Southwest Accident Brings Passenger Safety Briefings To The Forefront

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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.