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Leave bags on plane, listen to crew: Experts say emergency dos and don’ts can save lives

SINGAPORE – As passengers aboard Air China Flight CA403 evacuated the plane after it made an emergency landing at Changi Airport on Sunday due to an engine fire, a man in a black top caught the eye of netizens.

In a video posted online, the man was seen going down one of the emergency slides while holding a trolley bag, and later colliding with a child who slid down before him.

While Air China said on Monday that the 146 passengers on board were cooperative, which allowed for a successful evacuation, the man’s act drew a flurry of angry comments on social media.

Even though the emergency landing led to only minor injuries related to smoke inhalation and abrasions during evacuation, experts told The Straits Times that poor behaviour during aircraft emergencies can put lives at risk.

Noting that such behaviour is not new and has been condemned before, the experts set out several dos and don’ts that passengers should bear in mind.

Passengers play key role

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore’s (CAAS) website, robust cabin safety regulations are in place to mitigate the risks associated with air travel.

While the authority ensures airlines comply with these rules, CAAS said passengers also play an important role in minimising safety risks.

In an emergency evacuation, CAAS said travellers should:

Always listen to the instructions of the crew.
Leave the aircraft quickly due to the high risk of fire and smoke.
Leave their luggage behind.
Always keep calm.

The industry standard and a criterion that new aircraft must meet during safety certification is that all passengers must be able to evacuate a plane within 90 seconds.

Mr Gary Ho, a senior lecturer in aviation management at Temasek Polytechnic, said: “The whole point is to get people out of the plane as soon as possible. It is proven that the longer you stay in there, the greater your chances of survival diminish.”

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Knock-on effects

Asked about the evacuation of Flight CA403 on Sunday, Mr Ho said he was appalled to note that some passengers had grabbed their luggage as they left the plane.

“It is totally inappropriate and inconsiderate. You are blocking other people from exiting the aircraft, and you also risk tearing the slide. This could mean one fewer exit, and people will take even longer to evacuate. There are a lot of knock-on effects,” he added.

Mr Chew Lip Heng, a consultant with experience in crisis and disaster management, said going down an evacuation slide with luggage could also injure other passengers.

There have been many past cases of passengers evacuating aircraft with their personal belongings, including the crash landing of Aeroflot Flight 1492 in Russia in 2019, which killed 41 people, he added.

Mr Chew pointed to a 2020 paper by the Royal Aeronautical Society in Britain which said the trend of passengers taking their luggage during evacuations is increasing because of the larger amount of baggage allowed in plane cabins today.

Said the paper’s authors: “Even if cabin crew at an emergency exit were to succeed in removing cabin baggage from a passenger, there is little or no space to place it without causing an obstruction.”

Hence, one idea is for the aviation authorities to consider introducing ways to remotely lock overhead bins that do not contain emergency equipment during taxi, take-off and landing.

Mr Chew added: “As long as the overhead bins can be opened, some will continue to want to remove their luggage and bring it with them, no matter what you say.”

Mr Ho said the authorities could consider penalties for those who take their bags with them in future emergencies, but this would require global consensus.

“We are already reminding people constantly. Japan Airlines even put out a safety video showing the real-life effects of not complying with safety instructions. Yet people still don’t listen.”

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Other tips

Mr Ho gave other suggestions on how passengers can do their part to ensure an emergency evacuation proceeds smoothly.

“I always advise my friends to keep their passport, phone and cash with them. You don’t want to waste time by opening the overhead bin and rummaging through your bag.”

He said passengers who want to sit in an emergency exit row should ensure they are fit enough to operate the plane door, which can weigh more than 15kg, so they do not end up being a hindrance during an evacuation.

“If you can, travel light,” said Mr Ho.

He added that wearing trousers and a long-sleeved shirt could provide protection against abrasion if passengers need to use the emergency slide, which is designed to be rough in texture so people can slide down at a safe speed.

Mr Chew said passengers wearing high heels should remove them and hold them before using the slide.

Both he and Mr Ho also called on passengers to listen to the instructions of the cabin crew in an emergency.

Said Mr Ho: “The crew are there for your safety, not just to be waiters. They can really help you to survive.”

More On This Topic

Engine mechanical failure may have caused Air China plane’s emergency landing: Airline

‘Lucky no one fainted’: Passengers stuck in SIA plane on Shanghai tarmac for nearly eight hours

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