Galley Gossip: Why flight attendants might not open an emergency exit during an evacuation

The first thing a flight attendant does before opening an emergency exit during an evacuation is assess the conditions outside. This is one reason why some airlines require passengers seated in the exit rows to keep their window shades up during takeoff and landing. The last thing you want to do is escape one bad situation only to find yourself in an even worse one. Think fire. Water. Captain Chesley Sullenberger.

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That’s what everyone on board US Airways flight 1549 heard right before Captain Sully ditched the aircraft into the Hudson River after experiencing a double-engine failure while in route to Charlotte, North Carolina January 15, 2009. There were 150 passengers on board and 5 flight crew.

Flight attendant Doreen Walsh did exactly what she was trained to do. After unbuckling her belt and jumping out of her seat, she looked through the tiny porthole window to make sure it was safe outside to open the door. This is when she noticed they hadn’t landed at an airport, and that there was water outside! For a split second she wondered if maybe, just maybe, she could get the slide raft inflated before the water became too high to safely do so, but then quickly realized it was already too late. Before she could begin directing passengers to another exit, a safe exit, the window exit only a few feet away, passengers pushed Doreen out of the way and cracked the door open. Water began flooding inside until it was all the way up to their necks. With only a few seconds left to escape, Doreen ordered everyone standing in the aisle to crawl over the seats.

Three years have passed since the Miracle on the Hudson flight crew gave their testimony to the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. And yet I just saw the video for the first time last week. I’m a flight attendant for a major US carrier. I write about travel. Usually I’m up on these things. So if I missed the short clip of the flight attendants detailing their experiences, chances are you probably did, too. That’s why I’ve posted it here.


Flight attendants go through weeks of intensive training. We’re also required to attend a yearly recurrent training program. During this time we role play medical scenarios and practice our emergency evacuation procedures. While we’re yelling our commands, our instructors keep us on our toes by throwing things at us like fire, exits that won’t open, slides that won’t inflate, passengers too afraid to jump, which causes us to go into a whole other set of commands and procedures. Because of our training we’re prepared to handle just about anything, including an evacuation in the Hudson River. Trust me, we’ll ask for help if we need it. Until then please refrain from pushing us aside to open a door we would never in a million years open.

Photo courtesy of PhotoGiddy

Eight months in a Swedish prison for drunk Ryanair passenger

Back in June, a drunk Ryanair passenger started to freak out, and attempted to open the aircraft door in the middle of a flight from Riga to London.

The man had finished an entire liter of vodka and a couple of beers, and it took two professional boxers to get him away from the door and pin him to the ground.

The plane ended up making an emergency landing in Sweden to dispose of their drunk cargo, which means it was up to a Swedish judge to sentence the drunkard. The judge handed him an 8 month sentence, and a substantial fine, payable to Ryanair.

The man claims he can’t remember any of the incident, and blames it all on his fear of flying. The Swedish prosecutor didn’t buy it, and is actually appealing the sentence as he feels it is too light. Similar cases ended up with about 18 month sentences.

The good news is that aircraft doors are virtually impossible to open midflight due to the pressure difference between the outside air and cabin.
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Want to feel safe while flying? Choose a front aisle seat

As a child I was always a fan of the window seat when flying. Then I grew taller and became a fan of the aisle seats where I could comfortably stretch out my legs as long as it wasn’t beverage service time. Even better would be if I lucked out with an aisle emergency exit seat. But it looks like those of us who prefer the aisle seat have yet another reason to do so: safety.

In a study commissioned by United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority, where 105 plane accidents and 2000 personal accounts were analyzed, emergency exit seats and the rows in front and behind them were found to be the safest. For the best chance of escaping from a burning aircrafts, the report said that passengers should choose aisle seats near the front of the aircraft and within five rows of the emergency exit.

What are the most dangerous seats? Anything six rows or more from the emergency exit. Here are the survival rates for escaping from a burning aircraft:

  • Front of the aircraft, 65%
  • Rear of the aircraft, 53%
  • Aisle seat, 64%
  • Non-aisle seat, 58%

Need help on just how to score an emergency exit seat? Read this.