Plane Facts of Safety Can Be Demonstrated

September 14, 1986|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

If you're like most airline passengers, you share at least one thing in common with other air travelers. As your plane is taxiing on the ground, you will do everything possible to ignore the pre-flight safety announcements and equipment demonstrations.

Among the possible reasons for that behavior:

--The demonstrations seem boring. (After all, how many times can you watch the flight attendants point their fingers in the supposed direction of exit doors?)

--The information seems useless.

To the contrary, while the presentations may be theatrically unexciting, the information could very well save your life.

A few weeks ago as a Trans World Airlines jumbo jet landed at Denver's Stapleton International Airport after a flight from St. Louis, one of the engines caught fire.

Warning Bells Sound

Fire warning bells sounded in the cockpit as the pilot taxied to a quick stop.

"Don't panic," the stewardesses quickly announced, as the pilot ordered the immediate evacuation of the plane. Emergency doors were opened, and three escape slides were activated.

"People were coming off the plane like bats out of hell," reported one passenger. In just a few minutes all 229 persons aboard had been able to get out. There were no fatalities. And only 13 persons were injured.

The passengers were lucky, and the flames were quickly extinguished by an alert airport fire crew.

"It was obvious that some of the passengers knew where their exits were," said one flight attendant. "Some of them had paid attention to the safety announcement before we left St. Louis."

How many of you have really paid attention to the pre-takeoff safety announcements?

How many of you know how to put on a life preserver on an airplane? Or where your nearest emergency exit is? And how many of you know how to remove an aircraft exit door?

Emphasis on Briefings

Recent studies of "survivable" crashes--incidents in which passengers survived the crash's impact--have shown that the crashes were still fatal. Many passengers died from smoke inhalation, unable to get to appropriate exits.

As a result, a growing number of airlines are putting a greater emphasis on their pre-flight safety briefings, and flight attendants are taking their safety roles more seriously.

Some flight attendants now go out of their way to get your attention before takeoff.

On a PSA flight from Burbank to Sacramento, an alert stewardess walked down the aisle and made sure that all passengers wearing Walkman headphones removed them until after she had made her safety announcement and the plane had safely taken off. "I know Whitney Houston is good," she told one teen-ager, "but right now listening to me is more important." She was right.

Some airlines have resorted to audio-visual demonstrations, hoping that the novelty of a video presentation will be more effective in two ways--getting your attention, of course, and allowing flight attendants to pay more attention to the essential safety details.

Recently, on British Airways Flight 283 to Los Angeles, I saw the newest presentation. It definitely got my attention.

In Several Languages

BA's audio-visual safety presentation is nothing less than impressive. It effectively depicts the equipment, the exits, and perhaps most important, how the emergency equipment works.

Using animation and clear graphic illustrations, the video, in English, was followed by instructions in a number of other languages.

"It's something we truly believe in," says Colin Marshall, chief executive of British Airways. "And so we expanded our in-flight safety demonstration on video. We know it works, because people are now paying attention."

At United, the in-flight safety video is also quite effective. "Instead of just the stewardess pointing out exits and where the oxygen masks are," United spokesman Chuck Novak says, "we use the video to show what an inflated life vest looks like and what happens when the oxygen masks drop. It's realistic, and people are watching the videos as a result."

However, to avoid complacency about safety procedures among flight attendants, United periodically removes the videos on selected flights, and the cabin staff then does the safety briefing live. "It keeps everyone up to speed," Novak says.

Uses Wrong Audio

(Recently, on a flight between Lisbon and London's Heathrow Airport, a flight attendant had become a little too dependent on the audio-visual system. As the plane slowed to make its descent over the English Channel, she inadvertently inserted the wrong audio into the PA system, and a near-panic ensued. "Prepare to ditch," came the announcement in Portuguese.)

What about those seat pocket safety instruction cards? When was the last time you read one? American Airlines even carries special Braille cards for any blind passengers.

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