Airfares may triple if passengers refuse to leave baggage during evacuations

February 11, 2018
Passengers insist on taking their carry-on baggage during an evacuation

Airfares would have to triple if aviation regulators were to re-certify aircraft to the reality of recent chaotic passenger evacuations.

The evacuation of the burning American Airlines Boeing 767 at Chicago airport in 2016 was a carbon copy of the accidents over the past few years with most passengers carrying their baggage with them.

Now the US crash investigator the NTSB has warned that something needs to be done about passengers taking their bags off in an emergency.

In its report on the Chicago crash, it has said that the US regulator the FAA has “not yet acted on a 2009 safety recommendation to revise related guidance (issued in 1988) to reflect the most recent industry knowledge on the subject based on research and lessons learned from relevant accidents and incidents.

“In addition, the FAA has not yet established a multidisciplinary working group, in response to a 2016 recommendation, to develop best practices to resolve recurring evacuation-related issues. It is time for the FAA to emphasize the importance of ensuring that flight and cabin crew communications can facilitate safe and effective decision-making and action during emergency situations,” the NTSB said.

Passengers carry baggage away from plane crash
Passengers walk away from the American Airlines Chicago accident carrying their bags. If this trend continues airfares will have to rise as airlines will be forced to reduce the numbers of seats. Credit NTSB

Passengers are risking their lives, and those of fellow passengers, with the obsession of taking cabin baggage with them in an emergency.

Aircraft are certified on the basis of all passengers off in 90 seconds with half the exits out of use.

READ UK report slams seat spacing

The stark reality is it takes three times longer – and sometimes more – with passengers slowing the process by grabbing bags.

In the evacuation certification tests, the “passengers” are aircraft manufacturer employees who know the drill and they have no baggage.

If regulators were to re-certify the long-range Boeing 777 to the reality of what actually happens, the 550 exit limit aircraft would have to be recertified to just 183 passengers – half its typical load.

But for smaller aircraft such as the widely used A320 – and Boeing 737 – which has an exit limit of 195 and a typical configuration of 180 mostly economy passengers the impact would be devastating with a new limit of just 65.

That would mean a tripling of airfares to make the aircraft economically viable.

The impact on the industry and the world economy would be devastating but something needs to be done before hundreds die in an aircraft evacuation.

And authorities are already stirring. Last year after a British Airways incident at Las Vegas the highly respected British Civil Aviation Authority issued a blunt warning to its airlines: Stop passengers taking their hand luggage off with them in an emergency evacuation!

This is how passengers evacuated in the Airbus A380 certification test.

The airline industry needs to take decisive action, perhaps by locking overhead lockers for takeoff and landing, to prevent passengers taking their baggage with them after a plane crash.

Or an extreme measure would be to ban carry-on baggage other than a small bag such as a backpack.

It is sobering to consider that it quite often takes 40 minutes to board a plane because of passenger/ baggage congestion.

Not only does taking your baggage dramatically slow the process, there’s a distinct possibility that the bags with protruding metal parts will snag and then deflate the escape slides — rendering them useless.

And in the scramble to get overstuffed bags out of lockers, passengers may be knocked out and the aisle blocked for precious seconds.

There is also the very real prospect of passengers jumping on to the escape slide with their bag and knocking themselves or another passenger out, or even killing them.

Duty-free alcohol is even more lethal because if the bottle breaks there is flammable liquid everywhere, not to mention broken glass.

In a related development, passengers in these disasters are turning them into social media events by taking video and pictures and then trying to be the first to upload the images to Facebook or Twitter.

Tragically, it will take a disastrous evacuation with multiple deaths for the industry to act.


  1. I read that it is increasingly likely in the future of a fatal accident regarding selfish passengers insisting on taking their carry on luggage in the event of an emergency evacuation. Just a thought, if the overhead lockers were locked when the aircraft pushes off from the gate and not unlocked until the flight deck turns off the fasten seat belt sign at the arrival at the destination. This would save on board panic in an emergency evacuation. All the airlines would have to do is advertise on check in at the desk, for safety reasons that all overhead lockers will locked during the flight and under no circumstances will they be unlocked until the captain turns off the fasten seat belt sign at their final destination. In the unlikely event of an on board evacuation it will be much safer and quicker for all concerned to help save as many lives as possible. I believe the FAA adopted this, it would be taken up by all airlines as a safety measure. After all any airline would rather save passengers lives, than allow selfish ones scrambling to get their hand luggage out of the on board lockers.