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.

BRACE FOR IMPACT!

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

What its like to survive a plane crash – 3 things one passenger learned about life

Have you ever wondered what its like to be in a crashing airplane? The thoughts that would go through your head? While many of us have no doubt experienced troubling turbulence, sitting in your seat as the engines fail and the aircraft careens towards the earth is probably every traveler’s worst nightmare.

In 2009, Us Airways flight 1549 experienced loss of both engines due to a collision with a flock of Canada geese. The crew had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson river. The story was covered extensively, and the heroics and decision making of the crew saved every life on board. Captain Sullenberger and the crew even received the keys to New York City.

This video from TED shows one passenger’s account of the horrifying ordeal that took place in 2009. Narrator Ric Elias was seated in the first row of the flight. In this video, he candidly shares his thought process during the crash and how this moment of terror actually transformed into a gift. He talks about the three things he learned and what it is like to confront death in a plummeting airplane.Link to TED

Toxic fumes found on planes, flight crews want action

Toxic fumes found on planes, flight crews want action

Pilots and flight attendants are reporting toxic fumes being released into planes. The accidental release of toxins has caused flight crew members to become sick and some hospitalized. A year later, some of those affected are still off work, looking for answers and want something done about it.

A month-long investigation by WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina revealed 30 US Airways aircraft in the last year have been affected.”I’m talking because I think passengers need to know,” said one veteran flight attendant to WBTV who came forward under the condition we protected her identity. “I felt like I had to come forward for the health of myself and my co-workers.”

Apparently, toxins produced from the oil in aircraft engines are the culprit. I’m thinking of that smell that fills the cabin as the plane prepares for departure. Airlines say it’s harmless. One US Airways pilot disagrees and is concerned.

“Toxins produced from oil in the aircraft engines have caused a lot of problems with our industry,” Captain Jame Ray, a spokesperson for the U.S. Airways Pilot Association and a working pilot told WBTV. “Pilots and flight attendants alike have been sent to the hospital on multiple occasions. Some remain in the hospital. We have pilots who have lost their FAA certificate because of exposure to these toxins. So it is certainly a concern we have.”

The investigation confirmed a January 2010 case where crew members were hospitalized and are still not back at work. Another case in November of 2010, ruled not toxic fumes but a power issue at the gate resulted in aircraft crew off work too.

Airline flight crew members interviewed were quick to point out that this sort of thing does not happen on every flight but that all airlines are affected. The issue seems to be more widespread than the risk of swine flu once was and as airlines regain a more healthy financial picture, others are digging in to this toxic fumes problem more.

Looking a bit deeper into the issue of toxic fumes found on planes, a 2009 survey of pilots and crew by the UK’s The Telegraph indicated that one in seven of 789 British airline staff surveyed had to take more than a month’s sick leave in the previous year.

Further investigation revealed “high levels of a dangerous toxin on several planes. Of 31 swab samples taken secretly from the aircraft cabins of popular airlines, 28 were found to contain high levels of tricresyl phosphate (TCP), an organophosphate contained in modern jet oil as an anti-wear additive, which can lead to drowsiness, respiratory problems and neurological illnesses.”

While all flights may not be affected, it happens with more frequency than one might imagine. Aerotoxic Syndrome’s YouTube channel stacks up evidence of these fume events longer than planes lined up at LAX on a Friday afternoon.

2009 was a relatively safe year for air travel

Yes – I know 2009 is not over for everyone just yet, but assuming nothing bad happens tonight, we’ll be able to say farewell to a year that was relatively safe for air travel.

In 2009, there were 111 accidents involving commercial aircraft. Of those accidents, 20 were fatal to one or more passengers.

The average from the past ten years was 135 accidents, 28 of which were fatal. Looking at the figures for the past three years, air travel is amazingly safe – only one accident for every 1.7 million flights.

In 2009, there were several major accidents – the largest of course involving Air France flight 447 which dropped into the ocean 350 miles off the coast of Brazil. The cause of this crash is still under investigation, and the black box has not been retrieved.

In the United states, the worst accident happened back in February when a Colgan Air turbo prop crashed into a Buffalo home, killing all 49 people on board, plus one person on the ground. The Buffalo crash has thankfully helped create some more attention for pilot working conditions, and improved training.

Of course, the Hudson river incident is the one that will probably stick with us the longest.

We were just 15 days into 2009 when Captain Chesley Sullenberger ditched his US Airways Airbus A320 into the Hudson river. Everyone on board was able to evacuate the plane, and with just a few minor injuries, this accident was a fantastic piece of news for an otherwise gloomy and depressing January. This accident also showed the power of social media, as Twitter was the source of the first news and photos from the crash.

(Sources: NLR-Air Transport Safety Institute / Telegraaf)

FAA releases US Airways flight 1549 ATC transcripts

Sorry if our constant coverage of the US Air flight 1549 crash is beginning to bore you – but it isn’t often that a plane ditches in a river, and everyone is able to walk away.

The news today comes courtesy of the FAA, who just released the air traffic control transcripts of the actual event.

The audio is pretty boring, so I cut out the most interesting part where the controller is told by the pilot that he’s going to ditch in the Hudson river (as you can see in the image above).

If you really want to hear the conversation, you’ll find the MP3 file here, or a written transcript here.