View Full Version : The Cabin Safety Briefing

old,not bold
6th Jul 2007, 10:19
It's iconoclasm time - perhaps this isn't the right forum - Mods?

Reading the posts about EY de-pressurising I am wondering for the 1000th time in 25 years why the sacred cow of the Cabin Safety Briefing is not laid to rest, in some corner of the ICAO offfice garden.

My credentials for proposing this are 39 years in the industry, doing just about every job possible, including for a short while until I got bored the sharp end. I have scripted the announcement several times, and discussed it with airlines and regulators, not always in Europe. I have experienced 2 emergency evacuations as a passenger from an aircraft seriously damaged on landing, but never a ditching. I reckon I have flown as a passenger on 1,000 or so single or multi-sector, short or long-haul flights, ie on average twice a month. I therefore hate shopping mall airports, but that's another issue. I once wrote a JAR Ops 1 Ops Manual for a regional airline.

Let's consider the emergency events that the briefing is about. They are ditching, loss of pressurisation and emergency evacuation on land.


We should think about not only the risk of a flight terminating in a survivable ditching, but the secondary risk that, in that event, a life may be lost as a result of inadequate understanding of what to do among passengers. Even if the combined risk is still high enough to require a full briefing, we must then ask ourselves if, in 2007, the traditional safety briefing is better than drawing passengers' attention to a well written and drawn safety card.


Why does it take an elaborate demo to instruct people to put a mask on if it drops on their head and how to do it? A multi-lingual card with text about why it happens, and a picture, is better.


The typical safety briefing does not, if we are honest, really show each passenger which exit to go for from their seat, where it is, and how to get there. The FA's do a ritualistic little hand jive, and that's it. Moreover, in the event passengers must still select their exit depending on circumstances, including the location of a fire if there is one. The card shows much more clearly the layout, and can give brief instructions about not evacuating into a fire and so on, if needed.

Another little hand jive points out the floor lighting system. But does the briefing really tell someone who doesn't already know why it's there and how to use it, as in get down on your hands and knees to save your life if there's smoke in the cabin? No, in a word. There isn't the time, or the will, to tell it like it really is. Again, a safety card does it better.

Card vs Briefing

The same people who don't listen to a briefing will probably not read the card. So the argument that no-one reads the cards, therefore there must be a briefing, is a fallacy.

(It is not, incidentally, an argument against the briefing that passengers have all heard it umpteen times and never listen anyway. If there were no verbal briefing, that would cease to be the case. There are plenty of good arguments for a better form of briefing, though.)

Multi-lingual pictorial cards do the job a whole lot better, especially with those who don't have a good understanding of the languages used in the briefing. The information is clear, and passengers have plenty of time while taxying out to read them.


I don't recall any report of an emergency evacuation, where lives were not lost, in which the safety briefing was cited as the reason lives were not lost. (Although there may be one.) On the other hand, in those where lives were lost, it is highly probable that the safety briefing made no difference whatsoever to the outcome. For example; the BA engine fire on take-off at MAN. Would the loss of life been greater if a safety briefing had not been given, and passengers were told instead to read the card? I doubt it. (I'm assuming that the full safety brief was done in that case.)

That incident illustrated the case where lives can really be saved by good procedures and good passenger understanding; evacuation after a survivable accident with smoke and perhaps fire present. I submit that a card, with top-class graphics, can achieve this at least as well as and perhaps better than a rushed briefing.


I'll be careful here; air travel is safest because it does not take the approach of just being no less safe than other modes. But to focus on the risk factors, think of the 14 lives lost in Dusseldorf in their terrible terminal fire in the 1990s. They were all people who tried to use a lift after the alarm went off. None-the-less, I don't see ICAO insisting on a verbal safety briefing for passengers using lifts in terminals, although the risk of being caught in a terminal fire may well be at the same level as the risk of being caught in a burning aircraft, in a statistical analysis.

Trains in the UK at least are, it appears, quite dangerous due to ineffectual maintenance and no proper maintenance oversight by Directors, who are incompetent and disengaged, and expenditure cuts while revenue increases exponentially. But not only is there no safety briefing, apart from an inaudible suggestion by the PA, sometimes, that passengers should find and read a safety card, and no meaningful attempt is being made by the Government to remove the other causes I've cited. Now why is that? Because the risk is still very, very low, per passenger journey, of being injured in an accident.

Shouldn't we take the same approach, and evaluate properly the need for, and benefits and penalties of, the traditional ICAO safety briefing?


In these days of fast turnrounds, cabin crew have got better things to do for the safety of passengers than waste precious minutes on giving a verbal safety briefing while pushing back and taxying out. When there's a long taxy and queue, it's not an issue, but that's only at big hubs like JFK, AMS , LHR, etc. Although the fact that it falls on deaf ears is not an argument against it, it is certainly an argument for reviewing the risks, why we do it, and whether there is a better way.

6th Jul 2007, 11:44

(ditching: max power, stick forward and take it as a man :E)

Well every briefing is there for a reason. Not all people are able to read or understand the language written so you would need how many pages due to all languages being included?
Many peolpe also have a better way of learning if they are instructed in visual terms instead of only reading. This is why in classrooms there is a blackboard. And you might know if you are an instructor you were told to use multiple colours when writing on the blackboard.


For technical reasons.
If you don't pull the mask you wont get oxygen.
Again with the text and the pages needed...


You never know what exits will be availabe in case of an evacuation so it's not good to say where you should exit if in so and so seat.
During the briefing you are instructed on numbers of exits and their location and that it is your responsability to locate your nearest exit and that it might be behind you.
Pax will get on their hands and feet by instinct cause they want to survive in case of smoke in cabin. If one were to brief on every single thing possible in the unlikely event of this or that they would have to meet in 2 hours prior to flight due to technical briefings.

Card vs Briefing

Same reason again


There are still pax that fly for the first time or there may be people who only do it once every year.
They don't not know the instructions as well as a frequent flyer.
And why not just give the briefing there is normally enough time for it.

extreme P
6th Jul 2007, 16:11
You need to contact the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City with your concerns.

old,not bold
6th Jul 2007, 18:00
What I was trying to do was generate a debate, see what others think, etc etc.

I am well aware that I am not alone in thinking that the ritual performance has had its day and achieves nothing.

If it works for people who fly infrequently, or are on their fist flights, that's fine and it wouldn't matter a damn that others may have heard it upwards of 5,000 times.

But it doesn't, and the problem is that the box marked "tell the passengers what to do" is ticked, when in practice we don't do that at all well.

6th Jul 2007, 20:27
A few years back in Canada the final words from our Captain was that it was imperative we watched the safety demo as it was not only informative, but sometimes very entertaining.

To cut a long story short the cabin crew cracked on with their demo, and indeed as they entered into the spirit of things it was at times funny. This seemed odd at the time, but not as odd as this was the first time ever that to a man everyone on board wathched the demo.

I have mentioned this briefing to a good few people and even though it's result was that everyone took notice of the safety demo, virtually everyone stated that they would never announce such a thing "over here" as it might not be quite what the chief pilot had in mind.

Anyway just a thought about an interesting flight.


james ozzie
6th Jul 2007, 20:43
I remember seeing those cutsie diagrams on the card showing passengers in life jackets stepping off into a millpond sea from the wing trailing edge of their floating jet transport. I suspect those lifejackets under the seat in the end are about as useful as a parachute under the seat!

6th Jul 2007, 22:06
tonker has made a very good point.
Making it more "entertaining" WILL get the attention of the first-flyers and occasional flyers, who are the primary targets.
But it needs more work and more training for the cabin staff...

7th Jul 2007, 09:00
All these discussions made about safety briefings will never dispel the fact that only a small minority of pax will be conscientious enough to take the information in! For a variety of reasons many are to busy getting settled between pushback to taxi and takeoff to take anything in.'There is going to be no emergency anyway' will always be in the back of most passengers mind's.
If anything catastrophic is going to happen it will be always very quick with no time to do anything , with the majority of inflight problems usually very minor these days if there is a problem requiring passenger survival notification in the form of a briefing then the captive audience I am sure would be very attentive!! In the meantime the requirements to brief will always be there!