KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Seat belts, life vests, oxygen masks – and don't forget the emergency exits. They are just part of the checklist when it comes to the dos and don'ts of flying.
But when is the last time you really pulled out the safety card from the seat-back pocket and followed along? Would you know what to do in the event of an emergency? And as passengers, why are we required to do some of those things?
For example, why do you need your window shades up for take-offs and landings? And why do they dim the cabin lights?
To find out, 41 Action News partnered with Jet Midwest, a retired captain and a senior flight attendant. Jim Lawlor and Pam Blaschum each spent about 40 years in the skies with TWA. They say your safety is their number one priority.
“The most important aspect safety-wise is, we used to call it 'Plus three, minus eight,'” explained Blaschum. “The first three minutes of flight and the last eight minutes of the flight are the ones. If you're going to have an accident, that's when it's going to happen.”
That's why you are asked to do some of the obvious – such as seat belts, seat backs, tray tables and your carry-ons all in their proper places. Lawlor says unsecured items have always been one of his big concerns.
“Everything in that cabin is a weapon when this thing stops,” Lawlor said. “Cause it's all coming forward. People having more stuff out and around then they can actually physically use is really a detriment.”
“If you travel sometimes, and you're sitting by the window, you might check – look around and see if the person on the aisle has a bunch of stuff under their seat that will try and block you your exit,” Blaschum added.
When Captain “Sully” Sullenberger pulled off that miracle on the Hudson in 2009, everyone evacuated safely, though with a few injuries. Coincidentally, many passengers left the plane without their life vests – a key part of the safety briefing.
Blaschum demonstrated the steps of putting on a life vest. The process isn't easy, even for the most experienced flyers.
“We would always tell the passengers 'Put your arms through the strap loops,’” Blaschum demonstrated.
If you are flying over water, Blaschum offers this little reminder, because life vests occasionally turn into souvenirs.
“It’s in a pouch under your seat. But no one ever checks it! I don’t want to call people thieves,” she said. “But you’ve been known to have a full complement of life vests, and then maybe about the third leg of the day all of the sudden somebody might check and say ‘I don’t have a life vest!’ It’s like, really? I wonder where that went?”
Next, the flight attendant and 41 Action News anchor Mark Clegg went for the oxygen mask, which drops in front of flyers in the event of decompression. Clegg, an experienced flyer, found the mask awkward, and forgot a key step – pulling the elastic straps to tighten it over his face.
If you are traveling with young children, the flight attendants will remind you of this. But it is important to put your mask on first and then secure your child’s. You only have about one minute of useful consciousness.
“You don’t want to lose consciousness,” Blaschum explains. “As soon as you put yours on, then you can help a kid. If your kid is there, and you didn’t put yours on and you’re fumbling, trying to put it on your child, you might pass out.”
Have you ever wondered why your window shades have to be open for take-offs and landings? The answer: Before an exit door is ever opened, it is important to check outside for dangers or obstacles.
“Before you open a door, you look through that window to make sure there's not a fire,” Captain Lawlor explained. “In the case of Sullenberger's deal, one of the doors may well be under water.”
In fact, on Sullenberger’s plane, a passenger panicked and opened a rear door which was below the water level. That allowed the plane to flood, and the tail section to begin sinking.
In their 40 years of flying, neither Blaschum nor Lawlor ever faced a major emergency. Still, it is something they prepared for with every flight – just as those of us sitting in the coveted emergency exit row verbally promise to do. But just how well would we perform if told to evacuate?
Our experts put Clegg to the test, allowing him to pull the emergency over wing exit door. This test was easy and he had the door off within seconds. However, it did feel a lot heavier than he expected. Then Blaschum reminded him that he was sitting alone in the row.
For the next test, Blaschum and Lawlor strapped themselves into the seats beside Clegg, with him at the window. He found it a lot harder to pull the door with two frantic passengers sitting closely beside, and he struggled to find the room to maneuver it. It took a few seconds longer, but they were soon outside, standing on the wing.
One last step the airlines don't always explain in an evacuation: Why do they dim the cabin lights for take-offs and landings?
“That's to acclimate everyone's eyes to the situation that they could potentially be in,” Lawlor said. “An evacuation or a rejected take-off. You don't want people going out of the airplane blind.”
With Blaschum and Lawlor each having 40 years in the skies, and no emergencies or accidents, both feel the odds of needing to execute any of the safety steps are pretty slim.
But the pair put that responsibility back on passengers. Now, each retired, they both take certain steps when they fly for personal reasons.
“So you want to make sure for takeoff and landing that everything is stowed; Everything is put away right,” Blaschum says. “And that’s why you have to put your seat back up. Because you don’t want somebody sitting in your lap, and then you have an accident, and you have to evacuate the airplane.”
And yes, they see what you have probably noticed in that more and more passengers are skirting the rules. That might mean getting up when the seat belt sign is on, keeping bags at their feet or, most often, leaving their cell phones on.
They both said the rules are there for a reason. And whether or not your cell phone, iPad or Kindle interferes with a plane's technology is beside the point. Blaschum and Lawlor agree that they are not above asking a fellow passenger to turn off a device for everyone's safety.
Finally, Lawlor says his best advice is to be aware. Be aware of who is sitting around you. Be aware of where your closest exit is. Be aware of who or what might block you.
“It’s that awareness that’s going to give you that split second that puts you ahead of somebody that might delay you,” Lawlor said. “Or somebody that’s going to interfere with everything and stop the evacuation process.”
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