An Open Letter To My Fellow Airline Passengers

Greetings,

As I’m sure you’re all aware, Asiana Flight 214 crashed while landing in San Francisco yesterday morning. I heard about it almost immediately; my husband was at the airport waiting to depart for Hong Kong. At 12:01 he texted, “OMG – a plane is on fire at SFO! Lots of smoke and emergency vehicles.” As unsettling as it was for my husband and me, we can’t begin imagine how terrifying it must have been for those on board, and for their families. Two young girls tragically died and many other passengers suffered serious injuries ranging from broken bones to head traumas and burns. San Francisco General Hospital Chief of Surgery Margaret Knudson said that at least two passengers being treated are paralyzed, and while the majority of passengers evacuated safely, others reported thick smoke and difficulty breathing.

Almost immediately, photographs taken by survivors began to circulate on the web and I couldn’t help but notice that some passengers had evacuated with their carry-on luggage. Two images in particular caught my attention: this image, posted to Twitter by Benjamin Levy, shows a survivor standing next to what appears to be two large shopping bags and a large backpack, while this image, posted to Twitter by David Eun, shows a woman in a turquoise jacket walking away from an emergency evacuation slide carrying a piece of luggage, the type normally placed in an overhead compartment. While this behavior completely astounds me, I am even more shocked and infuriated by the number of people claiming that they saw nothing wrong with this behavior, even going so far as to say that if they were in a similar situation, they too would take their luggage.

Excuse me?

Allow me to state my position in the clearest way possible: it is NEVER acceptable, under ANY circumstances, to evacuate a vehicle in distress – be it a downed aircraft, sinking ship or crashed automobile – while carrying luggage of any kind.

Why?

Because the retrieval of carry-on luggage hinders and slows down the evacuation process. Furthermore, carry-on luggage can damage the escape slide and can cause injuries to other passengers at the bottom of the slide. Lastly, your hands must be free to protect yourself and assist others. In an emergency evacuation, your life and the lives of your fellow passengers are at risk. It is absolutely critical to evacuate quickly. Having your hands free in such a situation allows you to maintain your balance, exit quickly and help those around you. When people attempt to carry belongings, they make the situation more dangerous; they are behaving selfishly, with no regard or respect for their fellow passengers.

Is that clear?

For those who still don’t seem to understand, allow me spell out exactly why it’s never okay to carry luggage during an emergency evacuation.

First: you are responsible for making sure that both you and your fellow passengers are able to evacuate quickly. In the event of a plane crash, fire can spread in mere minutes and a slow evacuation increases the odds of fatalities – most likely due to smoke inhalation and burns. If you stop to retrieve your luggage, you are threatening the lives of everyone around you. Furthermore, injured passengers as well as elderly passengers and small children may need your assistance. If your hands are full carrying luggage, how will you help them? If the floor isn’t level, how will you maintain your balance if your hands are full? Think about it.

Second: carrying even a small bag off a plane in an emergency sets a terrible example. If one person attempts to carry a bag, others will inevitably follow suit. This slows the entire evacuation process, a process in which EVERY SECOND COUNTS. I don’t care how inconsequential it may seem for even a single person to carry a small bag off the plane – it’s not okay. Please, set a good example for those around you. Listen to the flight attendants and “leave everything!”

Third: the lives of your fellow passengers are more important than whatever is in your luggage, be it clothing, jewelry, medication, documents, passports, or computer gadgets of any kind.  All of those objects can be replaced. Yes, it may cause some inconvenience, but please, allow me to state the obvious: people are more important than possessions. During an emergency evacuation, lives are at stake. In a plane crash, the threat of fire is very real and passengers must be able to evacuate quickly. You may think that a few seconds spent grabbing a piece of luggage is no big deal, but tell me, how will you explain your selfishness to a burn victim? Or to someone whose lungs are permanently damaged due to smoke inhalation? If you are worried about your passport or you have medication that is vitally important, keep it in a zippered pocket on your person. It’s not that difficult; it’s what we do, even on long haul flights.

My husband and I are frequent flyers (he has racked up well over a million miles and I’m not far behind) and although we know the safety rules practically by heart, we always review them before each and every flight. We often sit in exit rows and each time we do, we make sure we know how to operate the emergency exit. Besides staying alert and sober, we wear closed toe, sturdy shoes and keep them on during takeoff and landing. We take our responsibility very seriously and wish others would as well.

And so dear fellow passengers, please remember this the next time you book a flight. Remember that flying is a privilege, not a right. By purchasing that ticket, you have agreed to follow the rules. That means you will turn off your electronic devices when instructed to do so, you will follow instructions the first time they are issued and in an emergency, you will leave ALL luggage behind in order to evacuate the plane in a timely manner. You will do your best to remain calm and assist those around you and you will obey the rules. And regardless of what you may think, the rules do apply to you.

Thank you and have a safe flight.

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