Survive an Aircraft Evacuation

Fire and Smoke Can Kill You

Fire and poisonous smoke can kill within minutes. There is no greater risk to an aircraft’s passengers and crew. When an aircraft evacuation is necessary, every second counts.

As a passenger, the chances of experiencing an aircraft evacuation are slim. Modern transports, large and small, have an amazing safety record. When you board a flight heading to your favorite business or vacation destination, listen to the safety announcements and take them seriously. Come up with a Game Plan to follow in the (unlikely) event of an evacuation. Then you can relax and enjoy the ride.

Aircraft Evacuation Game Plan:

1. Dress for Survival

no flip-flopsBefore you leave the house, dress for an evacuation. Flying in an airplane isn’t a fashion show. You’re probably not Kim or Kanye, so skip the fancy clothes. Wear comfortable shoes that allow you to run like hell. Leave the flip-flops, sandals, and high heals in your checked baggage; you can wear them when you get to the beach.

In winter months, dress for airport weather, not beach weather. If you are departing Minneapolis in January, wear long pants and a jacket in case you need to evacuate in sub-freezing conditions. You can put on the t-shirt and shorts when you arrive in Miami.

2. Find Two Escape Routes

As soon as you are seated, look for the two nearest emergency exits. Find one in front of you and one behind you. One of the exits should be something other than an over-wing exit. Over-wing exits are near the engines. If there is an engine fire, you may not be able to use this exit.

Count the rows to the exits and come up with a memory mnemonic to remember them! The goal is to find the exits with your eyes closed. Smoke may force your eyes to involuntarily shut.


Find at least two escape routes. One should be something other than an over-wing exit!

Read the briefing card!

Read the briefing card!

Listen to the safety announcements and read the safety briefing card. Seriously: Pick up the card and read it. For some reason, it’s become unsophisticated to read the card. Yes, I realize you’ve known how to buckle a seat belt since 1971, but you might not realize that the particular plane you’re in doesn’t have over-wing exits. It might also be helpful to know where your life vest is located. Every make and model of aircraft is different. Pick up the card and read it.

3. If an evacuation is necessary, leave your stuff behind!

It’s truly amazing and it happens every time there is an emergency evacuation. The aircraft is on fire and the emergency exits are open. What do passengers do? They open the overhead storage bins to retrieve their stuff.

Every second counts. An aircraft can become completely consumed by flames in a matter of minutes. The time you waste by grabbing your belongings might be a death sentence for you or a passenger behind you. Your stuff is not worth dying for.

4. Last, but Not Least: Listen to the Crew!

The flight and cabin crew will be issuing very important instructions during an evacuation. Listen and follow directions. Although it’ll be your first evacuation, the crew has rehearsed it dozens of times. They know exactly what they’re doing.

How NOT to Evacuate:

On 3 August 2016, Emirates flight 521 crashed on landing in Dubai. Amazingly, all 282 passengers and 18 crew members on board survived the accident that destroyed the Boeing 777 aircraft. Sadly, one firefighter was killed while saving the lives of others.

As the evacuation began, passengers immediately opened overhead bins to retrieve their stuff. The crew repeatedly, desperately yelled “Leave everything! Leave your bags behind!”

The passengers wasted precious seconds grabbing their belongings. When you board your flight, make a point to remind yourself and your family: If there’s trouble, leave your stuff behind.

How fast can a fire spread? Watch the following video of a China Airlines 737 in Okinawa. The fire began at the gate due to a fuel leak. Within minutes, fire consumed the entire aircraft. All aboard escaped; there were no fatalities. Do you think it might be wise to leave your stuff on board and concentrate on evacuation? Yep!

Social Media Isn’t Worth it!

Please think twice about grabbing your phone and shooting video during an evacuation. While fumbling with a phone, you’re not concentrating on the Game Plan. Social media stardom is fleeting. Your Facebook fame won’t be worth it if you or a family member dies.

Flying is Really Safe! (Be Prepared)

Air travel is without a doubt the safest means of public transportation available. I’ll re-emphasize that both accidents highlighted above, although horrific, had no fatalities. Planning for an aircraft evacuation is no different than planning for a fire drill or tornado in a school or hotel. Have a plan in place, and enjoy the ride. If the unexpected happens, you will be ready and you’ll remember to…

Leave Your Stuff Behind!




Ken Hoke has been flying for over 30 years. He’s currently a Boeing 757 & 767 captain flying international routes for a package express airline. In his spare time, he writes AeroSavvy. Follow Ken on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

About the Author

Ken Hoke
Ken Hoke has been flying for over 30 years. He’s currently a Boeing 757 & 767 captain flying international routes for a package express airline. In his spare time, he writes AeroSavvy



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