TripAdvisor Says People Watch Safety Briefings; I Call Bullshit


TripAdvisor put out the results of a study yesterday regarding airplane safety. I’m sure it was spurred by the US Airways accident last week, and I have to say that the results seem absolutely, completely wrong. No BullshitIt may not be their fault – some people may want to say they’re safety-conscious after seeing an accident like we saw last week, but they must be lying.

Here are some of the findings:

30% say they always pay attention to the safety briefing and another 38% often do
Are you kidding me? There’s no way. Most people are reading magazines, squeezing in a last phone call, yelling at their children, or sleeping. I actually do pay attention every time (’cause I’m anal like that), and I rarely see anyone else watching unless the flight attendant happens to be hot.

Of those who don’t pay attention, 81% say it’s because they already know it
This is bull . . . oh wait, I believe this. I think most people who fly frequently do feel they know it by heart, so they don’t bother to pay attention. But even if you know it, this is a great opportunity to review. Different types of planes have different types of doors, so you should brush up on knowing which type you’ll need to use to run screaming from the plane. Also, it reminds you to check where your oxygen mask comes from, and it shows you how to put a seatbelt on. Tough one, I know.

50% have read the safety card
Um, ok. I’ll believe that 50% have read it at some point. But those cards are just so boring and hard to read that I think most people gloss over it. If only others took the approach that Sun Country takes. Something tells me that Ryanair has more luck since they post the card on the seatback in front of you so you can’t avoid it.

73% say they always check the location of exits and another 20% often check
Seriously? I believe that people may make a mental note of where they came in, but I bet most people forget to look if the nearest exit is behind them (as the safety briefing would remind you). Also, I bet very few people are as detailed as I am and actually count the number of rows forward and backward to the nearest exit. If you go down, there may not be any lights or even worse, there may be a bunch of smoke. That prevents you from seeing anything, so if you count, you can easily find your way.

75% say they would know what to do in a water landing
Ok, I believe that most people think they know what to do, but I bet most people wouldn’t do it right. I bet most people would pop the first exit they saw even if it’s submerged under water. Not such a good plan.

91% always keep their seatbelt fastened
Again, really? I can’t tell you how often I see people with their belts off. I’m a freak about this one too, because if you’ve got your belt on, turbulence won’t be able to smash your face into the ceiling. If it’s off, well, all bets are off.

So I guess I’m not blaming TripAdvisor here for trying, but people lie a lot. Just because they say something doesn’t mean it’s true, and on most of these results, I’d bet that’s exactly the case. I will bet that after the US Airways accident, there will be a temporary increase in the number of people who pay attention, but as usual, that will fade away.

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39 comments on “TripAdvisor Says People Watch Safety Briefings; I Call Bullshit

  1. I actually took the survey this weekend when I received it from TA. I got a chuckle out of it, but I’m one of the 81% who “already know it.” I’m also one of the 73% who know where the exits are, mainly because out of boredom I’m looking around and see where an exit is. And yes, I do always keep my seatbelt fastened, very loosely, but fastened. Last month I was flying from EWR to CUN on CO and got thrown around pretty good when I was up to get something out of the overhead compartment. Reminded me why I don’t walk around and why I keep the seatbelt on. And yes, I am one of the 25% who doesn’t know what to do in a water landing….I mean I know, but I’d probably freak out and not listen. I’d be the one popping the lifevest inside the plane outside of pure panic.

  2. I’ve learned something new to do already the next time I fly. Previously I would only look to guage my distance from the nearest exit but never actually counted the rows. I’ll do that now.

    Something else I do is check under the seat or compartment to find and confirm the location and existence of a life vest. Life vests are very different from one airline to the next so if that is part of the “song-and-dance” I definitely pay attention to this part.

    If the buckle gives me or someone else trouble I also know how to unhook it from the seat frame itself, something that’s never (and shouldn’t necessarily be) part of the briefing.

    Finally, when strolling to the lav or during boarding, I check the ceiling panels for that unique bulge that tells me there’s an extra raft on board in case one of the slides doesn’t deploy, is inaccessible or decides on its own not to float.

    Thanks for setting this one up as a way to share tips and not just a gripe session about some trivial and doubtless unscientific survey!

  3. I will admit to not paying attention, mostly because the information they give is not very relevant. How to put on your seatbelt? We are already taxiing away from the gate, which means all the FAs have already confirmed everyone is belted up. And once I saw how to inflate a life vest or put on my oxygen mask a couple times, I got it.

    One thing I do, after seeing it on a TV show, is figure out where the exits are. On the advice of the expert on the show, he suggested counting the seat backs between you and the nearest exists, front and back. That way, in a dark smoky cabin, you can find your way by counting the seat backs. I often check again before landing, as I tend to forget how many seatbacks it was after a 5 hour flight.

  4. When I heard the results of this survey I thought the same thing. I usually never pay attention to the safety briefing, going with the attitude that it hasn’t changed since I was a kid. My opinion is that in a panic situation nobody is going to remember a couple minute briefing on seatbelt operation, oxygen mask, etc. I wonder how many parents would really secure their oxygen mask before assisting their children? Seriously, we are all required to go through extensive training and testing to drive a car and just look at what people do on the road every day. A little safety demo at the start of a flight isn’t going to make a huge difference.

  5. Something I notice is how many people kick off their shoes prior to take off. If you come to a violent stop your shoes are not going to be under your seat, and it will make a rapid chaotic deplanement even more unpleasant.

    I take off my shoes intermittently during cruise, but wouldn’t think of it during takeoff or landing.

    Or on a related note wearing sandals or Crocs isn’t your best bet for safety either.

  6. Skinny – Did they just have the survey sitting on their site or did they offer it up after you wrote a review? I’m just curious if they picked people of if people picked them.

    Optimist – Good point on the life vest. In coach, it’s relatively easy but the new business and first class seats have them stowed in all different kinds of places.

    james – Yes, very true. I’m a flip flop lover. I wear them everywhere I go if I can. I even tried to wear them with my suit at my wedding, but my wife wasn’t exactly thrilled with that idea. That being said, I never wear them when I fly. I always wear fully enclosed shoes, and I will only remove them at cruise on a long flight.

  7. Domestic – Shoes on.

    International – Shoes off. But only after a long shower and not a long day! And even then, they go in the overhead so they don’t get underfoot or become Size 14 projectiles!

  8. Cranky – There is a spot on their website where you can sign up to take travel surveys and when they become available you get them in your email. I’d say I get one every two months or so and they are typically very event oriented (i.e. a couple months ago I got one asking if high gas prices had an impact on my travel schedule, etc.). Now, I don’t know if they send the survey to their entire list, or only certain groupings (as I know I do surveys for HarrisPoll also, as does my wife, and its a rarity that we get the same surveys).

    A note however, they do provide free TA gifts occasionally to regular survey takers. In the last couple years I’ve gotten a few things, including a hat, t-shirt, and lunch bag. But those are sent randomly and not necessarily as a result of answering a specific survey (at least I don’t think so).

  9. Just out of politeness and respect for the cabin staff that have to stand up there and give their safety speech, I shut up even if I’m talking to someone, and usually I am. I have also in the past politely asked loud talking individuals, who appear to love the sound of their own voices to ‘keep their voices down as I cannot hear what the cabin staff are talking about’ and this tends to shut them up in nano-second. Yes I fly allot, and yes I think that I know what I would do in the case of an emergency but give the staff a break for just 2-minutes at the start of the flight as they have a job to do, and then you can badger them!!

  10. Wow! I guess I’m a geek, because: I ALWAYS pay attention to the safety briefing; I read the safety card – since my daughter likes to play with it; I always count seats and know exactly how many seats away I am from the nearest exit; I can say that before this, I would not have known what to do; and I always keep my seat belt on. I also never wear panty hose (heat melts them to the skin), I always wear closed toe, low heel shoes and socks (even in summer), pants and sleeves. This accident makes me feell even better about what I do.

  11. I mostly watch the video or demonstration for humor purposes at this point. I do check the exits but I am amused by the extent to which some of the foreign airlines in particular bend over backwards to keep you entertained.

    Oh and on a recent domestic flight in Vietnam, I was in the exit row and was the only person wearing my seat belt the entire flight….

  12. I do all the things that you say most people don’t do – and I always try to get the emergency exit seat because I don’t trust anyone else to stay calm.

    Mind you I’ve only flown 12 times so it’s still a big deal to me – maybe people who fly a lot become blase.

  13. I disagree: I guarantee you that at least that percentage check out the Exit Rows…. not because of safety issues, but because they covet all that leg room and wonder how in the heck THEY can get those rows. Of course I have been in exit rows with physically disabled passengers who cannot get enough breath to sit down, much less hoist a hefty 40 pound door. I always point this out to the flight attendant and am immediately branded “The bad guy” or “the guy who is causing trouble” or WORSE YET I get ignored by the flight attendant. Yes, this has actually happened, usually by ASA flight attendants (the worst airline in the air), but also by others.

  14. Another thing I occasionally do is push gently on the panel holding the oxygen masks to find it, make sure it’s secured (no surprise deployments) and to see how far I may or may not have to reach to get one (headroom variations based on aircraft as well as distance to the mask if in the middle section of a widebody).

  15. If it’s a plane that has the F.A. standing up and giving the briefing I always watch as I feel no one else is and I want them to feel like someone cares to watch. Sadly I’ve had F.A. stare right at me was they give the briefing which makes me think they see I’m the only one paying attention. If it’s a plane with a video briefing I will watch that also.

    I always wear good solid shoes and long pants when I fly. You never know when something bad might happen and I want shoes and long pants if I have to climb over sharp twisted metal to get out.

    I do admit I never count seats, but do look where the exits are. I also always think about having to climb over seats to get out and what will I do if people around me are frozen from fright or panic.

  16. i think you’re being too negative… i think a lot of people do do this stuff… and of course they also know they should…

    besides, you know that you can’t talk on the phone when the aircraft door is closed and the plane is taxiing for takeoff ;)

  17. I was on an American Eagle ERJ-140 last Friday, the day after the US Airways accident, and the couple sitting across the aisle from me were talking through the entire safety briefing.

    And I try to pay attention because there are so many variations. On the ERJ, for example, the oxygen masks drop out in a retainer clip, so you have to remove them from the clip before putting them on. Even trickier is the Saab 340, where you have to connect the plastic tube to the oxygen system.

  18. I do pay attention to the safety briefing. (Although once I snickered at the instructions on how to buckle the seat belts, and got informed that yes people have had trouble with it in emergencies.) I do review the card and the general operation of the exits.

    But, I don’t count seats.. So here is my question, why should i have to count seats? The airline knows where the seats are in relation to the exits, why aren’t these instructions placed in each row, perhaps on the back of the tray table, where you’ll be looking intently as you’re preparing for a crash landing.

    Also, I always am doing nothing except paying attention during takeoff and landing. If something is going to happen its likely to happen here and I want to be aware.. That and the miracle of being held in the air by a pressure differential is amazing.

  19. As a FA who does the song and dance multiple times each week, I have to say that no, most people are not paying attention. Checking out my boots, yes, listening, no. And talking loudly is not allowed.

    I wish I could write my own safety briefing because I’d scare the shoes and seat belts back on my passengers! If I could design the Safety Information Cards, I’d include the reasons why we have our rules. People with their backpacks, laptops, smelly shoes and little dogs fail to realize if we evacuate, it will be done on the ground and we’ll all need floor space to move out quickly.

    As for printing information on tray tables regarding each row’s proximity to exits? Many reasons. #1 being FAA approval. And, if approved, flights would be delayed because someone’s only form of entertainment was to peel it off, thereby requiring a call to maintenance. Also, believe it or not, tray tables and seats are regularly replaced leaving even more room for error. Take responsibility and know how to get to the exit as I’m shouting EVACUATE!

    Exit Row seating is tough because of discrimination. Losing lawsuits to the Golden Girls restricts us greatly from demanding re-seating. I do my best to handle the gate agent’s duties on that one. But if a man with a prosthetic is in the exit row, I leave it alone. He is perfectly able to handle the situation. I am displeased that airlines are charging extra for exit row seats rather than blocking them for our frequent fliers. Another challenge to face before my time clock even starts ticking.

    To all of you who have shared your views and show great knowledge in safety, thank you so much. I want you on my flights. You can help us FAs by sharing your knowledge when you fly. Counting rows in an obvious manner will peak interest and you can explain what you are doing to those around you. I am limited in what I can say. I would love your help. And always point out non-compliance of any sort. People are sneaky. They’ll be on their cell phones the moment my butt hits the jumpseat.

    Let’s fly safely, together.

  20. I think the wrong question is being asked (or suggested here). Rather than come up with statistics on how many actually listen to briefing, perhaps we should be asking if the briefing is relevant. As someone has already commented – by the time the F/A is telling everyone how to put on a seat belt, everyone has already done so. Some airline’s videos give information on how to stow your carry-on. – but since you are usually taxing towards the runway it doesn’t make sense.

    Information on seat-belts / carry-on should be given before you board. A video on a loop at the gate could provide this and other information.

    How about – for the life jackets that the FA ask all passengers to check that theirs is there, and put up their hands to confirm. Then ask everyone to confirm that they know where the two nearest exits are – stick your hand up again.

  21. Thanks for chiming in, Danielle. I’ll be sure to count my rows in the future while obviously pointing for all to see. As for safety briefing changes, there are options on some carriers. I’m guessing you don’t work for Southwest, because I’ve seen those guys spice it up plenty of times. But some managements simply want to comply with the rules and nothing else.

    That brings us to Thomas – I like the idea of required participation. It’s like the exit row briefing which requires verbal acknowledgment that you’ll help out when the plane goes down. I bet people would pay attention if they knew they might have a pop quiz!


    Which way does the DOOR handle rotate on the BOEING exit door? That would be helpful in smoke or darkness!
    How about the AIRBUS? or the MCDONNELL DOUGLAS? They ALL operate differently!!!

    Where’s the SLIDE inflation HANDLE on all these aircraft? Again, they are located in different areas. Care to read the CARD while you’re breathing in SMOKE?
    MOST passengers overlook information that could save their lives!

  23. Danielle, thank you for going through the operational details, I had not fully thought through everything, but it still should be possible somehow. The reason I gave my suggestion is even if I counted this at the beginning of the flight, I’d probably forget. Sorry but keeping a number like that in my head just won’t happen reliably.

    I would actually expect the airlines to be against this because it is a little too much of a notice of crashing… but it would be useful.

  24. People are – and will always be – people. Some folks dutifully buckle up every time they enter the car – and some don’t. Some folks check each smoke detector in their house frequently – and some don’t. Those who don’t will eventually lose.
    My job is to stay alive, and I take that job seriously. I memorize the location of the exits on each flight (I close my eyes and visualize myself running to them, opening them, and thinking about what I’ll be leaping into). I ALWAYS check under the seat for the life vest. I’m not concerned about oxygen, since it’s only needed for about 60 seconds or so, as the plane is descending below ~14kft. I would relax and hold my breath to preserve my bloodborne oxygen stores – screw the Aviox – and wait until it’s wise to breathe again (I can “grunt-breathe” if I have to). I don’t care which way the handle twists to fire the pyro door release – if it won’t fire one way, I’ll try the other. If that fails I try the opposing door.

  25. Has anyone ever seen a safety demonstration on Southwest? FREQUENTLY the flight attendants ADLIB this, so that it does not become so rote. And I guarantee you that people start to listen up when the start to hear things that are entertaining yet informative. Southwest FAs go above and beyond, and my hat is off to them. I have heard “Unless you have Scuba gear that will not fit in the overhead rack” I suggest you listen to me. LISTEN TO ME! (as a school teacher did in 3rd grade). It is hilarious, and people get the point.

  26. One of my favorites heard on WN is: “If you have children around you, or someone acting like a child, secure your own oxygen mask first and then assist others.”

    Almost every time I chuckle to myself as I look around and make mental note of those “adults” who are almost certain to turn into a helpless 5 year old should something happen.

  27. Frank S – I agree this is valuable information. However, I have NEVER heard that information in the general safety briefing that is given by the airlines. I am not disagreeing with you that this is information that we should have, but rather pointing out that this is information that the airlines don’t give us under their current safety briefings.

    Danielle – you are so right. The reason (in my mind) that people don’t pay attention to the safety briefing is because it is pointless and toothless. I think that the travelling public, both the frequent and infrequent fliers would be well served by an informed, intelligent and relevant safety briefing, which is what I believe you are proposing when you say that “I could write my own safety briefing because I’d scare the shoes and seat belts back on my passengers! If I could design the Safety Information Cards, I’d include the reasons why we have our rules.”

    That is what we need, not some pointless but slickly produced video about how to buckle your safety belt and store your luggage after we have already all done that.


  28. Obviously, my Cranky Fliers give a damn about survival. Thank you. Although I am bound by company standards with my demo, I do spice it up and mix it up, much to my frequent fliers’ delight. This impromptu performance does not help our boneheads understand the reality of possible emergencies. Parents allow their “lap children” to stand in their laps during take-off roll and climb out even though I have quietly explained the dangers of doing so. Vice President of the Jerk Dept. will have his finger on the start button of his laptop when the primary concern is to look for smoke and listen for unusual noises. I am a FA who grew up flying non-rev and idolizing the stewardesses. I truly love my job and am addicted to the thrill of flight. I am thankful for my pax who are knowledgeable and intuitive, yet polite to all those on board. I love premium fliers who recognize that this week’s flight is completely different than the one last week.

    It is comforting to say my piece without feeling as though I am being too bitchy. And, sadly, I am sincere when I ask you all to help me with the traveling boneheads. I know you stood behind them in security as they argued with TSA about their liquids and gels and fumbled around for their boarding passes. Just like I know I broke in line in front of you, splashing my coffee and mumbling 4 letter words along the way. Cheers y’all.

  29. Danielle, to add to the agreement, great comment.

    I was on a Northwest flight recently and one of the passengers didn’t take off his iPod on the first announcement as we went for landing. The FA told him again and waited to watch him turn it off and stow it. He effectively challenged her about it, asking how an iPod could interfere with landing. She gave a short explanation and also said she could levy a fine on him for using electronics at that point. It was a little aggressive, but I have to feel for her. People whipping out their cell phones is my bigger peeve (mentioned above), and I really hope cell phone use is never ever permitted in the sky… it’s hard enough finding a “quiet car” on Amtrak!!!

  30. PS: Cranky, the numbers-on-traytables comment got me thinking… you should have another little brainstorming session (call it a contest if you think it’ll increase participation) about how to improve passenger education and safety on board… I think that’ll go over well with the FAA or any decent airline (ie, Southwest, Continental, Delta, Jetblue).

  31. Benji- I have never had to threaten to fine or arrest anyone, but I use my years of bartending experience to my advantage to put a pax in their place with a sweet smile on my face. I wonder where people like iPod idiots blog about their travels? I’d like to open a question and answer forum so I can explain to iPod that during critical phases of flight, we require all distractions be shut down so you can hear my instructions in case of emergency rather than being lost in a techno trance. I am amazed how people sleep with their music so loud. In an evacuation, I want everyone off the plane ASAP so I can get off too!

    As for cell phones…UGH!…My flight can be damned near ruined when I get a call from the cockpit asking me if someone has a cell phone on. It’s true that Pilots hear feedback in their headsets if a phone is sending or receiving a signal. Next time you see someone with their cell phone on when it’s not an approved time, please let the FA know. I prefer the pilots hear the tower clearly for altitude and heading instructions as well as traffic warnings. Sally Cell Phone sending text msgs while barreling down the runway simply does not know dangers involved.

    I welcome a brainstorming session for increasing pax education. We are all aware the boneheads are the ones who will panic during an emergency and make evacuation more difficult. Let’s do it Cranky! PLEASE.

  32. Danielle, oh, I didn’t know the background on that, and I consider myself a plane nerd! See, we all have something interesting to learn from y’all :)

  33. Great comments. Being a pilot for 38 years and watching the landing in the Hudson certainly made me cheer for the pilot. Having had an emergency landing and surviving makes me have great respect for the pilot who landed on the Hudson. Glad to see that people keep their seat belts fastened because of turbulence. I have had aircraft on their sides in turbulence. Glad to see people with lifevests on in the Hudson River evacuation. I had one of my students steal a life vest from under the seat. So check to make sure its there during the briefing. I made the student return it to a flight attendant and apologize when I found out. Smoke filled cabins are a real threat so count seats and know where your exists are. Enjoy your flight.

  34. Greg Wesson
    January 23rd, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Frank S – I agree this is valuable information. However, I have NEVER heard that information in the general safety briefing that is given by the airlines. I am not disagreeing with you that this is information that we should have, but rather pointing out that this is information that the airlines don’t give us under their current safety briefings.


    ROTATING the handle in the correct direction IS ON THE SAFETY CARD. Also, HOW AND WHERE TO PULL THE INFLATION HANDLE is, again, ON THE SAFETY CARD!!!!!
    The information, we give you prior to take off, gives you a MENTAL NOTE if anything should happen.
    in fact, in the safety briefing, we say, there’s a SAFETY CARD in the seat pocket in front of you, please review it.

  35. Its pretty simple – the TripAdvisor community is not representative of the flying public. TripAdvisor users are mainly those who research their hotels. That would be families and businesspeople.

    Looking around my gate (right now), I see a) International travelers speaking mainly Spanish, b) college kids off somewhere for the weekend, c) families looking like they are off to visit Grandma and Grandpa and d) Grandma and Grandpa.

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