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Plane passengers ‘risking their lives’ by rescuing their bags during evacuations

In 2015, British Airways passengers were filmed dragging bags away from a jet that caught fire in Las Vegas
In 2015, British Airways passengers were filmed dragging bags away from a jet that caught fire in Las Vegas

Airline passengers have been warned not to grab their luggage in an emergency after dozens of deaths in Russia were blamed on people trying to collect their baggage during an evacuation.

Industry bosses are increasingly concerned about the safety risk posed by people collecting their belongings before evacuating stricken aircraft. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called attention to the issue at a recent gathering of airline chiefs, saying a refusal to head straight for the exit may lead to deaths.

Dozens of fatalities in a crash-landing in Russia were partly blamed on passengers ignoring the rules and blocking the aisle as they sought to retrieve their bags while the plane burned.

In 2019 people grabbed their luggage as an Aeroflot plane erupted in flames on a Moscow runway, leading to 41 deaths
In 2019 people grabbed their luggage as an Aeroflot plane erupted in flames on a Moscow runway, leading to 41 deaths

Regulators require airlines to run test evacuations to establish that a plane can be emptied within 90 seconds.

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However, the propensity to reach for cases and laptops stowed in overhead lockers means that real-life evacuations are often very different from the tests.

Nick Careen, head of safety, security and operations at IATA, which represents 330 airlines, said the plethora of mobile phone footage showing people descending escape chutes while clutching their luggage has served to highlight the extent of the problem.

He said: “We have seen many examples where evacuations have gone very well, actually more of them than not.

“But when they don’t go well – and we do see examples like that becoming pretty prevalent – it’s something we need to latch on to.”

He added: “Fines never work, unfortunately. Despite the fact that this is a global standard and a requirement on every flight, the propensity is that it is still a challenge.

“The only way is to explain that there is a good reason for this, and that it’s for your own benefit. We need to educate the customer on why the regulations are there.”

Evacuation tests usually assume that the sole motivation is to get to the exit. However, in real-world cases, passengers often also want to protect their belongings.

In 2015, British Airways passengers were filmed dragging bags away from a jet that caught fire in Las Vegas, while in one of the most shocking incidents in 2019, people grabbed their luggage as an Aeroflot plane erupted in flames on a Moscow runway, leading to 41 deaths.

Last September, almost every person escaping an Air China aircraft that landed in Singapore with an engine on fire appeared to have retrieved their belongings
Last September, almost every person escaping an Air China aircraft that landed in Singapore with an engine on fire appeared to have retrieved their belongings

Last September, almost every person escaping an Air China aircraft that landed in Singapore with an engine on fire appeared to have retrieved their belongings, leading to delays at the top of the escape chutes and mass pile ups at the bottom.

Many of those fleeing a smoke-filled jet in Venezuela in April were also seen to have bags, with one woman carrying a particularly large case.

In January, all 379 people aboard a Japan Airlines jet that burst into flames after hitting a smaller plane at Tokyo Haneda airport were successfully evacuated.

Passengers abandoned their hand luggage and even their pets to escape down just three operational emergency slides.

But David Soucie, a former Federal Aviation Administration official, said that had the accident happened in the US, “it would have been a very different scenario because of our attachment to our carry-on bags, our laptops, our phones, our things that we want to take with us.”

Airlines themselves could be said to have helped create the issue through the introduction of charges for checked luggage two decades ago. This trend prompted passengers to opt for luggage that can be carried into cabins.