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.

Should Passengers Who Evacuate With Baggage Be Fined?

“As a woman, I don’t have the luxury of putting my most important documents, phone, etc, in my front pocket. If I leave my purse on the plane, how do I prove who I am? Fortunately, this has never happened to me, but you can be sure that if it ever did, I will certainly be grabbing my purse.”

Should Passengers Who Evacuate With Baggage Be Fined?

Thankfully, most passengers of flights will never get to experience an evacuation from an airplane due to a crash or a fire as two examples of a critical emergency; but Mom of 4 — who is a reader of The Gateposted the comment which you just read in response to this article pertaining to why passengers grab their belongings prior to evacuating an airplane, which I wrote and posted on Sunday, February 18, 2018.

Although access of an overhead storage bin to retrieve belongings can consume precious seconds during an evacuation which could literally mean the difference between life and death, that would not be the issue in the case of Mom of 4 and her purse. When using an inflatable emergency evacuation slide, keeping your body free of impediments is crucial to a successful escape. Nothing should be on your person which can potentially impede upon egress from the airplane down to the ground — such as loose straps or spiked heels as two examples — and you should extend your arms and legs out in front of you for best results, as shown in the photograph at the top of this article…

…but although carrying a purse may arguably be overlooked during an evacuation, other passengers would still be adamant about first retrieving their belongings from an overhead storage bin prior to leaving the aircraft — even if it is on fire — which has led to the citing by the National Transportation Safety Board of at least four aviation emergencies which occurred in the United States during the past several years in which an evacuation was hampered by passengers first retrieving their belongings.

Robert L. Sumwalt — who is the head of that independent federal government agency of the United States — has thought about the suggestion offered by at least one flight attendant pertaining to imposing fines upon passengers who evacuate with their belongings. “The NTSB issued safety recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration, urging it to, among other things, conduct research to ‘measure and evaluate the effects of carry-on baggage on passenger deplaning times and safety during an emergency evacuation’ and ‘identify effective countermeasures to reduce any determined risks, and implement the countermeasures’”, according to this article written by Robert Herguth of the Chicago Sun-Times.

That article also quoted Sara Nelson — who is the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA — who said that “Apparently the threat of death by incineration fueled by thousands of gallons of jet fuel isn’t enough of a deterrent to stop passengers from taking time to grab carry-on bags during an emergency evacuation”; and that the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States can use laws which already exist to pursue criminal charges and fines up to $250,000.00 — plus civil fines of as much as $25,000.00 — “for interfering with the flight attendants’ ability to perform their duties, depending on the severity of the interference.”

Evidence of the interference of members of the flight crew by passengers who resisted directions to leave a distressed airplane without their belongings is in the form of this document of interviews with flight attendants by members of the National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 — five days after an incident which involved a problem with one of the engines of an airplane operated by American Airlines. “The pilot did a great job stopping the aircraft”, said Shawn Ortiz, who was one of the flight attendants aboard that airplane; but when asked during the interview if he observed passengers attempting to bring bags off the aircraft, Ortiz responded that “Passengers had bags, mostly smaller brief cases as they exited the aircraft.”


That the article from the Chicago Sun-Times was released one day after the article which I wrote is sheer coincidence; but it was a good follow-up to a problem which is potentially deadly…

…but I highly doubt that a fine — or any other form of steep disciplinary or punitive action — would be enough to deter passengers from retrieving their belongings during an evacuation of an airplane; as the possibility of death is apparently not persuasive or convincing enough. At best, the fine would just add a drop to the financial bucket of the federal government of the United States, in my opinion.

If you have not already done so, please read this article pertaining to 5 reasons never to evacuate an airplane with your belongings.

I will defer to Christian — who is a reader of The Gate — whom I believe should have the final thought to this article from this comment which he posted as a response to the other article:

“As long as the passengers who want to exit with baggage are willing to let the passengers without baggage to exit first, I’m perfectly agreeable with the situation. If there’s an emergency exodus and people want to stop to gather belongings, I will do what’s needed to allow myself, my family, and other normal passengers to exit without being delayed. If you want to take your stuff, have a seat and wait for the people who want to leave in a hurry.”

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

  1. If there’s an evacuation and you’re in my way retrieving something from the over head bin, I will gladly push you out of the way. Your bag is not worth my life.

  2. “As a woman, I don’t have the luxury of putting my most important documents, phone, etc, in my front pocket. If I leave my purse on the plane, how do I prove who I am?

    Oh wow. Where to begin. First, as a man, I don’t have “the luxury of putting my most important documents, phone, etc., in my front pocket.” Why? Because I often wear polo shirts that have no pockets. Or if I wear my button down shirts, my iPhone 7 Plus won’t fit. Documents surely won’t fit. And “etc.” definitely won’t fit. But that’s just a minor knit to pick. Let’s get to the meat of this stupid post.

    Let’s count ’em in one sentence: I, my, my, I, my, I, I.

    Yup, for this woman, it’s all about her, her, her, her, her, her, her. As part of my job, I evacuate corporate headquarter buildings during yearly fire evac drills. We have actually developed a video called The Yes, The No, and The Almost that depicts what exactly to do and not to do during an evac. One of the iconic lines in the video is when a millennial is asking why she has to take her headphones out of her ears and the floor warden looks at her and says “because it’s not all about you.”

    The poster I quoted above would be the penultimate No. Why? Because the No is putting everyone else at risk because of her assessment of her self-importance. “Important documents, phone, and ‘etc.’ ” somehow rise to the level of the importance of preserving precious seconds so that other may live? No, arrogant one, it’s not all about YOU.

    This is where we are as a culture where the three most important words in our language are: I. Me. My. As so aptly articulated by this self-absorbed Patrician.

    I watch folks go by me as I am evacuating a building and I grab their beloved Starbucks, their laptops, their sandwiches…and why? Because these distract the evacuee from grabbing the handrails and if dropped can become a trip hazard. And why does this matter? Because it’s not all about YOU!

    After a ditching event, “proving who I am” is of negligible importance. That can all be sorted out. Hard drives can be recovered. Phones can be repopulated from the cloud. And any important documents should be saved to a network drive or to the cloud for easy retrieval. If they are that important, back them up.

    Precious human lives cannot be saved to the cloud or backed up.

    Get out of the plane. Fast. Calm. And unencumbered. Someone else’s life may depend on it.

    Blind Squirrel.

    1. Um, I was quoting from Brian where he claims the he keeps all of his important documents in his front pants pocket. Lucky for him. Same for Blind Squirell…I’m betting your wallet is in a pocket in your pants. Brian gets to get off and go get a nice, warm hotel room with his credit cards and important documents that were *IN HIS FRONT PANTS POCKET* which I don’t have the luxury of having. Same for Blind Squirell. Kind of sexist. And I didn’t mean to say my phone. I could give a rats behind. You are right that it can be replaced. I’m not grabbing my laptop, ipad, Starbucks (really?), etc. But proving who I am? Not so easy. Could take days. Something I’m not willing to do (and I do have my passport backed up…credit cards can’t be backed up for *immediate* use). Call me selfish all you want, but in this case I want to get off the plane, grabbing my small *cross body* purse that I travel with (my hands are free). Yes, it sits at my feet, *NOT IN THE OVERHEAD*, (frankly, I’ll probably have strapped across my body anyway) and get off. And then be able to find a pay phone and call my husband to tell him I’m ok. Followed by getting a hotel room with my credit card and ID. I’m sorry, but I’ve travelled too much to trust that an airline is going to take care of me in an emergency sitation. Grabbing my purse and strapping it across my body will take a whole lot less time than someone rummaging through their stuff finding a credit card and ID…because that’s what most women will do (again, guys have their wallets…with said credit card and ID in the pockets). I’d like to see any woman admit that they wouldn’t grab their purse in this situation (or at least their wallet). Or any man leave their wallet behind. So Brian and Blind Squirell, are you going to leave your wallet behind? After all, you are arguing that all personal items should be left behind. And what about important meds that need to be taken regularly and are hard to replace?

      1. I responded to a direct quote. Here it is again: As a woman, I don’t have the luxury of putting my most important documents, phone, etc, in my front pocket. If I leave my purse on the plane, how do I prove who I am?.

        The quote implies that in addition to your purse, you would take “important documents” with you and “etc.” leaving the reader to interpret what “etc.” actually means. For that matter, what “important documents” means. You consider your license and credit card “important documents”? Those sound like spreadsheets, business cases, and contracts. Those are “important documents” not your license. Who ever refers to their license as a document? That’s the terminology you use for your ID and your plastic?

        So let’s get this straight, if all you’re saying is that you would grab your purse then who on earth would have an issue with that unless your purse were in the overhead 5 rows behind you…highly unlikely. But that’s not how the scenario was framed at all. You mentioned your purse as an add-on item to your “important documents” and “etc.” So don’t blame the readers for interpreting you for exactly what you said…unless you were misquoted.

        Tempest in a teapot. Go grab your purse and make it quick. Just leave the “documents” and “etc.” behind.


        1. I was using Brian’s words of important items that fit in his front pocket from the previous post on this subject and I quote: “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.” He said items, my bad, I said documents. I guess I should have been clearer. Credit Cards, ID and $. And I admitted I was wrong about phone (but Brian’s original post claimed his phone in his front pocket). And c’mon, most would assume the the important documents I was speaking of would be in my purse thus the reason I’m grabbing it. Semantics here as I read it (and wrote it) as I am grabbing my purse because it has my important stuff in it, not in addition too. Most women keep their most important stuff in their purse, as Brian keeps his in his front pocket.

          I, honestly, was aghast at your original post, but I understand your anger better now that I know that you assumed I was getting my purse out of the overhead. Nope. Don’t trust it there. And I do thank you for your expertise on evacuating buildings (and in this case, planes). Should the unfortunate ever occur, I will definitely be keeping your words in my head and screaming at anyone wearing headphones or taking Starbucks, or any number of other idiocy. But I won’t be yelling at women who only grabbed their purse (not backpack…). Just as I won’t yell at any man who has his wallet on him.

          1. PS. A passport is considered a document, so I guess that’s what I was thinking when I said documents. And I keep it in my purse. Sorry for the confusion.

  3. Female here….When I travel I ALWAYS have a small cross body bag 8x6x3. It holds everything I might consider important in the event of an evacuation and leaves my hands completely free. That takes care of my wallet, passport, iphone, etc. anything else will be left behind. I value my life AND anyone around me why people are so attached to their shit is beyond me.

    1. Yup. I travel with a small crossbody “bag,” too. Always on my person and a great deterrent for pick pockets. I guess I’m showing my age by calling it a purse.

  4. But I won’t be yelling at women who only grabbed their purse (not backpack…). Just as I won’t yell at any man who has his wallet on him.

    Nor would I. But I will will tell you that you’d be shocked at the decisions people make under stress. That’s why the simpler the instruction is, the better.

    Happy and safe travels.

    Blind Squirrel

  5. Here’s the reality, and it’s gender neutral:

    Airplane evacuations are just that. You and your fellow passengers are in such extremis that it drives the decision to immediately exit the plane as fast as possible. Consider your life in danger, regardless of what you perceive the emergency to be. Every second counts to expeditiously egress from the aircraft. Do not delay. Your life is worth more than your personal belongings. Best case, the plane remains intact and you are reunited with your belongings. Worst case, you’ve lost it all, but you’re still alive. It will be challenging to replace everything that you’ve lost, especially if it’s a picture ID/passport and credit/debit cards. There are ways to get these replaced quickly. Banks can overnight replacement cards and passports can be created within 24 hrs for certain contingencies. I’ve seen it done.

    That’s all the bad stuff. Each individual must take this into when they prepare for travel, with consideration for the worst case scenario. If the evacuation is into water, especially salt water, those items that you have with you are likely to be lost or damaged anyway… even if you manage to evacuate the plane with them.

    Back to the original question, I’d say no. There’s some nuanced training that needs to be conducted that balances the risks, while highlighting the relative safety of air travel. This should be reinforced as part of the safety brief prior to takeoff. No one should be grabbing personal belongings.

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