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Maybe it’s my nature – endlessly curious about almost everything in at least a casual way. Shopping for technology goods falls into that category- even if my curiosity stops at the basic level. In other areas of my life- my curiosity comes more purposefully- though- and anytime the situation involves an aircraft- three-dimensional travel and me- my curiosity level hits its apogee.

Dave Higdon   |   1st January 2010
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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How’s Your Safety Quotient?
A Checklist for Passengers.

Maybe it’s my nature – endlessly curious about almost everything in at least a casual way. Shopping for technology goods falls into that category- even if my curiosity stops at the basic level. In other areas of my life- my curiosity comes more purposefully- though- and anytime the situation involves an aircraft- three-dimensional travel and me- my curiosity level hits its apogee.

If the trip involves commercial carriage- my quest for information is pretty basic and common-sense. After all- if it’s not me flying- that translates into an airline-passenger level of situational awareness. When I find my seat on the airliner- I count the rows between my seat row and the one corresponding to the closest emergency exit…remembering that it might be behind- not in front of me.

My scan also involves a decision about how many people will be headed to that exit… and how many rows to the exit exists in the opposite direction. One further away may need to accommodate fewer people. Then I acquaint myself with where the fire extinguisher is located - is there one near the galley? Where are the cabin crew stations?

These almost always have a flashlight stored nearby – and somewhere close- emergency oxygen and first-aid supplies. The above routine isn’t some sort of paranoia about the airplane crashing. It represents me indulging in a little self-serving curiosity should something I expect never to happen actually happen. Thankfully- so far- my curiosity remains solely an exercise in self-protection and not one bit different than how I’d be indulging myself in knowledge if I was up on the flight deck filling either of the crew seats.

As the flying pilot- it’s my job to know these things- enabling me to carry out my inherent responsibility for the lives of those flying with me. And this applies regardless of whether my flying role involves a paycheck - it’s a matter of thinking and behaving with some personal pride and professionalism.

Yet- as a passenger- why should I be any less interested in my own survival and the survival of my fellow humans on the same aircraft? It’s simply smart practice- and many a frequent flier of my acquaintance follows a similar practice: Becoming an informed private aircraft passenger.

Sometimes- the passengers on an aircraft seem lacking in any understanding about the true nature of a pilot’s job and can hinder the safe operation of a flight. All passengers that regularly travel on the company aircraft should be briefed- and adhere to certain responsibilities and codes of conduct on a flight on your aircraft that will maximize its safe operation.

Pilots are charged with flying in a safe and sane manner- minimizing risk and maximizing time for those in the back who pay the bills that keep the airplane operating and crewed. Pilots are not- however- protected from passengers making sometimes unreasonable or unrealistic demands.

For example- it is the pilot’s job to make decisions about weather – which impacts (on some days) whether a flight will happen at all. It is not the pilot’s job to get those passengers where they need/want to go- regardless of weather and safety considerations.

This type of situation can result in some stressful moments and strained relationship between the aircraft owner and the crew employed to keep them safe- delivering those passengers to their destination safely. Always remember: the pilot is ultimately responsible for the safety of the aircraft and the charges flown in the back.

Furthermore- there are situations in which the passengers should reasonably be expected to be in charge of themselves - for example- when circumstance might force the crew to act first and foremost as flight crew as opposed to cabin attendants. Where the flight crew might be taking counter-measures against a potential emergency situation- you will need to have located/acquainted yourself with the location of the personal flotation devices- the life raft- the first-aid kit- automatic emergency defibrillator or how to open the door.

Regular passengers on the same company airplane should be expected to have some grasp of how to help themselves in such circumstances.

Similarly- they should be the first to enforce the passenger briefing should another passenger decide to inject their presence into a stressful cockpit situation – rank or standing notwithstanding.

Following is a Passenger Safety Checklist made up- firstly- of the 10 things every passenger should know for his or her own safety and well-being during a company flight. Following the checklist- we’ll address some other tips and tidbits that can only serve to bolster your confidence that you can contribute to the safe conclusion of a problem flight- and not contribute to the confusion that can cause problems.

Passenger self-check safety list:
1) Locate all doors and exits on the air plane- and identify the instructions.
2) Locate emergency oxygen sources and confirm with crew whether automatic masks deploy upon depressurization.
3) Know where to locate the First Aid Kit just in case. Injuries can happen in-flight- too.
4) In case of fire- where is that extinguisher? Ask crew if there is one in the cockpit if not in the cabin.
5) Ask whether the airplane carries an AED – Automated External Defibrillator.
6) Water-Survival Equipment. You should receive a briefing for over-water flights that require it - ensure you get one if none is forthcoming.
7) Survival Kit – If there is one- you want to know where it’s stowed.
8) Locate flashlights.
9) Locate flares and other signaling devices.
10) Where is the radio? You may have some one to talk to.

The above is pretty much universal – so one size fits almost all! Why should you check list your own safety? It’s not a big leap from informed passenger to surviving passenger.

Doors and exits
Know where the doors and exits are - and- of course- how to work them. Read the instructions at the start of a first trip in an airplane- and again every few trips in the same plane – sometimes things change.

Emergency O2
In a case of rapid cabin depressurization when flying above 25-000 feet- unconsciousness comes quickly. From 30-000 feet and higher- unconsciousness comes in seconds as opposed to minutes. Death follows if the crew isn’t getting the airplane down almost as rapidly as cabin altitude went up.

You need to know how to get to the emergency Oxygen- and have an idea of how to fit the equipment and make it function. Only then will you be able to offer help to others. Emergency Oxygen may also prove helpful for you- or others suffering a medical crisis – another reason to know...

First Aid Kit
The need to find and use either/both the First Aid Kit and Emergency Oxygen may actually not come with enough warning to find where they are stored until after the incident. It is best to learn early- even if you don’t also become a survival and first-aid expert.

Fire extinguisher
Again- know where they are and how they work… Bear in mind- the instructions take little time - you just don’t want the first time you read them to be under the pressure of a real emergency. Remember three nearly-universal steps:

• Remove the locking pin;
• Point the nozzle at the base of the fire (in almost all cases)
• Squeeze the handle- moving the nozzle from side-to-side to cover the base.

Automated External Defibrillator
AEDs come in sizes down to around the dimensions of a three-inch three-ring binder - and they save lives. Know the location- learn the brand and model- then look up and print out the use instructions from the company’s website. If you can’t find the instructions on-line- ask the company for an instruction card.

What you need to do fits on a sheet of paper – along with the illustrations you want. After all- if it was you who needed it- you’d want someone on the plane with you to know.

Any & All Water-Ditching Equipment
Again- be familiar with the location of these- and read the instructions.

Survival kit
The odds of going down somewhere beyond the reach of immediate help seems low – but such incidents do occur. Even if you went down a couple of miles from the airport- you’d want to avail yourself of as much material help as possible. Space blankets- for example- can help someone ward off the short-term impact of shock- and the long-term impact of trauma.

Where are they stored- and do you already have an idea of how to use them- why you need them and when you will want them?

Flares or other signaling devices
Timely extroversion has its place in an emergency too. Some flares may be with the survival equipment- but there may sometimes be some stored separately too.

Emergency Transceiver
Many pilots carry walkie-talkie aviation-band transceivers in their flight bags. Modern ones take up little space- offer sufficient power to transmit a few miles- and you can use one to help lead searchers to your location by providing a description of the crash scene.

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