Sounds daft? "It's muscle memory," said Diane, one of the course instructors. "In an emergency, people panic. They think they're in their cars, and try to release the seatbelt by pushing a button rather than lifting a flap." Indeed, as the final report of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board noted following the crash of US Airways flight 405, which landed in the water after takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport resulting in no loss of life, "Some passengers tried to move from their seats while their seatbelts were still buckled, and other passengers had difficulty locating and releasing their seatbelt buckles because of disorientation."
I left the course thinking that more passengers would listen to the pre-flight safety demo if airlines shared some of this insider information before each flight, maybe mixing it up from time to time so that the demo doesn't get overly long and cause more people to tune out. On one flight, the demo might include the finer points of opening the over-wing exits. On another flight, more information about why it's so important to put your oxygen mask on first (and quickly) before helping others. More passengers would probably do what they're told in an emergency if they knew the reasons behind these rules. And time and time again, in emergencies, passengers do not listen, do the wrong thing and increase their risk of becoming victims.
George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. Airfarewatchdog features the best airfares on thousands of routes verified by a team of expert fare analysts.
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