Whilst the jury may still be out on the flight deck crew, a tremendous amount of praise should be reserved for the 16 cabin crew of EK 521. They got 282 passengers out of a burning fuselage in less than 90 seconds. Video posted online of the evacuation from inside the plane shows them doing everything they are extensively trained to do – guiding passengers assertively to their nearest exits, managing passenger flow off the plane and calling out clear and concise commands – commands that clearly stated to leave everything behind.
In fact crew members can be heard yelling specifically to leave bags behind. Yet why were people scrambling, wasting valuable seconds to save their own lives and those of their loved ones to retrieve bags filled with possessions that could easily be replaced. I could even hear a man calling for his laptop, as panicked children were scrambling around him.
Some have suggested that perhaps because some of the passengers might have been migrant workers headed to the Gulf they were retrieving their life’s worth of purchases and belongings. But personally that argument doesn’t convince me either, because we’ve seen the same thing over and over again as recently as the British Airways 777 fire and subsequent evacuation in Las Vegas and the horrendous Asiana 777 crash in San Francisco.
Surely this is human nature – that even in the most shocked or panicked state, we reach for our material possessions. However selfish or self centered that might be in endangering your fellow passengers by blocking aisles and emergency exits, not to mention the cabin crew who are the last off the aircraft.
So what can the industry do to combat this?
Well the BBC ran an article that articulates well the argument of the idea of a auto locking overhead bin system that is controlled by the crew – locked for taxi, take off and landing, unlocked for the rest of the flight. Its a debate that is featuring very predominantly in various online crew forums in the aftermath of the accident.
Can this solve the problem of taking bags in an evacuation? Or will it waste more time as people struggle, in vain, to open locked overhead bins (because surely they wouldn’t have paid attention to the safety demo that would have alerted them about this feature).
One last thought on this – take a moment to appreciate your cabin crew when you step on an airplane. EK markets their guys and gals as glamorous trolley dolleys and as such many see them as attractive young bimbos just out to travel the world – but EK 521 proved they are rigorously trained safety professionals who will bust their behinds and risk their lives to get you off a burning plane.