Carry-on baggage during an emergency evacuation

, ,

Carry-on baggage is a threat to personal safety during an evacuation, so how does it get managed to save the lives of everyone?

Carry-on baggage. In an emergency evacuation, flight attendants from around the world at some point will say the same thing, “leave everything behind, come this way!” Leave everything means to leave all personal objects and effects in the airplane and get yourself to the nearest available exit as quickly as possible. That means leaving behind your carry-on baggage, your backpack, your hands should be free from all objects. The only exception to this would be for a parent carrying their infant, toddler, or holding the hand of their child on the way out of the plane. Leave everything means taking your infant out of the car seat, but leaving the car seat behind.

Unfortunately, during most evacuations, videos have repeatedly shown passengers carrying with them carry-on baggage of various sizes, ranging from a purse, up to the maximum allowable size of carry-on baggage being held while they go down the slide and then walk or run away. What does this mean passenger safety? Wanting to take on his bag with them during an evacuation, in a worst-case scenario can mean the potential difference between life and death for some passengers.

On May 5, 2019, an Aeroflot plane burst into flames during the emergency landing, and a major fire ensued. In the video, you can see flames engulf the plane, wrapping around the rear of the fuselage, leaving only the forward evacuation slides usable to escape the deadly fire. Quickly, the one evacuation slide was deployed and passengers started evacuating the plane. It took a while for the second, forward door to open and the evacuation slide to inflate. There are a handful of things that went wrong with this emergency landing and evacuation, however, there are two glaring problems occurring during this evacuation.

First, only the forward right evacuation slide was immediately opened. It took a few additional seconds for the forward left evacuation slide to be fully inflated and ready for use. There were three flight attendants, who seated in the front, and one seated in the back. We don’t know why it took so long to get the second exit open in front. Every second matters during evacuation, even more so when the plane is engulfed in flames.

Second, videos show that many passengers with them their carry-on baggage they evacuated the plane. Other than a small, soft sided carry-on bag or a purse that can be kept underneath the seat in front of the passenger, all large size carry-on bags most likely were in the overhead bins for the duration of the flight. What that means is, every large size carry-on bag had to have been retrieved from an overhead bin, slowing down the process of evacuation. Those people in the front of the plane managed to get out, while those In the back including one flight attendant, all perished from the fire.

What has changed with carry-on baggage?

For decades, airlines train their flight attendants to shout to passengers to leave everything behind during an emergency evacuation. In the past, it was more probable than not that passengers complied with flight attendant instructions. Bags were left behind. However, since the late 1990s until present, more often than not, we see in the videos passengers taking with them their carry-on baggage as they evacuate the plane. Why is that? Thinking back to air travel in the 1990s and earlier, when a person brought a carry-on bag with them, most often all that was included were things to make them comfortable during the flight. Some reading material some snacks, maybe a CD player or Walkman with some music, coloring books, drawing pads, etc. Or, maybe some warm clothing to wear during the flight. It would be pretty easy to decide to leave the carry-on baggage behind. There’s nothing of real value or high value in the bags. Now, consider what was introduced to the masses in the late 1990s through the present. PDAs, laptop computers, MP3 players, tablets, cell phones, digital cameras, smart phones, etc. People have installed all kinds of software with value from under $100 to hundreds of dollars per program. Our personal lives and work lives are now stored within those electronic devices. The collective value of those electronic devices in one bag can be in the thousands of dollars! Years, based on the videos, that many passengers are not willing to give up and leave behind their carry-on baggage. They only focused on themselves and their needs do retain all of their high-value personal items. Egocentric behaviors have been pushed to the forefront of priority over the value of other people’s lives during an emergency.

How do we change human behavior?

Society has significantly changed, not all for the better, with the introduction of high-value electronic devices. The replacement value of these items is so high, many people are not willing to risk letting go of or losing those devices, understandably so. Most people want to protect and save what they own, regardless of the situation. Social media has only made things worse, “gotta record this and share it with everyone, need to post this on Instagram or on X!” The psychological aspect is a topic best left for experts in human behavior. During an emergency, is it possible to get passengers to evacuate a plane and leave everything behind? The commands flight attendant shout don’t always seem to work. Does it require greater passenger education of aviation safety to understand the need to leave everything behind?

One idea, but it’s very difficult to accept or even consider

Please understand that this next paragraph I personally do not support or encourage, it is just something to think about, a topic for discussion.

Thinking about how the financial and intrinsic value of items being carried in carry-on baggage is to each person, would it be best for passengers to be advised in some way to put all their high-value items in a backpack or carry-on bag that can go underneath the seat in front of them? This way, in the event of an evacuation, they can rapidly grab that one small bag in the get out of the plane with minimal delay. There is empirical evidence that passengers, but not all, will attempt to retrieve their carry-on baggage and take it with them off the airplane. It’s not possible to say this should be promoted, because it goes completely opposite of best safety practices when it comes to effectively evacuating an airplane. This type of scenario, to the best of my knowledge, has never been tested to see how long it would take to evacuate a fully loaded airplane with passengers having a backpack and taking it with them out of the plane. Primary underpinning problems are that society has changed, our values have changed, and value and importance of personal property brought on board airplanes as carry-on baggage has significantly changed and risen to a point where many are not willing to leave those items behind. However, as we saw USAirways Flight 1549 land in the Hudson River in 2009, all passengers left everything behind, they were fully compliant. That it be that they perceived a water landing has a much greater threat to their survival as opposed to land evacuations which are more likely and survivable? It’s hard to say with 100% accuracy, but would be a reasonable hypothesis to why passengers left everything behind as they are supposed to do. Maybe it depends on the type of emergency to get people to listen? Regardless of the reason, airline flight attendant training departments need to figure out a way to encourage greater compliance with leaving everything behind during an evacuation.

It’s very difficult to try and take the approach of, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” as it goes against everything aviation safety promotes, self-preservation, personal items can be replaced, but you can’t be replaced. What do you think can be done to attain greater passenger compliance with safety procedures?

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply