On occasion, I have to travel by airline for business. I have seen many things that made me shake my head, such as young women traveling in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, people getting drunk and obnoxious, and outright rude behavior toward the flight attendants. It got me thinking about airline safety from a passenger standpoint. How can we fly safely?
First, let's talk about the hazards associated with air travel. The obvious one is the plane could crash. There is also the chance of heavy turbulence, hard landings, smoke in the cabin, and violent people due to mental illness, drugs, crime, or even terrorism. What can we do to mitigate these risks? Here are a few tips.
Dress appropriately. If the unthinkable happens and the plane crashes, there will be a possibility of jagged materials, smoke, fire, hazardous chemicals such as jet fuel, and a harsh outside environment. I recommend comfortable, but durable, clothing, such as long pants, full shirt (as opposed to short or "shimmel" shirts, tank tops, etc.) and long sleeves to provide at least minimal protection from spraying fuel or other chemicals. Fuzzy slippers, flip flops and platform shoes are not the best footwear. Hard sole shoes with low or no heels are better, especially if you have to climb out of wreckage or slide down an emergency chute. I know some of us have to travel in business attire, but I recommend pantsuits and flats for the ladies, and appropriate, but comfortable, dress shoes for gentlemen. These clothing recommendations provide a better means of providing protection and facilitating your exit from the aircraft.
Take a bag with the basics along with you. For instance, if you wear contact lenses, a case, a small bottle of solution and spare eyeglasses can solve many in-flight problems. Basic toiletries, a change of undergarments and socks, and snacks can make a huge difference in your comfort level in case of unscheduled layovers or loss of luggage. While you're at it, have a small flashlight, water, medications, and a first aid kit. You can't be too careful.
Pay attention to the Flight Attendants. They are not glorified waiters and waitresses! Their primary duty is your safety. They make sure the cabin is safe in case of an emergency. You may think they are just annoying you when they make you fasten your seat belt, put up your tray table and put your carry-on luggage in an overhead bin or completely under the seat in front of you. But there are good reasons for all of those things. The seat belt is obvious, but the tray table and luggage? That is to facilitate evacuation. In a smoke-filled cabin, you can't see to avoid a bag in the seating or aisle. If you trip and fall down, everyone behind you is blocked from exiting the plane. They, and you, may die.
Many of us prefer, and even pay extra, for a window seat for the extra room. Have you ever thought about the responsibility you are taking for the lives of everyone on the plane? If you can't open that door, or if you panic and freeze, how are they going to get out? It is a serious matter to be in the exit row, and that is why Flight Attendants need your affirmative response that you understand your responsibilities and can execute them in an emergency.
How about seat belts? Just for takeoff and landing? No. The aircrew will always recommend you keep your seat belt fastened whenever you are in your seat. Why? Because you never know what can happen. Turbulence can occur unexpectedly. Cabin depressurization will require an immediate, and perhaps drastic, descent. These are things that could throw you out of your seat and cause injury to you and others. You don't have to cut off your circulation, but have it tight enough to keep you in your seat.
The last thing is how do we avoid violence, such as unruly, intoxicated people or, in the extreme, hijackers? The truth is, we may not be able to avoid them at all. But there are a few things you can do to lessen the chance.
Choose a seat in the back of the plane, against the window. Most of the "action" will occur closer to the forward cabin. Dress to blend in, not stand out. Chances are, it's not a good idea to wear your "Trump" shirt on a flight to Mexico.
Don't engage if you can help it. I either wear earplugs or headphones the minute I'm in my seat. That's a pretty clear signal I'm not in the mood to chat. In extreme cases, feigned sleep is a pretty good deterrent.
Finally, be aware of your surroundings. If you're sitting next to an obviously intoxicated person, discreetly let the Flight Attendant know. They might be able to re-seat you or that person. In the extreme case of a violent person, for whatever reason, you're best bet is to lay low. Shrink down in your seat and don't draw attention to yourself. Comply with the aircrew of flight attendant instructions. They are trained to handle these situations. There may also be an Air Marshal on board. Anything you try to do on your own could put your life, and theirs, in danger.
Although air travel is routine for most of us these days, it is still an inherently hazardous means of travel. But if you follow the recommendations above, you can be in the best position to arrive back on the ground safely. And be polite to the Flight Attendants! They put up with a lot of stuff, so a smile and polite comment go a long way. Remember, they are there to keep you safe.