How to exit the aircraft in case of emergency — either by an evacuation slide on land or during a water ditching. Photographs ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

5 Reasons Never to Evacuate an Airplane With Your Belongings

“Some FlyerTalk members are irritated about the passengers taking their belongings off of the aircraft rather than leaving them aboard in the event of an emergency. ‘If I were king, anyone carrying personal items off during an emergency evacuation would get to watch as those things are then shredded’, posted FlyerTalk member lupine. ’That woman in front is holding not one, but two bags. What an idiot.’”

The above statement was from this article I wrote pertaining to the incident on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at Philadelphia International Airport where FlyerTalk member phlwookie witnessed an accident by an aircraft — which was operating as US Airways flight 1702 transporting 149 passengers and five flight crew members to Fort Lauderdale — reportedly caused by the collapse of its front landing gear as it was taking off. This article follows up on the incident with the recounting of the events by three FlyerTalk members who were there.

Crash of Boeing Boeing 777-31H Airplane Earlier Today

That incident was not the first time where passengers carried their personal belongings while evacuating from an airplane in an actual emergency — and it was not the last time, either, as demonstrated by the crash landing at approximately 12:45 in the afternoon earlier today of a Boeing 777-31H airplane which operated as Emirates Airline flight 521 and carried 282 passengers and 18 members of the flight crew from Thiruvananthapuram to Dubai.

“The aircraft however did not climb, but after retracting the gear touched down on the runway and burst into flames”, according to this article written by Simon Hradecky for The Aviation Herald. “All occupants evacuated via slides, 13 passengers received minor injuries, 10 were taken to hospitals, 3 treated at the airport. The aircraft burned down completely. A firefighter attending to the aircraft lost his life.”

This video by Keith Walker shows passengers taking their bags along with them as they evacuated from the airplane, which was completely destroyed by the time the fire was extinguished.

Whether any of the aforementioned 13 passengers were injured as a result of inconsiderate fellow passengers evacuating the aircraft with their belongings has not yet been determined at this time; and that no one — other than that one firefighter — was killed in this incident was a miracle in and of itself.

5 Reasons Never to Evacuate an Airplane With Your Belongings

I have been involved with what is known as Road Warrior Training — basically condensing a fraction of the intensive training endured for weeks by flight attendants into only a day or two — at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines multiple times; and I have descended from an aircraft simulator multiple times as well using the evacuation slide which you see in the left side of the photograph at the top of this article. I remember one time where I came to a complete stop towards the bottom of the evacuation slide simply because I did not build enough speed — and if someone behind me is barreling down the slide and cannot stop, both of us could be seriously injured.

1. Even One Second is Too Precious to Waste

If every passenger on this airplane took only one extra second to grab their personal belongings before evacuating an airplane which is on fire, that would be 282 seconds collectively — that equates to 4.7 minutes — of time you do not have to escape from a dangerous situation which could cost you and other passengers and members of the flight crew your lives…

…and if the airplane is on fire, then oxygen becomes more precious as well — and staying on the airplane any longer than necessary needlessly uses up oxygen which could literally save the lives of others who leave the aircraft later than you.

We all know that collecting your personal belongings takes significantly more time than one second — and again, multiply that by 282 in this particular incident.

Please — get off of the airplane as soon as humanly possible.

2. Carrying Your Belongings Can Slow You Down Upon Evacuation

Assuming everyone is carrying their belongings with them, everyone still has to exit via the evacuation slide, as the fuselage of an airplane is typically too high off of the ground to jump or otherwise exit. Carrying belongings can slow each person down — starting with getting into position to jump and then slide while maneuvering how to hold your belongings to ensure that you have the proper balance to slide down as fast as possible.

As I already said, even one second is too precious to waste — and although you might get yourself to safety, other passengers and members of the flight crew have a right to reach that safe haven as well.

3. Injuries Increase When Carrying Your Belongings

Injuries typically occur when people use evacuation slides during an emergency — for example, a slower person can be injured by being hit by a person behind him or her sliding faster. The slides are steep and designed for the quickest egress from a dangerous incident. Add baggage and belongings to the mix and the likelihood of injuries — or even deaths — exponentially increases.

Imagine suddenly being hit in the head by a wayward bag speeding down the evacuation slide which is heavy and hard, as that can cause serious injury and potentially kill you.

4. Evacuation Slides are Inflated…

…which means that they are filled with air. Although they are constructed of a durable material, all it takes is one sharp object to puncture the evacuation slide. Voilà — the other passengers suddenly cannot evacuate.

5. Water Ditchings Can Be Even Worse

Attempting to carry your belongings during a water ditching — in the unlikely event where an airplane crash lands in water — is even worse. You will be wearing an inflatable life vest, which you do not want punctured should you need it to help keep you buoyant…

…and in the event that you and fellow passengers use an inflatable raft to escape, not only can the possibility of puncturing an inflatable raft increase and render that raft useless; but space and room are precious commodities when cramming as many passengers into a limited number of inflatable rafts


Burning up precious time for your safety and ensuring that your belongings are also safe is purely selfish and thoughtless, as that is time spent which could literally save lives — including yours.

Remember that your belongings can always be replaced; but your life cannot be replaced. Is retrieving that portable electronic device really worth sacrificing the life of someone?

I keep important items in my front pants pockets at all times — such as a mobile telephone, credit cards, passport and cash to name a few items which will not impede upon evacuating from an airplane in any way whatsoever. Do not keep anything in your back pocket, as that is one of the parts which will be in contact with the evacuation slide.

If you have experience as a flight attendant or have been in an actual emergency situation with an airplane, please feel free to impart additional information in the Comments section to assist with the safety of fellow readers of The Gate.

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Less worried about passengers carrying luggage in an evacuation than some passenger blocking the exit while holding up a phone to capture fire Pokémon as the cabin burns.

    1. I just shook my head when I read what you wrote, AlohaDaveKennedy; because I would not be surprised if that actually happened one day…

  2. The pre-flight briefing should drop the seat belt how-to and include a clear explanation of liability coverage in the case of an accident. Ok, maybe that sounds dull — but I suspect many people grab belongings because they relate it to “lost luggage” in typical ops, where getting remuneration is exceedingly difficult. “Leave your stuff behind; we’ll replace it all. We can’t replace your life.”

    1. I have been thinking of writing a sort of “rebuttal” article pertaining to why people do grab their belongings in an emergency situation, Ed I; and I would not be the least bit surprised if the main reason is exactly that: the reputation of airlines when it comes to liability and fulfilling claims involving belongings aboard an airplane — even if the incident is not an emergency.

      Even if it is unrelated to actual emergency situations, perhaps airlines need to significantly improve their reputations and service pertaining to lost or missing luggage — and maybe then more people will be conditioned to leave the doomed airplane in the event of an actual emergency.

  3. Great article. Airlines should do more to explain why you need to do something. Instead, I think they are afraid of scaring us if they were to say-“put your own oxygen mask on first, because you only have seconds before passing out” That would hopefully get the message across!

    Pay attention to what you’re wearing. Natural fibers like cotton won’t melt onto your skin in case of a fire. Wear sensible shoes, save the open toed sandals and flip flops for the beach. You might survive
    a crash and find yourself walking through rough terrain or a hot tarmac. Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs unless you want “slider burn”.

    Put your license, ID or whatever in a mini wallet and into your pocket-and don’t say you don’t have any pockets. Buy something to wear that does!

    If that emergency happens, you’ll be prepared to get out fast leaving.everything.else.behind.

    1. Those are some good tips, amy. Thank you.

      Good thing I typically wear a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers aboard an airplane. None of those should melt onto my skin in the event of a fire aboard the airplane.

      You are correct about potential “slider burn”, as those inflated evacuation slides are not easy for everyone to slide down.

      As for no pocket, I would think that taking a piece of cloth and sewing one on — either inside or outside of the article of clothing — could create an instant pocket; but I know nothing about sewing…

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