Earlier this week, an Emirates plane crash-landed in Dubai before bursting into flames that engulfed much of the Boeing 777. Miraculously, all 300 crew and passengers on board survived, primarily because they were able to deplane in less than 90 seconds. Yet in the wake of the accident, footage has emerged showing several passengers making a key mistake as they exit the plane: opening overhead compartments and attempting to grab their luggage. “Leave your bags behind! Jump and slide, jump and slide,” one crew member can be heard shouting as smoke fills the cabin.
These passengers are not alone. Despite warnings during in-flight safety briefings to leave all personal belongings behind in the event of an emergency, a 2000 study by National Transportation Safety Board found that nearly 50 percent of people in a commercial airplane evacuation had tried to take a bag, with the main motivations being grabbing money, wallets, or credit cards, with the secondary priorities being work materials, keys, and medication. A 2015 evacuation of a British Airways flight that caught fire in Las Vegas also showed passengers fleeing with luggage.
Attempting to retrieve carry-on luggage in an emergency is a serious safety threat, and can take precious seconds off an evacuation time where every second counts: Aviation safety rules in the U.S., U.K., and Australia mandate that airplanes be built so that they can be completely evacuated in less than 90 seconds. This is not an arbitrary number—rather, it’s because it takes just a minute and a half for the jet fuel in the tanks to ignite and explode.
Some advocate for making it a crime to grab a bag when evacuating, likening it to smoking on an aircraft, which the FAA banned in 1990. “Smoking is not allowed because it can jeopardize the lives and the health of other passengers and the lives and health of the crew,” Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told Bloomberg. “And carrying your bag could have the same consequence.”