Emirates flight EK521 crash: Why passengers think about bags, not lives in emergency

That the cabin crew of this Emirates flight showed exemplary professionalism is not in doubt.

Sindhu Bhattacharya August 05, 2016 14:11:19 IST
Emirates flight EK521 crash: Why passengers think about bags, not lives in emergency

The miraculous escape of 282 passengers and 18 cabin crew members aboard the Emirates flight EK521, which crash-landed in Dubai on Wednesday, is vividly captured in a video that has now gone viral.

For survivors, it sure was a miraculous escape since seconds after the last person left, fire engulfed the plane. If one were to track social media posts on this incident, appreciating the obvious professionalism of the flight's crew, pales in comparison to the vitriol against Indians in general, and Malyalees in particular. There were thankfully zero casualties in such a dangerous incident as the flight's crew succeeded in getting everyone evacuated in time. The flight originated in Thiruvananthapuram, and majority passengers were Indians.

But instead of appreciating the crew, social media is in a bind over the fleeing passengers (mostly Indians) insisting on also carrying their luggage out of the inferno. There are various allegations and racial posts out there, suggesting that such behaviour is peculiar to Indians and to Malyalees.

Emirates flight EK521 crash Why passengers think about bags not lives in emergency

This image from video shows smoke rising after the Emirates flight crash-landed at Dubai International Airport. Photo: AP

The assumption clearly is that it is only people from a certain race or region who think about securing their worldly possessions even in times like these. Unfortunately, aviation history is replete with examples of people of different races doing exactly this: disregarding the danger to their lives as well as their co-passengers' and pouncing for bags. So this love for worldly possessions is not an Indian or a Mallu thing — it is a common reaction, and most passengers reach for their bags when leaving an aircraft in a hurry, no matter which part of the world they were born in. When a British Airways aircraft caught fire at Las Vegas in September 2015, similar instances of passengers carrying their handbags out of the plane were seen, with widespread condemnation.

"F*****g rats. That was the term a person used to describe Indian passengers aboard an Emirates plane that crash-landed Wednesday at Dubai airport, says this story from India Today, ostensibly quoting a cabin crew member from another airline. This person was reacting to the love for luggage that fleeing passengers showed.

And this post lists out instances where passengers who were not from India indulged in similar behaviour during an emergency aircraft evacuation earlier, across the globe.

Remember, emergency evacuation could mean having to slide down chutes, getting off the plane in hostile external environment etc, and even if bags have been secured, they may be impossible to carry once a passenger has left the aircraft. Bags damage evacuation chutes — but more importantly, they take away precious time from the evacuation process.

Although one doesn't want to put too fine a point on this, vanity bags and laptops need not be a priority in a time like this. In the Emirates crash-landing incident, passengers may have been unaware about the impending fire, but an emergency evacuation automatically means they should have just followed instructions from the crew for a speedy exit instead of clutching their bags.

There is no law against taking bags while fleeing an aircraft, it is merely common sense.

Another uncomfortable question: who actually found time to film the chaos, when only seconds were available for leaving the aircraft? Cabin crew are trained to evacuate an aircraft in 90 seconds, for a reason. Every second counts in emergency situations. Perhaps it is time that passengers boarding an aircraft are specifically trained about the perils of clinging to their worldly possessions when lives are at stake.

Some aviation professionals are suggesting that carrying hand baggage into the cabin itself should be banned; no bags at hand, no temptation to think of them instead of the safety of fellow passengers in emergency situations. This may be a bit drastic but some training of passengers is definitely called for

That the cabin crew of this Emirates flight showed exemplary professionalism is not in doubt. Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed said in a press conference, after the incident that "evacuation procedures were followed professionally. Cabin crew were the last to leave the plane".

This post from ABC News also lists out steps that have been considered in the past to prevent people from running out of a plane with their bags, One suggestion has been the automatic locking of overhead bins in the aircraft to prevent such temptations. It seems the aviation industry has been considering whether to install this feature on aircrafts for some time.

Till the aviation industry figures out what to do to get passengers to refrain from grabbing their bags while sliding down emergency chutes, perhaps we all should start actually watching the safety videos (drills) which are shown at the start of each flight. And put a little more trust in the men and women who ensure that our lives are saved in times of crises by remaining on board till the last passenger has deplaned safely.

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