Air travel is by far the safest mode of travel. Your chance of dying whilst riding a bicycle in the city of Accra, London or New York is higher than your chance of dying from a commercial aircraft accident.
Fatal aviation crashes involving commercial airliners are very rare. Most air accidents occur during the take-off or landing phase of flight. Very few air accidents occur during the cruise phase of flight, this is often due to a bomb or an explosion by a terrorist action. Even if all the engines of an aircraft stop working at cruise altitude, the pilot can still glide and find a suitable place to land.
The aircraft will not drop from the air and crash like a ripped fruit falling from a tree. Although air travel is safe, sometimes accidents do happen and it’s important as passengers to be prepared for these situations. I will attempt to outline the little things that can make a difference between you perishing or surviving from a crash. These hacks are to help you survive the crash landings. Mid-air crashes at about 40000 ft is not survivable.
Seat Selection: An air travel often begins by purchasing a ticket and picking your seat. When choosing a seat, it is important to pick a seat that is about seven (7) rows from the next exit. I personally prefer the exit seat; do same if you have the opportunity but make sure you know how to open the exit door which is a prerequisite to sit at an exit seat. The aisle seat is also better than the window seat in terms of survival. There is no difference in survival between economy class, business class or first class cabins.
Dressing: Jeans pants is the most suitable to wear for air travel and trainers are the best footwear. Even if travelling for a business meeting you can wear jeans and a jacket. Trainers because its comfortable and you can run out of the aircraft easily when there is the need. Silk, nylon and cotton will burn easily compared to denim in post-crash fires.
Inflight: The first thing you should do is to fasten your seatbelt and look out for the nearest exit to you when you take your seat. Listen and watch the safety demonstration by the flight attendants, even if you are a frequent flier this is very important because each aircraft has its own safety features. Kindly pay attention to the safety demonstration.
Some passengers remove footwear when seated, this is a bad safety habit. You may be required to exit the aircraft immediately and you will need more time to wear your shoes and this prolongs your exit time. Keeping footwear on whilst seated.
Food & Drink: Drinking wine or liquor onboard probably not a good idea. The metabolism of alcohol is impaired at altitude; hence it is not recommended to drink a couple of glasses of wine or liquor. If you can tolerate two glasses on the ground, in the air a glass of wine may probably be enough. This is because the metabolism of alcohol is impaired at altitude.
Leguminous foods: A bad idea is to eat leguminous foods; an example is beans containing foods like waakye. This is not a safety issue but has to do with comfort during travel. The gases in the intestines expand by about 30% inflight; hence gaseous foods like ‘waakye’ will increase gas in the intestines and lead to frequent venting of air causing discomfort to you and other passengers onboard.
Oxygen mask: If the pressurization in the cabin fails and the oxygen mask drops down, pull it to your face, don’t move towards the mask, because the oxygen is only activated when you pull the mask to your face. If you are a parent and sitting with a child, wear yours first before helping the child. The reason is that the time of useful consciousness is seconds at 40000ft; hence if you take some time to help the child first, you will become unconscious and the child will not be able to help you. This is one of the few cases that you need to help yourself first before your child.
Landing in water: When landing in water, you will need to wear the life vest often provided under the seat, exit the aircraft before inflating it, if you inflate it before exiting, it will impede your movement and also endanger the lives of others.
Luggage: In transatlantic flight to Ghana, we often put the heavy items in the carry- on since most of the time it is not weighed by the airline. This can be a safety issue; if there is an emergency crash landing, the heavy carry-on can become missiles and injure passengers.
The brace position: This is often announced if the flight is crash landing. If you hear the pilot announce that you need to take the brace position, kindly do. The brace position reduces your total body surface area so that objects falling from the overheard compartment will have a very small area of your body to hit. Your head is also protected in the brace position. The brace position stabilizes you and protects you from disorientation. Do not stand up, remain in your seat with your seatbelt fastened. This was shown in the LaMia flight 2933 carrying Chapecoense football squad that crashed and killed 71 out of 77 people. Most of the surviving passengers took the brace position with their seatbelts fastened. Most of the fatally injured stood up to shout in panic.
Carry-ons: Don’t attempt to take your carry-on luggage when leaving the aircraft, safety videos in commercial airliners do tell passengers not to do this but not all passengers comply. The NTSB investigation into a 2016 American Airlines flight revealed that passengers endangered the evacuation when they tried to take their carry-ons with them and failed to take instructions from the cabin crew, videos of the evacuation of Emirates flight EK521 pictured above also showed passengers trying to take their carry-ons. The NTSB is considering recommending to the FAA to impose fines of up to $250,000 on passengers who take their carry-ons during the emergency evacuation procedure.
These are the few hacks that I have for you that may save your life in the unlikely event of a crash landing. Your highest chance of survival in these things depends on your God.
The writer is a Flight surgeon (Aerospace Medicine Specialist) and a member of the Aerospace Medical Association.