By Peter Goelz
The accident that occurred on August 3, 2016 at Dubai International Airport highlighted a number of important aspects of commercial aviation that need to be underscored. First and foremost, today’s commercial airplanes are extraordinarily rugged and are designed to withstand accidents like the one we saw in Dubai with the high likelihood that passengers will be able to exit without serious injury. Reduced insulation burn rates, non-toxic and nonflammable interior components, and most importantly 16G seats are just some of the technical improvements that make today’s airliners safer than ever.
Video taken on board the Emirates plane after the crash does show one disturbing trait in aviation crises: passengers trying to remove their overhead bags rather than following the flight attendants’ commands to immediately exit the aircraft. Frankly, there is nothing more irresponsible than trying to save your suitcase instead of yourself. Today’s flight attendants are trained rigorously to respond to this exact kind of emergency. By simply following their commands, you and your fellow passengers will more than likely walk away from an aviation accident unharmed. Saving your bags puts you and your fellow passengers in danger by delaying the evacuation and by clogging the aisles. In any evacuation, there is no way to know the extent of the danger, so time is critical. Fully loaded planes are designed to be able to be evacuated in 90 seconds after coming to halt. The insulation and skin of the aircraft will keep flames outside and if you have used your seatbelt correctly, as instructed, you will be able to escape safely.
During the accident in Dubai, the rear of the aircraft exploded in flames only minutes after the plane came to a halt, but the flight crew was still able to evacuate everyone without serious injury. However, it emphasized the importance of following flight attendants’ instructions, exiting quickly and leaving belongings behind.
After September 11, 2001, when flight attendants were the first of many to lose their lives, their roles as essential safety and security team members were finally fully acknowledged and understood. Brave flight attendants like American Airlines’ Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney, both of whom perished on American Airlines Flight 11, helped us all gain a better understanding of how atrocious the hijackings were as they were unfolding. Their brave calls back to headquarters gave us the first glimpse of exactly what we were facing as a nation. Flight attendants are now rightly seen as the last line of security in the aircraft cabin. Tragic events like 9/11 are unlikely to ever happen again because flight attendants, aided by passengers, are stepping up for the safety of others.
Today’s flight attendants are trained extensively in safety and evacuation procedures, security and even in techniques to combat human trafficking. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants and its members are actively fighting to stop human trafficking and have advocated passionately for the training of all flight attendants to be able to identify the trafficker and their young victims, so that law enforcement can intervene.
So when you board your next flight, I hope you can view your cabin crew in a slightly different light and perhaps thank them for the work that they do. And remember: try and pay attention to the safety briefing, particularly when they identify where the closest exits are to your seat- it really could end up saving your life.
Peter Goelz is a Senior Vice President in O’Neill and Associates’ federal relations practice and a leading expert in transportation safety. He is the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and a sought-after commentator on aviation issues appearing regularly on national television and print media.
O’Neill and Associates is proud to represent the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the world’s largest main line flight attendant union in the world, for over six years. We work with them on wide variety of issues including safety, security, communications and government relations.