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In the news recently was coverage of an airplane emergency -a British Airways jet that caught on fire on the tarmac at Las Vegas McCarran airport. Nobody died (thankfully!) though there were a few people injured (from what I read, mostly cuts and bruises from going down the slide)
In the aftermath of the fire, I read a few news articles talking about how there were some passengers who appeared to have taken their bags with them as they evacuated the plane
ABC News: Vegas Plane Fire Passengers Escaped With Lives and Bags
CNN: Vegas British Airways plane fire: Outcry over passengers who fled with luggage
and also from bloggers:
One Mile at a Time: Leave carryon items behind
Michael W Travels: What would you do during a plane emergency evacuation
What would I do in an airplane emergency?
I have never personally been in any sort of airplane emergency where I’ve had to evacuate the airplane, but as a “planner”, I’ve definitely thought about this situation before. You know you’re a crazy planner type when you’ve sat in church (or anywhere else) and planned out what you’d do if a shooter came in or if there was a fire…
I typically travel with a laptop in a backpack-style bag. I keep it under the seat in front of me, and it looks something like this
I do also sometimes carry on a wheeled suitcase and put it in the overhead bin, but my laptop bag is almost always stowed under the seat in front of me
I know this is likely to cause “angry comments”, but in an airplane emergency that requires evacuation, I’m taking my laptop bag with me.
It’s right in front of me, cab be easily grabbed on my way out, would not slow down the evacuation, and since it’s wearable, it wouldn’t block the aisle or any other passenger’s evacuation route.
Leave the suitcases and the overhead bins during an airplane emergency
Having said that I’m totally in agreement with those that say that during an airplane emergency you should not stop and take anything from the overhead bins or any suitcases.
My opinion – If you can wear it, you can take it.
That’s where I draw my line – so women’s purses, backpacks stored underneath the seat in front of you are all fair game, while any suitcases or anything that is stowed in the overhead bins should be left behind.
(SEE ALSO: Keeping track of 17 pieces of luggage at the airport)
One of the comments that I read made the suggestion that in an airplane emergency, flight attendants should be able to lock the overhead bins so that passengers were not able to get anything out of the overhead bins – personally, I would be in favor of that, though it’s possible that might even SLOW evacuation down during an airplane emergency, as people try furiously to open the locked overhead bins.
As for the British Airways Las Vegas fire, in the ABC News article, a passenger on the flight mentioned that “some other passengers further back in coach had time to grab their carry-on luggage while waiting to evacuate.”
Another consideration might be that in many cases, an airplane emergency might be akin to a “crime scene”, with FAA or NTSB officials locking down the scene for days, further delaying access to carry-on luggage.
(SEE ALSO: Where Does Unclaimed Baggage Go? To This Alabama Store [VIDEO])
What about the legalities during an airplane emergency?
According to a Skift article on the subject, “Guidance posted online by the Federal Aviation Administration advises passengers to leave bags on board during an evacuation — but does not mandate it”. The only guidance I could find online was on this FAA webpage, which labels
If an emergency evacuation is necessary, leave your carry-on items on the plane. Retrieving personal items may impede the safe evacuation of passengers.
under the heading “Carry-On Baggage Tips” (emphasis mine)
You ARE required legally to follow all crew member instructions, though different airlines have different regulations about whether or not they include instructions to leave belongings in an emergency, and I’m not clear whether such an instruction was made in the recent Las Vegas airplane emergency.
So, let’s hear your thoughts – am I crazy? What would you do? Have you been in an airplane emergency that required evacuation, and if so, what DID you do?
(UPDATE: After reading some of the comments and suggestions by readers in this post, I revisited the decision about what to do in an airplane evacuation)
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I believe one of the reasons is that luggage might increase the chances of the slides ripping and being rendered unusable. That’s why they ask women to remove stilettos should they be wearing them. I’m not sure a small rucksack would make that much of a difference but if everyone decided to behave like yourself would the chances of a zip snagging on a chute increase? I would suggest the answer would be yes. In which case leave the laptop. You can always buy another one.
Ever see some one get a backpack strap caught on the arm rest while boarding? Imagine 3, 4, 5 people getting straps caught during the evacuation panic, slowing the evacuation. You only have 90 seconds to get out. Put your absolute must haves, phone, passport, wallet, in your pocket before take off and leave the bags behind. My family will thank you when I can get out.
I shared your comment with my coworker and she said “that must have been written by a man”, pointing out that many women’s clothes don’t have pockets anywhere close to big enough for those items
Not true. I am a woman and all my trousers (and some coats) have pockets, at least for cellphone/keys. Of course I carry a small bag/bagpack with all necessary items (cellphone, passport/documents, water, keys) which fits under seat so no problem to grab them very quickly. No need for genre excuses…
Just reporting the facts of my conversation – not trying to perpetuate gender stereotypes! I would say that the percentages of men with sufficient pocket space compared to women would be higher
My concern is how well people will hold onto carry-ons as they go down the slide, possibly endangering others. I am assuming people wouldn’t slide bags down separately, as that could endanger those below and slow things down.
If most of the injuries were cuts and bruise going down the slides I would expect the level of that to do nothing than increase as bags get in the mix.
Sorry to say, but this is just another example of how rules don’t apply to some people. If the airline/faa says leave ALL carry-ons i think they mean ALL carry-ons. What happens if your strap gets caught on the slide? You might take 10 seconds to get it freed….10 seconds the last guy on the plane might need.
I look at your view on this as the same as the guy who won’t turn his cell phone into airplane mode or tries to board the plane first w/ ZONE 5 written on his boarding pass. You can rationalize all you want, but it comes down to the rules don’t seem to apply to you.
(really enjoy your blog btw, i just disagree w/ you on this one)
Thanks for the kind words and rational arguments Shaun – we’ll see, you guys have brought up some good points I hadn’t thought about. We’ll see if you guys can change my mind (for the first time in Internet history!) 🙂
Absolutely right on all points.
It takes a disaster for real change to happen. I hope one day someone insisting on taking their backpack causes real injuries or death. Then there would be actual enforcement of rules. I hope everybody like you will be prosecuted for the endangerment of others.
I appreciate & admire your honesty but “leave bags behind” means just that. Advocating the waiver of some rules/procedures for your benefit or convenience is unseemly.
Click bait much? It’s amusing the extend to which people go to to rationalize why the rules just don’t apply to them.
Your opinion is irrelevant. Leave your items behind means just that. And no, you’re not crazy. I can understand someone who is crazy. You’re just being a selfish jerk. And using a public forum to tell others to do the same? Bigger selfish jerk.
ABSOLUTELY!!! Well said sir. “Rules don’t apply to me, because I know better” And as you said…. encouraging others or at least suggesting others do what they want in a safety scenario….. Idiot.
Classic self centered mindset. If everyone on the plane thought as you did, it would never get evacuated. What if you need to run, or you trip and fall. or you need to squeeze through a tight space? Carrying a big backback slows you down and takes up room. I guess the only way it can be justified is if you are literally the last person off the plane and you want to take your life in your own hands by messaging around with your carry-on.
Anyone who has ever been on a crowded subway or bus knows that backpacks still take up room where other people could be standing. You might think your bag is small and unobtrusive, then the next person takes their bag which is an inch bigger, and so on, and that’s how you end up with idiots carrying off giant roll-a-boards like in Las Vegas.
You are irresponsible. You are putting other people’s lives at risk.
There are three items I would want to have with me in an emergency: (a) wallet, so I’ll have access to cash/credit cards if I end up stranded for awhile, (b) phone, so I can communicate with my family and (c) passport, if I am in another country. Everything else is just stuff. That $1,000 laptop in your bag is not worth risking your life or someone else’s in an emergency. Not to mention, for people who are actually worried about their material possessions in a time of an emergency, airlines have insurance and will undoubtedly reimburse you for any loss of luggage and contents.
You make some good points. In my case, it’s not so much the value of the laptop that I’d be concerned about as much as the data that’s on it, though maybe that just speaks to my poor data backup strategy 😀
So, back them up.
Gotta agree with DWT. Phone, credit card and ID and out the door and RUN!
(well wife, then those things if she is with me 😉 )
Don’t tell the wife that she was 2nd place 🙂
Have to disagree with you here. There is nothing I keep in any of my luggage that is worth preventing myself or especially someone else from escaping alive and getting home to their family. Frankly, I doubt you have anything of that kind of value either.
Anyone who insists on taking their carry-ons with them should have to agree to stay in their seat until everyone else has evacuated. No reason you should slow down the people who follow the rules.
If you were in a building with bomb set to go off any second, would you grab your bags? A 747 holds about ~17 tons of Jet-A, meaning you’re sitting on top of a 175 tons of explosives. E.V.E.R.Y S.E.C.O.N.D M.A.T.T.E.R.S. If just you are overcome with smoke and burn up – who cares. But, saving your £300 laptop raises the risk of passengers around you meeting that same fate. Anyone taking their bags off a plane in a emergency belong in prison for reckless endangerment.
I do enjoy your site but definitely disagree with you. You’re trying to rationalize a selfish decision – which ultimately isn’t even selfish but shortsighted, as your life is more important than anything in your backpack.
– While grabbing an underseat item is faster than getting a case from overhead, it still take a few seconds – those could ultimately be the difference between life and death. It also impedes, by a few seconds, anyone between you and the window.
– Putting on the backpack presents additional risk: (a) more seconds that could make a difference and (b) even a small pack has the risk of hitting someone behind you as you put it on – or as you’re maneuvering. Ever get smacked in a crowded train or bus by one?
– The backpack could get caught on a seat, aircraft structure, or debris.
If it were just a matter of risking your own life, fine. But you’re impacting others’ lives which is irresponsible.
What in your backpack is SO important that it’s worth risking your life and those of others?
How you will actually act in a real emergency is difficult to predict, even if you have thought it through. As an aside, while a fire on a runway is scary and could be pretty dangerous, that flight was not in a true emergency situation. If it had been people would have died because they did not come anywhere near the 90 second goal (iirc the evacuation didn’t start for at least 60 of those seconds).
Have you ever been in a fire? First of all you can’t see the hands in front of your face. Second, it takes your brain a few seconds to ‘get it’ because what is happening and what your brain expected are so wildly different (this is why there is a delay in reacting to shooter situations as well). This is why having thought things through in advance is good, your brain going into autopilot is what you want, really.
I take a medication that I can not go without. The recommendation for that is to wear it. Women can wear a small cross body purse on planes, so can men but then I would call the “purse” a “bag” 😉 with essential items in it. Passport, DL, a CC or several, phone, and vital medications.
If I’m sitting next to you during an evacuation and you go for your bag under your seat I will smack you upside the head. Hard. You have fair warning. A few other reasons why taking the backpack is a bad idea: it would make it harder to stop/drop/roll if your clothing or hair caught fire; it is likely made out of fabric that would melt into your skin in a fire; it is likely much more flammable than your clothing.
Hope you never have to get into that situation. When push comes to shove (the airplane is burning and one has seconds to decide whether to save the children or the laptop bag), we all know what is going to take precedence.
Hey – I’ve got SIX kids but only ONE laptop… 🙂 No, I know – you’re right of course
Takes a “couple of seconds”. 2 seconds x 180 passengers. Ever done the math?
A very good reason to grab a carryon during an emergency evacuation is if it has medication in it. Sometimes this medication can mean the difference between life and death and it is imperative to have access to it within an extremely short period of time.
And those hundreds of paramedics around the aircraft can’t provide you with any medication? Come on, that argument is ridiculous.
My wife wears a $60,000 prosthetic leg that would suffer $30,000 worth of damage if submerged in water. In an emergency she is jumping in the river and, if needed, kicking it off and letting it sink so she can swim. All stuff is replaceable. People, including the ones waiting on you, are not.
Sorry for this harsh comment, but you should be banned from commercial aircraft for life as you pose a significant risk to flight safety and willingly endanger the life of other passengers and your own. In the chaos of an evacuation you can drop your bag and other people can stumble over it, it can get caught in an armrest and god knows what else. If your laptop goes up in flames, who cares, just get a new one. If your passport goes up in flames, who cares, just get a new one. Getting the life of a human being back is just a little more difficult.
Yeah you’re taking it with you… unless you land on water.
Sorry – it’s just that this irks me. At a time when the focus should be on survival, there are selfish people who think their actions will not affect others. Ridic. I hope, for the sake of OTHERS traveling with you, you never have to evacuate.
A few weeks ago I was on a Delta flight headed to ATL when we experienced a pretty severe level of electrical issues accompanied by that dreadful burning wire smell. We diverted to the closest airport and our decent was fast enough to nearly rupture my right ear drum (I was congested with a cold at the time and had issues equalizing my internal ear pressure – but I digress). The Captain made one announcement letting us know we were diverted and to not be surprised once we landed that we would be stopping on the now closed runway and would be met with the full emergency units including fire trucks. He was unsure if we needed to pop the slides and evacuate but he stressed that if we needed to do so leave everything and get off the plane. In the end we were cleared to proceed to the gate after they checked out the place with FLIR cameras. Never found out what happened and don’t care as it’s pretty clear to me what I need to do in a situation like this – the same thing my FA friends tell me to do. Get up in an orderly fashion, leave everything and get off the plane. They also tell me to fly up front as the ratio of doors to passengers benefit those up front but that’s another argument.
I think what we need in this debate is a definition of “essential” as some people seem to think they have essential things. For argument’s sake the definition in this case should apply to an aborted takeoff with an engine and partial wing on fire – just like the BA 777 recently in the news. What do I think is essential? Nothing. Just get up and exit as instructed. EVERYTHING IN YOUR BAG CAN BE REPLACED with some effort on your part and the insurance/payoff money from BA. Even your “essential” medicine is not really essential. Inconvenient? Yes, that’s for sure. Life ending? Doubtful. Call your doctor. Even in the middle of the night I have called my doctor, spoken with the answering service and received a prescription for needed medicine. Your money, credit cards and passport? If it’s that important it should be in your pocket already. No pockets? Do I really need to teach you how to dress while flying? Ladies wear slacks or pants – with pockets. Guys put your essential stuff in your pants pockets before you board.
What’s our goal with an emergency exit from a burning plane? No dead babies. I’m being serious. The very last thing I want to see is a parent walking the tarmac with a dead infant in their arms. Get off the plane and forget your worldly possessions and picture in your mind that there is a worried parent somewhere in back with a baby. Leave your stuff for the safety of that child, or the elderly person who can’t move very fast. The time we save by leaving everything might be equal to (but never greater than) an human’s life. Got it?
Bottom line is that your (and others) life/lives are worth more than any crap you can bundle into a bag. I have been in several emergencies and believe me, idiots trying to get their duty free from the lockers above and others ripping the chute (which then endangers EVERYONE after them!) is a reality!!
Keep your passport or ID on your person until airborne.
Get off the plane – FAST – NO bags!!!!!!!
Do NOT stop to take photos (including selfies!)
Stop whining at crew who shout at you – that is their job, to motivate, to be louder than the engines, be heard by deaf people and get you OFF THE PLANE !
To those that DID haul rolling bags etc and to those (including the author – who clearly has never been in an emergency!) I say this…
Show some intelligence and some altruism and STOP being so SELFISH!
So you grab yor bag and put it on. Go down the life and something in or on the bag rips the slide and prevent others from going down. That should be factored in. Leave the bag. Everything in the bag could be replaced. You can’t get lost life/lives back.
Yes – I’ve updated my position that I will leave my things on the plane
I am cabin crew and I cannot stress enough the importance of getting out as quickly as possible, hence leaving everything and just running out of there as soon as the exits are open. Why? Not only is every second crucial after a crash landing (for obvious reasons) but I, as a crew member, am required to search the cabin before I may evacuate, therefore any time passengers took up retrieving their luggage, or getting straps caught in arm rests or damaged fuselage means less time I have before possibly being overwhelmed by smoke or flame. People are selfish though and will do as they please. If you read this and your on one of my flights and we have to evacuate – I will punch you in the nose if you try and take your bag with you 🙂
BJ – a few weeks later I realized you were right – see the followup REVISITED: I’m taking my bags in an airplane evacuation