Preparing passengers for a flight… every time the process feels like a parody: a comedy sketch written at the expense of Flight Attendants everywhere. But every time- we get through the process without a chuckle. Perhaps that is because we must acknowledge a given: Sometimes even the best-planned flights go awry.

Dave Higdon  |  01st March 2011
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Dave Higdon
Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon is a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who has covered all...

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Passenger Safety:
Preparing passengers is a pre-flight must.

Preparing passengers for a flight… every time the process feels like a parody: a comedy sketch written at the expense of Flight Attendants everywhere. But every time- we get through the process without a chuckle. Perhaps that is because we must acknowledge a given: Sometimes even the best-planned flights go awry.

Whether on a Business Aviation or a commercial airline flight- there is no difference. By acknowledging the potential for a mishap- we reinforce safety as our highest priority by treating our passengers to an aircraft- specific passenger safety briefing.

Aboard a business jet or turboprop- the invariable goal - to impart the needed information - is no different than what Flight Attendants do in that FAA-mandated staple of the airline experience.

We can do this with a smile- even with a joke – as long as we cover the need to help our passengers to be as safe as possible. In Business Aviation- be it our own aircraft or one operated by a corporate flight department- those who own or pilot the aircraft often take on those Flight Attendant responsibilities to those flying with them.

Apart from aboard the business jets at the larger-end of the scale- Flight Attendants are rare. In chartered aircraft flown under FAR 135- operators may be required to include cabin crew in their larger jets- but even with a Flight Attendant the ultimate responsibility for the safe completion of the flight remains in the lap of the cockpit crew: The Captain- ultimately- in a two-crew aircraft- and- of course- the Pilot in a single-pilot ship.

Absent a Flight Attendant- both the passengers and flight crew need to take on all the responsibility for handling emergencies or crises. It is a partnership.

The pilots’ first job is the safety of the aircraft and its occupants- but it is difficult to keep the occupants safe if unnecessary cabin demands divert the attention of the pilots from the aircraft.

Meanwhile- the passengers’ odds of a successful outcome – even mere survival – depends on the flight crew’s success in normal times; when things go wrong- particularly in an actual emergency- a passenger’s willingness and ability to carry their share of responsibility could help the flight crew immensely.

‘Your share’ may be nothing more complicated than following a crew member’s instructions or directions; or it may be a more-active role- like helping a stricken passenger so that the flight crew doesn’t have to. We’ll look at the range of possibilities in the following paragraphs.

Informing passengers of certain precautions- crisis actions and the locations of emergency equipment helps engage passenger awareness of their own role in the event of an emergency. Ultimately that can help the flight crew maintain its focus on dealing with a crisis- regardless of its origin.

Furthermore- business aircraft operators who want to employ Safety Management System (SMS) best-practices – under the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations - IS-BAO (for example) should expect to show they’ve created a passenger safety briefing- as well as passenger and cabin-safety procedures- and policies for stowage of luggage and galley equipment.

The first and most-helpful step a passenger can take is one taken before take-off: Listen to the briefing! It may seem like you know the briefing by heart - but by choosing not to listen- you may also miss a change from the last time you heard it – or the plane may be similar- but with changes that alter the information delivered in that briefing.

Next- if the briefing leaves you uncertain about anything- ask for clarification or further explanation. Leaving something misunderstood could actually hamper your chances – or your ability to be useful in a crisis.

Finally- ask and act if something seems amiss- or if you see something you know is bad – anything from a loose seat- to the smell of smoke. Don’t assume the flight crew will pick up on the same thing; with ventilation patterns of larger aircraft- it’s possible an aroma in the back won’t have penetrated the flight deck area.

Seasoned travel veterans probably can close their eyes and recite a generic version of an airline passenger safety briefing. They generally deal with the same issues - issues that are nevertheless worthy of note for all business aircraft passengers too.

Seatbelts: Fasten them when the pilot says to. Usually that is during take-off and the climb period- during the latter part of the descent and landing- and when taxiing. The pilot may also give the order when en route in anticipation of turbulence; because of an altitude change; or maneuvering for weather or traffic.

Seats: These should be upright and in a locked position during taxi out for take-off as well as during and after- and at the opposite end of the trip. Tray tables are less common in business aircraft- but not seats that pivot or swivel- slide around and recline. Any impactabsorbing characteristics may require the seat in a particular position – facing forward- for example – but at no time during take-off or landing should the seat be free to move about its mount.

Follow precisely whichever policy the operators set for electronic devices too. Unless you’re an avionics expert- you can’t guarantee that favored device won’t interfere with the aircraft’s electronics. Check before using even a device’s “Flight” setting.

Emergency exits: Jets and turboprops typically sport an emergency egress in addition to regular doors- such as a main-cabin and/or flight-deck door. Passengers should be briefed on their use- as well as any cautionary points (such as opening the hatch when fire is visible on that side).

Another point for some aircraft: keep the main cabin door closed after a water-ditching- when the emergency exit may be more appropriate (and higher from the waterline).

When briefing passengers about flight aboard the company plane- though- you may structure the information to fit the situation. For example- if the aircraft has more than one exit- you’ll want the briefing to be specific about their locations and how they work if needed.

To help along the idea of creating your own lists- we’ll bring you the following generic Passenger Safety Checklist. Then we will address other tips and suggestions which should help your confidence- so that you can contribute to the safe conclusion of a problem flight- and not contribute to the confusion.

First- though- a bullet list:
Passenger Self-Check Safety List
• Locate all doors and exits on the airplane- and identify the instructions.
• Locate emergency oxygen sources and confirm with crew whether automatic masks deploy upon depressurization.
• Where is the First Aid Kit? Injuries can happen in-flight too.
• In case of fire- where is/are the extinguisher( s)? Ask crew if there is one in the cockpit- if not in the cabin (or whether there’s one in both).
• Ask whether the airplane carries an AED – Automated External Defibrillator.
• Is there Water-Survival Equipment aboard? You should receive a briefing for over-water flights that require it.
• Survival Kit – If there is one- where is it stowed?
• Likewise- where are the Flashlights kept?
• Know the whereabouts of Flares and other signaling devices.
• Where is - and how do you operate - the Radio in an emergency?

Why You Should Check-List Your Own Safety:
It’s not a big leap from being an informed passenger to being a surviving passenger – but it helps to know some of the following Doors and exits: Read the instructions at the start of a first trip in a plane- and again every few trips in the same plane. Always assume that things could change.

Emergency O2: Flying above 25-000 feet- unconsciousness comes quickly in the event of depressurization; at 30-000 feet and above- unconsciousness comes in seconds. Death ultimately follows if left unattended. You need to know how to get to emergency oxygen- and have an idea of how to apply and use it. Only then can you offer your help to others.

Emergency oxygen may also prove helpful for you or others in the event of an in-flight medical crisis.

First Aid Kit: If it weren’t so essential- it would almost go without saying that you should find this (along with the Emergency Oxygen) before an emergency happens. It may even help to make sure you are trained in basic First Aid.

Fire extinguisher: Where they are and how they work are two things to discover- again- preferably before a need occurs. You certainly wouldn’t want the first time you read the instructions to be under the actual pressure of a fire on board your aircraft.

Remember the three nearly universal steps:
1. Remove the locking pin;
2. Point the nozzle at the base of the fire- in almost all cases; and
3. Squeeze the handle- moving the nozzle from side-to-side to cover the base.

Automated External Defibrillator (AED): These 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 manufacturer’s website.

If you are struggling to locate the instructions- ask the manufacturer for an instruction card. After all- if it were you who needed it- you’d want someone on the plane with you to know what to do. What you need to do should fit a sheet of paper – along with the illustrations you require.

On the back of any aircraft’s safety card- there should be five things to know in case a situation develops. These things you usually need to concern yourself with only in the event of an actual off-field arrival (land or water)- or during an aircraft system failure (such as the lighting or electrical power).

You may be able to access these items and read them between learning a ditching is imminent and the actual ditching - but the smarter approach would be to become familiar with the items well in advance of that eventuality.

Any and all water-ditching equipment: This equipment includes personal flotation devices- life rafts- seat cushions – whatever can help you float. Of course- you need to read the instructions first- but the chances are you will all know a water ditching is coming far enough in advance to read the instructions then. In spite of that scenario- read them calmly to take as much information in as possible: take a deep breath first- and strap back in.

Survival kit: The odds of going down somewhere beyond the reach of immediate help seems low in today’s world – but such incidents do occur. Even if your aircraft went down only a few miles from an 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 longterm impact of trauma.

Flashlights and Flares: Where are they stored? Do you already have an idea of how to use them- and when to use them to take maximum advantage of them?

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

As a final thought- keep your cell phone charged- and top-up the battery before the flight when you’ll be shutting it off. And know where- and how to use the in-flight phone in case the need arises. Usually- a 9-1- 1 call will work from wherever you are in the Continental U.S.


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