We’ve all seen the videos. Passengers evacuating an airliner following an accident or serious incident, their hands full of carry-on baggage. It happened last month in Iran after a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 skidded onto a highway. It happened in May in Moscow after a Sukhoi Superjet 100 burst into flames during an attempted emergency landing. Forty-one people died in that accident. It has happened in the past decade in Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas and Dubai.
Commercial aviation accidents and incidents are increasingly survivable because of improvements in technology and materials, but passengers ignoring flight attendant instructions to leave behind carry-on bags and get off the plane are an ongoing safety risk that the industry has not been able to sufficiently mitigate. It’s time to redouble our efforts.
In 2009, Transport Canada issued an advisory circular that said passenger surveys indicate that members of the traveling public want the responsibility for their safety to be a shared concern, involving the operator, the crew, the regulator and the passengers themselves. The industry needs to figure out ways to engage passengers in their own safety. We need to get across the message that stopping to retrieve your carry-on bags during an emergency evacuation puts you and the people around you in danger, and jumping onto a slide with your bags could damage the slide, potentially preventing others from using it.
The industry should examine whether current safety briefings are adequate. Have we gone too far with elaborate preflight videos that are more entertainment than serious safety briefings? Perhaps leaving carry-ons behind should be given more emphasis in preflight safety briefings and/or at the top of descent following a long-haul flight or during the final stages of preparing the cabin for landing.
It may also be time to look again at remotely locking overhead storage bins during takeoff and landing. The technology exists to lock the bins, but before any decisions are made, a detailed risk assessment needs to be conducted to make sure that locking the bins won’t introduce other safety issues, as has been suggested.
Another avenue that has been suggested is making it illegal for passengers to stop and grab their bags during an evacuation, much like smoking on board was outlawed. But this would be difficult to enforce during an evacuation and, as has been noted multiple times in accident reports, having flight attendants step in and try to stop passengers from retrieving their carry-ons has the potential to delay evacuation even further.
It is not an easy issue to resolve, but it is time we made a concerted effort. The lives of our passengers and crews depend on it.