Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You Won't Believe What This KLM Flight Attendant Said

I hate those headlines, but I was feeling uninspired.

There's a human factors exercise known as the "Five Hazardous Attitudes," where pilots evaluate their tendency towards different safety ways of neglecting the safest route. It occurred to me today that airline passengers suffer from exactly the same tendencies. They are anti-authority: disregarding crew instructions just because they don't want to be told what to do. They are impulsive: too busy to pay attention or to do it right. They don't want to think about it so pretend they are invulnerable or can handle it on their own. And very often they are resigned and don't take any responsibility for their own safety.

A friend was irritated by a flight attendant asking her to pay attention to a passenger briefing and commented, "Surely these people don't actually believe that anyone is getting out alive if that thing goes down in Irish Sea?!" Last time I was at my annual medical I was complimented on my low blood pressure and as the doctor explained how the machine worked he commented that at other times, my blood pressure might be higher. I think this is one of those times. Aviatrix rant activated.

People get out. Smart, lucky people who have paid attention in the safety briefing and remembered how many rows to the nearest and alternate exit in each direction. I am a professional pilot and I pay attention to the safety briefing when I am a passenger.

An A340 jet went off the end of the runway into a ravine, in Toronto during a thunderstorm. Half the exits were unusable, and 90 seconds later the aircraft burst into flames and burned to a shell. EVERYONE GOT OUT. With few, minor, injuries.

An A320 ditched in the river in New York. One dipshit passenger who hadn't paid attention to the emergency briefing opened a door that was not to be used in the case of a water landing. That passenger jeopardized the lives of others, and most of the passengers forgot to take their seat cushions with them to use as a flotation device, but EVERYONE GOT OUT. Mainly minor injuries, the worst may have been to a flight attendant who was trapped in the rear because of the stupid passenger.

A B767 that had been hijacked ditched in the Indian Ocean, out of fuel, and while the captain was struggling with hijackers. FIFTY PEOPLE SURVIVED. Many of those who did not survive died because they didn't pay enough attention to the emergency briefing to remember not to inflate their life jackets before leaving the aircraft.

You put down what you are doing, you take off your headset and you pay attention to that announcement as if your life and the lives of those around you depend on it. Because they do. Decades of research have gone into manufacturing the aircraft and safety equipment and training the crew to give you the safest flight possible. The least you can do is pay attention for ninety seconds.

In non-rant mode, I have to admit that Doreen Welsh wasn't really trapped, and that her difficulty evacuating was because of an injury sustained in the crash, but a passenger opening the wrong door and flooding the aft of the aircraft didn't help her or anyone else get out. The point of this blog post, however, is what another friend posted in response, talking about her preflight behaviour. I'm just going to leave it here, because I have no coherent response.

I noted to the flight attendant that I didn't have a flotation device beneath my seat. She said, very quietly, but very aggressively (since she had been quick to already tell me it was nothing to do with her, since it was the flight engineers that do those checks), that we wouldn't be delaying take off to sort this out, since there was no chance we would get out alive anyway. I also never heard back from the letter I wrote to KLM.


Woody Emanuel said...

Very good points, but if I recall correctly in Sully's ditching on the Hudson River, it was a stewardess who opened the rear door, not a passenger. The point, I think, is that humans are humans; even very clear, in-your-face signage is frequently ignored or passed by. The stress and fear of ditching may overwhelmed the stewardess's training.

Christopher Thompson said...

That rant was the voice of angels singing. I have vowed to just quickly and carefully walk (or crawl in case of smoke) right over any asshat who chooses to claim his or her belongings from the overhead bin during an emergency evacuation.