Southwest Accident Brings Passenger Safety Briefings To The Forefront

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Image: Marty Martinez/AP

Image: Marty Martinez/AP

One of several safety-related issues that has emerged from the fatal engine failure on Southwest Flight 1380 is passenger response to safety briefings. Perhaps most striking in this instance is that in spite of the usual preflight run-down on the proper use of oxygen masks, video from the Southwest emergency shows several passengers with masks positioned over only their mouths. Given the how much thought (and money) goes into creating safety videos and procedures, the question now facing the industry is, "Why aren’t they working better?"

Though there aren’t any answers yet, conversation about what needs to change to make briefings clearer and more likely to be followed is once again on the table. Reports of passengers stopping to grab baggage are common enough that IATA backed a 2017 study on it titled “Investigating aircraft passenger hand luggage evacuation behaviours.” In the study, a remarkable 86% of people reported that they would stop in the middle of an evacuation to get their carry-ons if they contained valuables like money, ID, laptops or medication.

When it came to retaining information from safety briefings, roughly two-thirds of the passengers couldn’t remember if they’d ever heard what to do with their baggage in an emergency. Possibly even more concerning for cabin crews tasked with managing passengers in these situations is that the study was conducted via interview, so it’s missing the human factors element of how easy it is to forget things under stress.

Comments (12)

I'm wondering if some of the people with the mask only on their mouth are doing it because they couldn't get the cup to sit right (or at least, what they think is right) over their nose as well.

Instead of pondering "why didn't they wear the mask right" and guessing, why doesn't someone just go ask these people?

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | April 26, 2018 2:08 PM    Report this comment

The cabin crew never shows the mask fully on their face during the pre take off briefing. Another thought, use masks that are a tear drop shape like used in hospitals or C-PAP full face masks. These are more intuitive to put on than a round mask.

Posted by: Mike Terhune | April 26, 2018 2:44 PM    Report this comment

"Why aren't they working better?"
Could it be because passengers overwhelmingly are infants and morons?
#1 YARS-ism: "Nothing is a good idea, until it's YOUR idea."

Maybe we should require every passenger to pass a written "safety Procedures" test BEFORE allowing them to board each flight? (/sarcasm)

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | April 27, 2018 8:52 AM    Report this comment

Passengers paying attention to safety briefings instead of visiting, reading, listening to music, watching videos, texting, Face Booking, Instagraming ... ... ... ... might help. This retired ATP with global flight experience sometimes feels like he is the only passenger besides other traveling flight crew in the cabin paying attention.

Posted by: John Kliewer | April 27, 2018 9:47 AM    Report this comment

recent research on MD's noted that unless patients write down the advice they forget it.
People under stress do not act "normally". Hello??? That is the premise of Flight Safety pilot training. So how can we expect passengers to act "normally" under what they perceive as the threat of imminent death in a flaming awful crash over which they have absolutely no control????

The routine reading of the card by the flight attendant has all the educational impact of glancing at a billboard while you zoom by at 75 mph.

My "brilliant" suggestion is that the training take place in the waiting lounge in a simulator prior to the flight, where the pax have to demonstrate how to put on a safety belt, how to put on an oxygen mask, how to fold their heads and arms onto the laps, and finally, how to get up out of a seat and leave their "valuables" behind.

Maybe pax would have to demonstrate this twice a year if they fly a lot, just like airline pilots have to do regarding flight skills. And be issued a card stating when they completed their training.

Flying commercially, or even non commercially, is not like jumping into the car and going to the store (a routine task which I might add kills upwards of 30,000 people each year).

In our busy and rushed world, now burdened with additional mindlessness brought to each and every one of us by our "smart" phones, maintaining vigilance and presence to the here and now is becoming an unwelcome task. It's so much easier to trip off into the escape of checking Facebook, emails, online games, videos, texts, and gosh knows what else.

So, yes, if ya wanna fly ya gotta be responsible and ya gotta take the training to criterion.
And if it's too much bother, drive, walk, ride a bike, or just stay at home and don't endanger others!

Posted by: Richard Katz | April 27, 2018 9:48 AM    Report this comment

Having worn about 100 kinds of dust/respirator/air supply/oxygen masks over the years I've always wondered why this kind of mask, the one used in an emergency by untrained people, looks like the bottom of a Solo cup instead of an actual mask. Maybe that is part of the confusion these passengers have.

Posted by: Patrick Wright | April 27, 2018 10:26 AM    Report this comment

The design of the mask has always mystified me. As several writers have said, it doesn't really fit the human face, and actually fits better they way the passengers were wearing it. What's wrong with a "normal" mask like you see everywhere else? Also, the flight crew never actually places the mask on their faces since it is left on the plane and used by dozens of different people. Why not issue each crew member their own mask and require them to actually put it on during the demonstration? Are they that expensive?

One reason why the safety briefings are ignored is that the airlines really don't want to make the passengers aware that bad things might happen during the flight. So, they run through it quickly while everyone is still getting settled into their seats or put on some cute little video (like the latest version from United) showing crew members doing fun stuff while supposedly demonstrating what to do. Cute and entertaining, but not really helpful.

Add to that the distractions mentioned above and the fact that regular travelers have heard it a thousand times, and no one is really paying attention. The whole process needs to be carefully reviewed and changed to incorporate human factors engineering and human nature. But, even under the best conditions, you are probably doing good to have half the passengers respond correctly.

Posted by: John McNamee | April 27, 2018 11:15 AM    Report this comment

Does it really matter that much if the mask is worn over only the mouth? First of all, the plane descended to 10,000 in about 5 minutes, so the only real danger was temporary loss of consciousness. People in a stressed situation are more likely to breath through their mouths anyway (hyperventilation).

I recognize the preflight briefings are pretty useless, so the airlines ought to provide instructions for use when the masks are deployed. Perhaps a recorded (and repeated) message very simply describing how to place and use the mask, that triggers when the masks deploy. The same technique could be used in an evacuation regarding leaving luggage onboard.

Posted by: BRUCE POULTON | April 27, 2018 11:24 AM    Report this comment

Why not shape the mask to fit the face rather than looking like a coffee cup??? DUH

Posted by: bruce postlethwait | April 27, 2018 7:35 PM    Report this comment

Ever been on a train or a bus ride? I have never had an emergency briefing on those modes of transportation. So when you make flying as "cheap" or routine as a bus ride people will either not pay attention or not understand the need for emergency briefings. Most americans do not like to be told they have to do things a certain way. Many don't know or understand the regulations on interference of crewmembers and following crewmember instructions or placards. These are observations of a jet charter pilot who uses various modes of transport to get positioned to the airplanes I fly. I'll bet that before the age of deregulation and "cheap" fares flight attendants probably did not have as much trouble getting passengers to pay attention to passenger briefings as they do now.

Posted by: matthew wagner | April 27, 2018 11:26 PM    Report this comment

Before we jump to changing regulations, can we please contemplate the following: How many people traveling on an FAA registered airline have been injured by not following the instructions of the safety briefing? How long did these passengers survive above 15,000 feet with their mask used improperly?

Something tells me the statistics will show that not properly following the instructions of a safety briefing is less dangerous than say, boarding an overbooked flight.

Posted by: Jim Perkins | April 28, 2018 8:59 AM    Report this comment

As to passengers retrieving baggage, how about a switch in the cockpit that locks all the overhead bins in an emergency, and include that information in the preflight briefing.

Posted by: Unknown | April 30, 2018 10:43 AM    Report this comment

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