Some of the survival game involves factors passengers largely can’t control, like the weather, flight crew skills, the design of airline seats and the construction, maintenance and age of the plane.
But passengers themselves can do a lot to improve their chances of survival simply by making smart choices and being informed.
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
1. Seat choice? Experts differ
But an expert at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration disagrees.
“There really isn’t a ‘safest seat’ on the plane,” said Cynthia Corbett, an FAA research scientist who specializes in airplane cabin safety.
“It really kind of depends on the emergency you’re going to have. Different parts of the plane can be effected in different ways, depending on what the event is. Just reinforce your own propensity for survival, by knowing how to get where you need to go. If your first choice in exits is blocked, then you should have a second choice.”
2. Listen to the safety talk
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s boring. It’s repetitive. But it could save your life! The presentation — by video or by flight attendants — explaining what to do in case the plane goes down offers key information like: How do I get out? How do I escape if I can’t see? Where’s my flotation device?
3. Read the safety card
You know that safety card in the pocket of the seat in front of you? Think of it as a map leading you toward survival. Read it. It shows how the plane you’re on will be evacuated.
Think about the dozens — or even hundreds — of fellow passengers who will need to get off the plane ASAP. It helps to know what to expect.
You may have to slide down an inflatable ramp. You may have to get in an inflatable boat. The card shows you how it all works.
4. Know how to brace
Do you? Have you ever tried it? Sometimes, passengers have only seconds to react in an emergency. If aircraft crew members are commanding passengers to assume the brace position, it helps to know in advance what they’re talking about. The safety talk and card will help you.
5. Be aware of the exits
Plan your escape. Visualize how you — and perhaps children you’re traveling with — are going to get out of the plane.
During some emergencies, it may be impossible to see the nearest exit. Before departure, Corbett recommends counting armrests from your seat to the closest way out.
“If you have to feel your way along the aisle and count [seats to get to the nearest exit], the best way to do that is along the armrests, because the frame of the seat is the most stable part,” Corbett said. “If you’re leaning down to hold the armrests, then that also gets you kind of crouched over enough to be below any smoke that might accumulate from any kind of a fire.”
6. Move quickly
Many passengers in plane crashes survive the initial impact. It’s what happens next that often kills them.
This includes fire, smoke and sometimes water. Sherwood advises using 90 seconds as a time frame for escaping.
7. Be aware during takeoffs and landings
Statistics show that most crashes occur in the minutes surrounding takeoffs and landings. So it stands to reason that passengers who want to increase their chances of survival should be especially aware of what’s going on at that time. Drinking alcoholic beverages before departure or arrival could impair your response in a crisis. And sleeping during these times is probably not the best option if you’re looking to increase survivability.
“Don’t have your shoes off,” said Corbett. “Don’t have your sleeping mask on. Don’t have your ear buds in. Be familiar with what’s going on and pay attention. It’s only a matter of a few minutes.”
8. Stay fit
This may go without saying, but the fitter you are, the better your chances of survival. Overweight or slower-moving passengers obviously could be at a disadvantage during an emergency evacuation.
9. Avoid airlines with poor safety records
10. Dress for quick movement
No high heels or flip-flops. Avoid short pants. Dress for the possibility that you might have to pass quickly through wreckage — or even run away from the plane.