The Empowered Passenger – Emergency Preparedness on a Business Aircraft
This is a post by guest author Carol Martin of Sit ‘n’ Stay Global, LLC. Carol was asked to contribute to our business aviation blog because of her expertise as a flight attendant with a specialization in animal safety and care as it relates to business aircraft operations. Any thoughts expressed below are entirely Carol’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.
With the recent accident in San Francisco, there has been a great deal of focus on the role your crew plays in your safety when you fly. In commercial aviation there is a required minimum staffing on each aircraft. There are very few requirements in private aviation, which is unfortunate, considering that a private jet is often carrying the top management of a company, or an entire rock band or sports team. Not that their lives are more important than any other human, but their loss would require the rebuilding of entire corporations, teams, or cultural icons. After investing in a private jet for transportation, add the minimal cost of a properly trained third crewmember to enhance your safety. In case you find yourself in a situation where this safety feature has been overlooked, or even if you do have a cabin attendant on board, let’s look at what you can do as a passenger to look out for yourself when flying:
1. Cabin Familiarization
Become an empowered passenger rather than an entitled one. Next time you board your private jet, ask the crew for a FULL briefing. They will enjoy sharing their aircraft with you and be glad that you understand what to do if anything goes wrong. We love it when a passenger shows an interest in our aircraft. Really! This has added benefits. Many frequent flyers are nervous flyers believe it or not. The best way to put many fears to rest is to learn about what scares you the most. I have found that when a nervous flyer learns how to operate the doors and window exits and understands how the oxygen system works, it relieves much of the anxiety. Stress is also associated with the feeling of "giving up control." Put CEOs and entertainment industry moguls on a jet with no sense of control, and they can get a bit unnerved. If they understand how to operate all of the doors and windows, where the emergency equipment is located and how it operates, they feel they are part of the team and a sense of calm returns. Do yourself a favor and become an empowered passenger upon boarding, and you will be prepared to help yourself in the event of an emergency.
2. Phase of Flight
Accidents are most likely to occur during takeoff or landing phases of flight: the first three minutes or the last eight minutes according to studies. After a long day, it is tempting to take off your coat, kick your shoes off and get right into a good nap the minute you get on board, but it is a much better idea to keep those shoes on and stay alert at least through the first few minutes of the flight. If you have to evacuate, you will want your shoes on. You won’t end up walking barefoot through debris, broken glass, jagged metal and possibly fire outside the aircraft. In cold weather, it is a good idea to have your coat and gloves handy as well so you can dress warmly to evacuate. You might also wait a few extra minutes to set up your inflight office after takeoff so the aisles will be clear and you can move about freely. Tidy up before landing for the same reasons.
3. Fire in the Hole
If you experience an in-flight fire, you will truly want to have that third crewmember on board. We are trained to fight these fires, instead of having one of the pilots leave the flight deck where he or she is desperately needed at that point. Move as far away from the source of the fire as possible. Use some of the water bottles and wet down a blanket, napkin or item of clothing and hold it over your nose and mouth to filter the air. Keep your head low, at armrest level, where the least toxic air will be. The oxygen masks will not drop for two reasons: to avoid introducing highly flammable oxygen into this environment; and the masks are designed to mix ambient cabin air with oxygen so you would still be breathing in smoke.
4. Decompression Dive
Everyone has seen the safety demonstration of the decompression where the masks fall and you put one over your nose and mouth and "continue to breath normally." What will "breathing normally" look like after seeing those masks fall? Well the big thing they never mention is that the aircraft is going to make an immediate descent to get below 10,000 feet where you can breathe comfortably without those oxygen masks. If you are cruising along in your beautiful private jet at 42,000 feet, that is going to be one steep descent. Don’t be alarmed. That is normal. If you have a flight attendant in the cabin, he or she will sit down immediately and grab a mask to remain conscious and safe during that descent. You will have to grab your own mask. That attendant will not be able to get up and assist until the aircraft levels off, but please know that the descent is not another emergency in and of itself.
5. Evacuation Essentials
So you find your aircraft on the ground and not in the ordinary fashion. You may have had a briefing prior to the emergency, or other times it is unanticipated. In either case, when things start going wrong, you are going to hear a voice come out of your flight attendant that you never would have thought possible. There is a reason for this. Post-crash research shows many people survive impact, but then a second problem sets in: negative panic. A plane goes down, people are sitting there strapped in their seats looking around saying "Wow, I’m alive!" Then nothing. If everyone is going to get out in less than 90 seconds, everyone has to get moving immediately. Some articles said that many passengers did just fine getting out on their own after the Asiana accident. What those passengers probably don’t remember is the loud, almost regimented, barking of orders from their flight attendants to "release your seat belts, get up, get out!" If you have flight attendants on board, they are trained to think through the situation and assess each exit before opening it to make sure they don’t open one directly into fire or water. Next they will start yelling for you to "Come this way, Good Exit!" If you don’t have a flight attendant on board and you are opening an exit, remember to do this for yourself and others. After leaving the aircraft, get away from it and gather towards the nose of the aircraft. This way you can easily tell if you are all off. A flight attendant would guide you to do this, but you can take control of your own evacuation if necessary and keep yourself safe. This helps first responders help you as well.
Hopefully you will never need one bit of the information I just shared with you. It just makes sense to know it and fly as an informed, empowered individual. It also makes sense, in private aviation, to invest in safety equipment that is required in commercial aviation for very specific reasons. That required safety equipment is the flight attendant/first responder/firefighter/evacuation technician. Getting an in-flight chef to boot, what a bonus!
If you have any questions about this article or best practice for corporate flight attendants, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.