The fury over ‘hand luggage’ plane evacuees

British Airways passengers came in for harsh criticism when they were pictured grasping their hand luggage as they evacuated an enflamed plane in Las Vegas. Was that fair? BBC’s Ashley Gold reports:


The plane, bound for London, forced the evacuation of 170 people and 14 people were hospitalised, although they were all later discharged.

People streaming out of the plane were holding purses, flip-flop sandals, rolling bags and shoulder bags.

There was no shortage of Twitter criticism for those who got off the plane laden with luggage. Some accused them of putting lives at risk.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US, which governs rules for flying, advises that passengers listen to the airline staff and always leave carry-on items behind in the event of an emergency evacuation.

“Retrieving personal items may impede the safe evacuation of passengers,” states FAA guidance.

But an FAA spokeswoman added that she was unaware they had ever fined anyone.

Taking luggage along during an emergency evacuation situation is risky to one’s self and others on the plane, says Mark Weiss, a former American Airlines pilot of 23 years.

“Panic will always set in in situations like this, but if there’s fire and smoke, that air is very toxic.

“If you’re standing up to try and get something from an overhead bin or struggling to get it out from under a seat, you’re expending a lot of energy and using oxygen.”

Not only does that use of energy take up precious clean air, it prohibits others from evacuating quickly, says Mr Weiss, and air toxicity and smoke inhalation is what kills most people in fires.

People take flying for granted and assume nothing will happen to them, and that is dangerous, he adds.

“We put more value in possessions than common sense and the reality of what happens.”

But no-one really knows how they would react in a situation like this, which can be panicked and confusing.

Is there a chance people missed the safety video and simply didn’t know what they were doing was wrong?

One of the passengers, Jacob Steinberg, says it was pretty clear.

“There were certainly shouts for people not to do it when they opened lockers,” he says. Whether those warnings came from other passengers or staff, he can’t remember.

Frank Behany of the UK’s Holiday Travel Watch, a group representing consumers, is in no doubt about their actions, calling them “stupid”.

“What was going through their minds at the time was themselves. If I’m on board an aircraft and we have to get out quickly, I expect to be pushed and shoved by my fellow passengers.

“The last thing I want to do is be fighting to get out against bags.”


A selection of your comments:

I fly a lot with work, on average a couple of times a week. Might sound a bit daft but I always stick my wallet, passport and mobile into my pocket for take off and landing so that I am not completely stuffed if I need to evacuate. Everything else is expendable and can stay under the seat or in the luggage bin. David, Hong Kong

I would just get up and go. Maybe some sort of locking system should be installed where the bins can be automatically locked in the event of an emergency. Maybe this could be used during landing as well. This would mean that those really irritating people who undo their seatbelts and open the bins before the warning lights have gone off, would have to sit where they are as instructed!! Jane, Stafford, UK

Personally I would be focussed on getting my loved ones and fellow passengers off the burning plane as quickly as possible. They cannot be replaced whereas pretty much everything in one’s luggage is completely replaceable. Angela Henderson, London, UK

I keep all my most important items in my carry-on bag. It would be extremely damaging to my business if I lost it. So yes, I would TRY to get my bag off the plane as I was leaving — but ONLY IF it was possible to do so without blocking anyone else or otherwise impeding the evacuation. Josh Light, Santa Barbara, USA

My hand luggage usually contains my medication, my girlfriend has her inhaler in hers. Leaving either behind could cause a further medical emergency. Phil Hide

Damn right I would take my hand luggage. My passport would be in there, all my contacts and insurance documents too. Without which I’m stuffed and potentially trapped if the plane burns to a crisp. Gary Sanders, Brighton, UK

Those wishing to evacuate with hand luggage or any items beyond their own selfish selves may do so AFTER everyone else on the plane has departed down the emergency chutes/slides. Saoirse, Boston, USA

Exactly the same happened to us a number of years ago at Tobago on take off (with BA) and the same selfish behaviour prevented timely abandonment. My wife who was pregnant at the time was constantly barged by people with luggage clearly with more care for their belongings than other human beings. Phil Hall, Yarm, UK

I’m a very frequent flyer, I always, for take off and landing, have my shoes on, my passport, phone and wallet in my pockets. I figure with those items should I need to exit the plane in a hurry, I can function. The shoes are for running over potentially hot bits of metal and debris. Everything else I carry on is replacable. The most important thing is to be able to call my wife to say I’m OK. Steve Foreman, Sandhurst

Of course I’d take my bag with me if I left the plane. I have it with me under the seat in front, and it takes precisely no extra time for me to take it with me. Quentin, London

At school, we were told that in the event of a fire drill we should leave all belongings on the desk and proceed to the fire exit. With that said, if I was physically using my laptop at the time, why wouldn’t I would take it with me? If it doesn’t slow you down or put yourself or others at risk, why not grab your hand luggage? James Tottle, Wendover

Yes, people are dumb, selfish, they panic, whatever: in any case, outrage isn’t going to save anyone’s life. What needs to happen is a redesign allowing overhead lockers to be centrally locked in case of emergency. Sean Greenaway, Brussels, Belgium

Would be a little harsh having a go at someone carrying their own footwear. Part of the evacuation procedure is to remove your shoes before descending the chute. I don’t believe it says to leave your shoes on the plane. Chris, Neston

I’m not sure what British Airways evacuation commands are but the majority of airlines use something along these lines. “OPEN SEAT BELTS! LEAVE EVERYTHING! COME THIS WAY ! JUMP AND SLIDE! ” these commands will be repeatedly shouted until everyone is off. I know because I too am a flight attendant and we are trained to shout and make it clear. Seeing evacuations like this with people carrying luggage and unnecessary items make me mad! Tammy, Doha, Qatar

This aircraft was about 58% full and therefore the speed at which evacuation was achieved is faster than a full plane evacuation. Imagine a full A380 evacuation with these idiots pictured on the tarmac at LAS trying to exit with their large bulky wheelie bags? Completely unacceptable. Roderick McIntosh, Staines, UK

I am a flight attendant and this irritates me to no end! There are many issues with taking hand baggage in an evacuation. You could hold up the people behind you, keep in mind that for all aircraft sizes and types the crew have 90 seconds to get every passenger off the plane. If it gets dropped in the panic people (including you) could trip over it and even get trampled. In a planned evacuation we must ask all passengers to remove high heels and spectacles before evacuating as they can pierce the slide and make it impossible for anyone behind you (including the flight attendants) to use. Can you imagine how much damage a trolley bag could do if a pair of glasses are enough to damage the slide? What if the first person down every slide broke it with a bag and there are still hundreds of people left on an aircraft carrying enough fuel to cross the Atlantic? What’s shocking here is that there were clear signs of smoke and fire but so many people still took the extra time to take their bags out. Even if there are no signs of anything being wrong people need to remember that an emergency evacuation with slides is the last resort and will only ever occur if there is a possibility that the people on that aircraft are going to die. Just because you can’t see the danger it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. One last thought. The flight attendants and pilots are always the last off. Meaning that holding up other passengers and breaking slides isn’t an issue. Now think, have you ever seen a flight attendant after an evacuation with her hand luggage?? No. Because we have been shown how quickly things can turn from bad to inescapable. If a situation turns out not to be as bad, or firefighters control any fire, you will get your belongings back. If the worst happens and the aircraft is destroyed, just realise how lucky you are that you’re not still on there! Anon, Essex

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