I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

The Illusion of Safety

Flying three legs, each way, to get on to my vacation (and back), I had my share of adventures on airplanes. I experienced an SD-80, a comfortable 767, several 757s, and the venerable 737. On each flight, we gave our fullest attention towards an informative video presentation on the safety features of the aircraft in question. Despite the different designs of planes, the video was always the same. In fact, the seat-back flyer that shows you the specifics about your plane was very similar on each flight. I noted this when I was reading the insert and the pictures of the plane in the guide were not the one of our model of plane. It showed engines under the wing, when clearly on this plane, the engines were in the rear. Despite this irregularity, it wasn’t the seat-back pocket safety guide that bothered me. It was the details about the life vests. I don’t know if you’ve paid much attention to these things. First, it’s quite clear that you do not deflate these things while in the plane. The video is quite clear on this. Imagine the insanity that would ensue when dozens of people are trying to emerge out of the plane, each looking like Michelin men! But the details get foggy after that. Second, they note that your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device. This “maybe” type of status bothers me. I have a feeling that on some planes, the cushion doesn’t float. But can’t the instructions for my plane be clear enough that it’s obvious if my cushion indeed floats? Third, do you recommend using the cushion or the vest? And why is there a choice? I have no doubt thought this out. My particular airline this time was American. In the video, they show you three different places where the vest may be located. Beneath the seat (in a spot so obfuscated for the video that they likely had prepared a prop seat to take the footage), between the seat (they show larger chairs, must be first class), or in some other location so muffled and obfuscated in the video we have no idea where location three is. There’s no way I could get down on my knees to find this vest given the cramped spaces they provide for passengers. My bet would have been on the seat cushion. But beyond this, I am wondering how this would all work out in an actual emergency. Granted, I don’t want to find out for real, but again, I’ve been thinking about this long enough to question it hypothetically. The pull-out guide shows two positions for bracing yourself in a crash. These are not realistic, again, because they show far too much room between the seats. Second, they warned us on the video not to take our luggage. I might want to take mine, but seeing how long it takes folks to deplane in a calm matter, we’d all be 20 leagues under the sea before folks could get out their luggage. So, let’s say the plane goes down. Let’s say the pilot is another “Sculley” and lands it well. Let’s assume the doors open and the big raft is deployed (they one they mention is in the ceiling of the aircraft, but do not ever tell you, exactly, where it is located). Let’s assume that the majority of passengers are not panicking. What’s next? Someone is going to disobey the instructions, and try to take their bags. There’s going to be shoving to get out of the plane, as water begins coming in. Communication will be shut down with cries and pandemonium. Some person will find a vest, and stupidly try to deploy it on the plane, by pulling the cord. In short, the likelihood that we all get out safely is almost doomed from the start. Luckily the folks who landed recently in the Hudson River survived and the system “worked” for them. What could the airlines do to improve this? 1. Customize all communications about safety to the aircraft you are in. In fact, it could be customized for the seat I’m in. And they could e-mail me everything before my flight takes off. 2. Give customers a large space to sit in. I’m overweight and riding an airplane in economy is painful. But I’m not alone. While the medical professionals may not like our size, look around! You’d be doing everyone a service by providing more space between the seats. They know this, they already do it in first class. 3. Clearly label the safety equipment with a standardized color and label. Make it clear where the oxygen mask comes from (and don’t kid me: inflate the sucker, I’ll know it’s working), where my life vest is located, and show me how to remove my seat. Now that I’ve said this much, let me add a few more suggestions that aren’t squarely aimed at safety, but could only help it, as a side-benefit. 4. The zoned seating is a farce. Watching people creep towards the gate ahead of their zone being called is human nature. The biggest obstacle in getting people on a plane quickly is the hand-luggage. Skip the zoned seating. And, 5. Get rid of carry-on luggage. I know, you’re staying the weekend… you don’t want to check your bags. But your bags, sir, slow everyone down. It’s a comedy watching people stuff those big things into the tight spaces. And I know why you do it: they’re charging us now for the big bags. Instead, here’s a suggestion: give everyone the same amount of cargo space. Have it labeled. Give your bag to the airport ahead of your flight, and let them scan it, and pre-load it into your own personal compartment. You won’t have access to it during the flight, but you’re allowed to bring a light purse or messenger bag to carry on your person in the seat. Before you deplane, the luggage compartments are opened, and you take your bag as you deplane. Yes, I realize they’d have to re-design the aircraft. But that’s a given already if you reduce the number of seats. 6. Don’t make people sit next to strangers, that inevitably means at some point, you’re going to have to crawl over them to use the toilet. Provide enough space to allow folks to move about on their own. Thank you.

The Cougher