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Asiana 214. British Airways 2276. Emirates 521. American Airlines 383. What do each of these flights have in common? Besides each flight being involved in a fiery evacuation, passengers were photographed and filmed on video carrying luggage away from the burning wreckage.
The danger of having passengers evacuate planes with their luggage cannot be overstated. When commercial planes are certified by the FAA, the manufacturer has to prove that a full plane can be evacuated in 90 seconds or less, with fifty percent of the exits accessible. However, the four evacuation events mentioned above each took far longer than that. The reason? Selfish passengers spent valuable seconds opening overhead bins in order to take their luggage off the plane with them.
What is so dangerous about it? Your selfish evacuation delay endangers the lives of your fellow passengers. When the overhead bins are lowered, many of the doors hang down at the level to where disoriented people in a smoke-filled cabin could injure themselves. Another big factor is the smoke itself. Even is passengers aren’t hurt in the primary incident, smoke inhalation can incapacitate people, leaving them unable to evacuate. In addition, with people now passed out in the aisles, their bodies become stumbling blocks to those who are still trying to evacuate. You can see the clear danger here, but it happens every time a plane needs to be evacuated.
What is the answer to keeping this from happening? Public shaming? Prosecution? After all, failure to comply with flight attendant instructions can be charged as a felony. But enforcement should not be the burden of the flight attendants. They are there to make sure everybody gets off the plane as quickly and safely as possible.
There is actually one simple solution: locking overhead bins. Install locking mechanisms on the bins, and give flight attendants control of the locks. The locks could be controlled with magnetic locks like you’d see on security doors, or a sliding pin mechanism.
The bins would be locked during taxi, takeoff and landing, whether there is an emergency or not. They would be unlocked at cruising altitude, so people could access personal electronic devices, medicine and such. Then they would be locked again when it’s time to prepare the cabin for arrival, after everyone has stored those items they took out during the flight. Announcing the locking of the bins could also deter passengers from trying to grab their bags in an emergency evacuation became necessary.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority issued a safety notice to airlines in October, but upon reading it, it does nothing more than suggesting airlines review their evacuation procedures regarding hand baggage, because it appears passengers might not be paying attention during the pre-flight safety briefings and/or videos.
It’s not just something airlines should consider, or implement on the newest planes only. It should be a law, and implemented on every plane that is under twenty years old. Most airlines fly their planes until they’re 20 or even 30 years old, so for safety’s sake, this should be a no-brainer.