Friday, May 29, 2009

Airplane safety

I just finished reading "The Unthinkable" by Amanda Ripley, an excellent book about human behavior during disaster. It's not a disaster preparation guide, but it does discuss the good habit of people who survive.

Going to China involves air travel, of course, and we are all naturally concerned with safety issues. Therefore, I'm writing this post as a service to all of you as well as for myself.

First, remember that most airplane emergencies occur on the ground. It's scary to think of your plane plummeting from a great height and crashing to the ground in a massive explosion. However, that doesn't tend to happen - most problems come to light as the plane is preparing for takeoff, or develop gradually enough so that the pilot can bring the plane down for a safe emergency evacuation. Odds are good that you will have the opportunity to evacuate.

Read the safety card tucked into the magazine pocket at your seat. Studies have shown that reading the card increases survival rates significantly. Why? Because emergency evacuation procedures were fresh in those people's minds, and they didn't spend as much time fumbling about in panic and confusion. In fact, read it every time you get on a plane. It only takes a few minutes, and by your third connecting flight, you should have it memorized.

Confidence makes all the difference in an emergency. If you allow yourself to panic, you may freeze, scream, and/or make bad decisions. While the plane is preparing for takeoff, imagine yourself coolly and competently acting out an emergency evacuation. Run the scenario in your head a few times. Many people will say that dwelling on the worst will only make you more anxious. On the contrary, having a vague, intangible sense of emergency procedures is much scarier. People actually tend to calm down if they feel they have a good, solid understanding of what their actions should be.

Airplanes are designed to evacuate in 75 seconds or less. Even if the plane is on fire, you'll still have an average of 90 seconds of safe evacuation time. If you pay attention and don't panic, you should live.

Be aware of the types of things that can slow down an evacuation.

Don't jump over seats
to reach the exit sooner - you'll only create a bottleneck that will slow the process down, and you may injure yourself and require someone else to take the time to rescue you.

Leave your carry-on luggage. One sizable bag takes as much time to evacuate as one person. If you take your bag, it's filling up a slot that may be needed by a fellow passenger. Also, scrambling to gather your stuff wastes precious seconds. Leave it all and get in line already! (The Red Cross will give you toothpaste, okay?)

Grab the children, leave the flight seats. In some cases, being strapped into a flight seat may save a baby's life, but only if he's being tossed around; for instance, if the plane is tumbling. If the plane is not tumbling, fussing with the seat/carrier/bassinet will waste precious seconds. Grab the kids and go go go.

Tell your fellow passengers the rules. Don't be afraid to order them around if they're doing it wrong. Go ahead and say, as loudly as you can, "Leave your bags! Your carry-on takes just as long to evacuate as my baby, and I need to save my baby." Don't apologize or be overly polite, and don't worry that they'll argue you down. It's not just your baby at risk - remember, the rest of us will have babies too. (And we'll beat that arrogant SOB to a pulp if he even looks at you funny!)

When the flight attendant says "Jump," jump! No hesitating! That inflatable slide has undergone thousands of safety tests so that you won't even crick your neck on the way down. So clutch that baby and jump. Most inflatable slide injuries occur when someone hurls his carry-on bag down ahead of him and it hits the person who has just reached the bottom.

Which brings me back to that very important point - leave your luggage! Srsly. Just leave it in the plane and go.

Keeping all this in mind should help you chase away that vague, nagging notion that there's something to be afraid of, and help you relax and enjoy the flight. Or, rather, flights. All eight of them.

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