Leave Your Stupid Luggage!

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When the investigators get around to completing their probe of the BA 777 fire and evacuation in Las Vegas last week, the look-see into the engine will be interesting enough. But I think I’m going to be just as interested in what they learn about how the evacuation was handled.

Specifically, what role did the crew play in herding the pax toward the slides in an expeditious and safe evacuation and why in the name of all that is holy did so many of them take their carry-on luggage with them? The photo here—credit to Metro UK—shows several passengers standing on the runway or a taxiway with their roll-aboard luggage. The fellow in the foreground has both a roll-aboard and hand luggage.

To this audience, I don’t need to explain the sheer idiocy of such behavior. You could reasonably argue that maybe they didn’t understand the seriousness of their plight because the airplane is so big. They could see neither smoke nor fire. The fallacy of that reasoning is that if the crew has decided it’s necessary to throw your butt down 30-foot inflatable slides, that’s the internationally recognized symbol that you’re in deep enough doo that you leave the luggage where it is and get off the airplane. Ask questions later.

According to radio transcripts, 40 seconds elapsed from the time the crew determined it had a fire and called for emergency equipment until the evacuation started. The exact duration of the evacuation hasn’t been reported, but getting the fire under control took a number of minutes. I won't be surprised if it took two minutes for the equipment to roll and arrive. The fact that it did shows why during certification, manufacturers have to demonstrate that the cabin can be evacuated in 90 seconds, using half of the available slides. The accident data has shown that fires can go from minor to unsurvivable in mere seconds by filling the cabin with dense smoke and toxic fumes. As with any enclosed space, aircraft cabins are susceptible to flashovers.

I wonder if the accident probe will show that evacuation to have been a near thing. Seconds can separate survival of everyone from multiple fatalities and it’s sheer lunacy to waste even one of them rooting around in the overhead for luggage and then clogging up the aisle or damaging a slide on the exit with a suitcase. Perhaps it’s too much to expect the uneducated masses to make this distinction, since half of them snooze through the cabin briefing or amuse themselves with a smartphone app.

In aviation, we pride ourselves in remaining calm during the course of an emergency and it’s not just to sound good on the tape. Keeping panic at bay helps focus the mind on the decision-making and rapid execution on which survival turns. Perhaps a different standard should apply to cabin crew. Should they be trained and encouraged to say something like, “Leave your ^%$&*& baggage and get off this airplane now! Move now!” A little more R. Lee Ermey, a little less David Niven.

I, for one, would vote for that.

Comments (25)

"To this audience, I don't need to explain the sheer idiocy of such behavior. "

You bet your nihilistic ass Paul, you don't have to explain squat. It is a wonderful example of stupidity

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 14, 2015 12:24 PM    Report this comment

It is amazing that the FAs let them take their bags; this is ridiculous. I wonder if anyone's going to catch it for allowing this to happen? I doubt it.

On a recent ordinary flight from Orlando, it took over 25 minutes to deplane our B757 in Atlanta because every theme-park visitor (and child) had to retrieve their bags from the overhead, get oriented, straighten their laundry, adjust straps and buckles, and slowly waddle off the plane. Some even had to stand in the seats to reach the overhead bins. In an emergency, sitting in row 35 we would have been smoked turkey by the time we got to the slides.

If you can't get R. Lee Ermey as your FA, perhaps there should be a mock overhead bin in the pre-flight security line where you must prove you can remove and replace your bag from the overhead in less than 8 seconds or the bag goes in the hold! Or, electric locks on the bins could keep them locked shut in an evacuation.

Posted by: A Richie | September 14, 2015 12:33 PM    Report this comment

My first thought already was suggested by Richie - lock out access to the overheads. This would come in handy during landings and "keep seatbelts fastened" intervals, too.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 14, 2015 12:49 PM    Report this comment

I was thinking of an addition to the Warsaw Contract to authorize passengers to convene a Kangaroo court right on the ramp after evacuation. Anyone caught with so much as a hatbox could be summarily punished right on the spot.

Punishment to consist of crawling back up that ramp, into the raging inferno, and putting the baggage right back where it came from. Including in the right row.

Too harsh?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 14, 2015 1:20 PM    Report this comment

I'm sure it would set a terrible precedent, but it *is* strictly speaking a crime, or at least contrary to the regs, to interfere with, which includes disobeying, a flight attendant. I'm sure it's safe to assume that the crew did tell the passengers not to bring their luggage, whether they did it strongly enough or not.

Sure would be something to see the FAA slap some administrative fines (up to $25K by my reading of the USC) on anyone found with luggage on the ramp post-evacuation.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | September 14, 2015 1:58 PM    Report this comment

Just a hunch, but I would bet that if the airlines would stop charging pax to check bags, you would see this problem drop. When I traveled before they charged for checked bags, I normally checked my bags. It was nice to not lug around everything...especially while waiting in line at a McDonalds. Now, I try very hard to not pack a whole lot so I don't have to check. And then, since the flights are full and overhead bin space is rare, you stuff it under the seat in front of you. But what I do pack involves some expensive electronics. Laptops, iPads, etc etc. I think that's why we are seeing this.

So, the bag may be easily accessible, and has some very expensive stuff in it.

I'm not endorsing what these pax did, but I think I know why.... Just a guess anyway.

Posted by: Albert Dewey | September 14, 2015 3:38 PM    Report this comment

I have been present during a fire in a laboratory, inhaled smoke and immediately couldn´t talk and just barely breath, got smoke into my eyes and immediately couldn´t see a damn thing anymore. It was an intense and extremely painful burning sensation in the eyes and the throat and lungs. Happened in seconds.
A colleague guided me out, where after a few minutes the firefighters arrived, rinsed my eyes and got me a spray for my throat.
If there is a fire I will be the first one running. Away. Fast.


I will always have a small and soft shoulder bag with my passport, money, tickets and expensive electronics down at my seat while flying. Secured to my leg to stop it from flying around in turbulence.

First because I got stuff stolen out of my backpack in the overhead bin while sleeping.

Second to take my passport and money with me in case of a problem.

Why? Because I don´t trust airlines to be able to help you with the loss of these things.

Once airlines were companies who tried to treat customers well. Nowadays all they to do is trying some damage control for their reputation. I do not trust them to properly help their customers in such a situation, without IDs or money. Neither do I trust the airports to help.

Well, I fly a lot and worked at two international german airports. You are f***** without ID or money even when stranding in your homecountry because an Airline or Airport will take ages to organize some help for you, if at all. Yes you may get a bed and a coffee somewhere, but that´s it.

Again, I totally understand why you shouldn´t take anything with you in case of an emergency evacuation. Fire! Whoah!

But I would still take my little bag with me ... .

Posted by: Thomas Hoffmann | September 14, 2015 4:31 PM    Report this comment

Soooo, why did the left engine, yes that's right, why did the left engine disintegrate and other bad stuff? Excess baggage? I ain't goin' without an explanation from Boeing.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 14, 2015 7:30 PM    Report this comment

Raf, it is the right handed A&Ps who are causing the left engines to fail. Should have left handed A&Ps or ambidextrous A&Ps on the left ones. :>) problem solved.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | September 14, 2015 9:20 PM    Report this comment

Rotating the engines is the answer, what we have here is a simple weight and balance dilemma. The PIC Is left seat and gets paid more therefore is chunkier (did you notice the mass of the BA Captain) and causes an asymmetrical thrust problem. The engines are fungible (ask YARS) and can be rotated. F*****g problem solved! Next topic.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 14, 2015 10:24 PM    Report this comment

Raf, your theories are scary. The left engine trouble is easily explained by the fact that BA aircraft have to change lanes when flying on American airways. Because the aircraft is used to traveling on the left lane, its left engine computer is constantly asking for a power reduction to get back to normal. These engines are very very sensible and just a little too much power will make them fall apart. Another very likely scenario is that the chem-trail nozzle fell off and was ingested by the motor. These chem-trail nozzles are a bitch on the fan, much worse than frozen pigs or cows.

Posted by: Jason Baker | September 15, 2015 6:30 AM    Report this comment

Start charging for carry-on and give meal vouchers for checking bags. My guess is some of those people were half in the bag. Brits and 'Vegas can be a real show.

Posted by: MICHAEL BROOKER | September 15, 2015 7:18 AM    Report this comment

JaBa, "The Sleeping Giant". Yes, on my theories. I spend hours, in trance, solving complex problems. But I must admit this one baffled me - thanks for your input - I can relax my pending mortality fears now. On the next flight please have everyone move to the right side side of the aircraft until at or above one zero thousand.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 15, 2015 9:19 AM    Report this comment

Flew commercial today. Left side of the airplane. Seat 21c. Mere inches from those deadly spinning Ninja blades. Cheated death again.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 15, 2015 11:50 AM    Report this comment

I'd blame the FA's for much of this ... maybe coupled with a bit of UK "stiff upper lip" style "itis." I'd be interested in knowing if the FA's were Brits?

In videos I've seen of people demonstrating the ability to evacuate a giant jet at the factory during certification, it's pretty obvious that the participants are all pre-trained, spring loaded to the "get outta Dodge NOW" mode ... and then do it. The rank and file airline passenger is nowhere near that motivated ... especially when the gravity of the situation doesn't seem so precipitous to them. So either the FA's have to 'get their attention' -- using Paul's last three sentence idea -- or we'll see more of this sort of thing. My wife is soft spoken and rarely cusses but I've seen her get mad in meetings and drop an "F" bomb. It always got everyone's attention pronto. It woulda here, too.

Not mentioned are some of the ridiculous methods of dress people seen getting on an airliner wear. In much the same way as wearing clogs and short pants on a motorcycle isn't a good idea, so too is it bad on an airliner. Just one layer of clothing might make the difference between burns and no burns and etc.

Tom Hoffman's idea is a good one. I wouldn't condone taking anything out of an overhead bin but if an item was right there with you and isn't oversized, why not. But then ... this would require the passenger to THINK about what they're gonna do if something goes wrong and how they're going to react ... in advance.

Methinks it's time to re-do the pre flight announcements to include instructions for a rapid EM deplaning event. I haven't been on a large wide body jet in years but I seem to remember emergency pre-flight briefings done via video. Maybe that's a way to do it, too? Hire R. Lee ...

Posted by: Larry Stencel | September 15, 2015 11:59 AM    Report this comment

I flew single engine fighter planes in the war and let me tell you, flying in one of those large wide body jets is a completely different kind of flying, altogether.

Posted by: Jason Baker | September 15, 2015 1:32 PM    Report this comment

I've flown BA's 777s to the UK and the FAs onboard ran a pretty tight ship. They dressed down a crew of rowdy teenage soccer players like I've never seen done in the US before, so those same trained crews would likely bark out their deplaning orders just like Lee Ermey would on an 0500 PT run.

In my humble opinion, you should consider keeping passport and credentials on your person at all times. Like someone said, there are occasional people who poke around in the bins especially on long flights and you can't afford to leave this to chance. I feel exposed without them. As Larry said, a small pouch-like sling bag may be OK for deplaning if it leaves both hands free, but as for rollaboards absolutely not!

In the event we must deplane, will someone kindly wake Raf from his sleeplike trance solving complex problems...the world can really not afford to lose this guy!

Posted by: A Richie | September 15, 2015 2:51 PM    Report this comment

I would suggest the next generation of aircraft consider auto locking the overhead bins for t/o and landing as a way to keep the bags out of the mix. In addition to that the pax have to understand the bins are locked and no amount of blocking the aisle and pulling on the bin will open them; therefore, get off the airplane. In the mean-time, we have pax that grab their bags and head for the emergency exit. At this point it may be safer to let them go with it. Having FA's try to separate them from their bags may cause further delay. If the FA disarms the pax of their bags what do they do with the stack besides block the aisle. Ideally everyone will just de-plane. In reality, well, see photo above.

Posted by: Robert Mahoney | September 15, 2015 3:23 PM    Report this comment

I almost always get an exit seat on that rare time I am stuck having to travel by airline. You can bet that if I am helping with getting people out the window exits that any bags that come out without someone hanging on to them will be thrown back towards the fire!

Posted by: matthew wagner | September 15, 2015 4:01 PM    Report this comment

Bingo! Spot on, Paul.

Posted by: Ari Tamminen | September 16, 2015 4:04 AM    Report this comment

I wonder how fast that evacuation (without semi-pro "evacuators") took and whether there was a sufficient line such that people had opportunity and temptation to pop the overhead bin and pull something of theirs?

I also don't see how you can do much to blame the FAs. They're primarily manning the exit slides and thwacking people in the back of the knees to force them butt first down the slide. They largely don't have a lot of time to yell at or deck someone with purses and bags in front of them.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | September 16, 2015 2:17 PM    Report this comment

Well there needs to be a federal law against retrieving carry on luggage during an emergency evacuation, and a reminder of that law should be included in the flight attendant demo. Also it should include jail time and that should be pointed out in the briefing also. That is the only thing that will stop that behavior. People now days are so callous they think their carry on luggage is more important that other peoples lives. We can't rely on them to do the right thing, only a small number will do that. But if they think they'll end up in jail, that gets the message across.

Posted by: Ted Striker | September 17, 2015 9:31 AM    Report this comment

'In my humble opinion, you should consider keeping passport and credentials on your person at all times.'

Good recommendation - I'll go with that.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 17, 2015 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Michael Mullins--"I wonder how fast that evacuation (without semi-pro "evacuators") took and whether there was a sufficient line such that people had opportunity and temptation to pop the overhead bin and pull something of theirs?"

The initial reports (unverified) indicated that the aircraft sat on the ramp for 50 minutes while the fire department deluged the right engine with water to shut it down--as the wiring for shutdown was damaged. That would seem to be borne out by the photo. If true, the crew likely was more concerned by the possibility of people being sucked into the engine--or toasted by exhaust--than they were of getting people off the airplane.

This may explain why people had time to get their luggage--but NOT why the FAs allowed them to take it with them. Even though there was no hurry to get off the aircraft until the engine was shut down, there was no reason to take the luggage. Paul is correct--they would likely attempt to do so in an actual emergency.

Posted by: jim hanson | September 17, 2015 12:39 PM    Report this comment

What confuses me isn't the engine or its un-contained failure or which side decided to go... nor am I worried with what seems to have turned out as a rather tame evacuation of the air-frame. What confuses me is the CA's announcement to take early retirement and skip the opportunity to bring his last flight to an uneventful conclusion. Didn't I read that somewhere? I am sure such an incident leaves a big mark on someones ego after many decades of safe and probably comparatively uneventful flying, but wouldn't you jump at the opportunity to fix this? Ya know... "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the last flight of Captain Blah Blah, who's had a long and successful career with BA, so please come forward and shake his hand as a little thank you for being asleep for the last 10 hours, instead of screaming in terror..."

Posted by: Jason Baker | September 17, 2015 12:51 PM    Report this comment

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