You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘carry-on luggage’ tag.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

The recent crash on landing of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco brought back a memory from my flying days back in the ‘80s.

Airframe manufacturers are obviously building safer products than in past years. More and more people seem to be walking away from downed airplanes than ever before.  So, I certainly tip my hat to those guys for doing their part in making flying an even safer alternative than in past years.

There is one thing that still disturbs me greatly. Let me briefly tell my story and then you can draw your own conclusions.

One evening back in 1987 I was returning home to the Bay Area after a business trip. I was changing planes in Denver to pick up a flight into San Jose.  Everything went smoothly; I made the connection on time and was seated toward the back of the coach cabin on a DC-8 stretch.

The DC-8 was a single aisle four engine aircraft. It was, even in the mid ‘80s, kind of “long in the tooth” for commercial service by a tier one airline. But, many had been retrofitted with the new generation of jet engines so you saw 8’s with some frequency in those days.

The plane was full that evening and people boarding were bringing with them the usual assortment of carry on stuff.  Laptops were just becoming common but people also still carried boxes of slide carousels and presentation transparencies.  Then there was the usual collection of shopping bags, overnight garment bags and brief cases.

Everyone was seated, the door had been closed and the jet-way had just been pulled back.  I was sitting in a port side window seat, so I could see the ground crew clearly. Inside, I noticed the AC outlets above the overhead compartments were venting something. Anyone who has flown on a humid day has probably seen this and it is invariably condensate, water vapor, cast off by cooling hot humid air.

On that particular evening, it wasn’t condensate, it was smoke.

Within a couple of seconds there were shouts of, “smoke!” and “something’s burning”. The cabin filled with a smell of burning oil.

The DC-8 cabin was a long narrow tube with frequent bulkheads to separate it into a series of smaller cabins. This meant that you could not see the front of the cabin from the rear of the airplane. You could see maybe ten rows before your vision was interrupted by a bulkhead.

The people sitting on the aisles almost immediately were on their feet, flooding the aisle and essentially blocking any view the seated passengers had beyond their immediate vicinity in the cabin. A little bit of panic began to grip the crowed plane as passengers exhorted those seated over the wings to open the emergency exits. Behind me, two flight attendants watched and said nothing.

After the fact, I found out that the DC-8 did not have any communication links from the flight deck or other flight attendant stations  to the aft end of the plane. In other words our flight attendants knew as much about what was happening as I did.

The aft emergency door was opened and by now escape shoots were deployed from the over wing exits and from the doors at the back.

People began to exit the airplane. From my seat (I couldn’t go anywhere because the aisle was filled with people) I could see a man walking along the wing with a garment bag over his shoulder. I remember thinking that he looked remarkably calm.

Almost every person in the aisle was digging through the stuff in the overhead bins trying to retrieve their belongings. Think about that and think about the time it takes to empty an airplane upon arrival at a gate.  We had every reason to believe that the plane was on fire and these guys were worried about their carry-on junk!

My only thought that evening was that I was going to burn to death because some jackass couldn’t get their carry-on bags out of an overhead bin.  That thought made me furious.

This morning, as I watched video shot in the aftermath of the Asiana crash I saw evidence of the same thing had happened there. People were walking around on the ground with their carry on bags! How selfish can people be? Is some souvenir from Korea more important than someone else’s life? Is that really how we think?

I know plenty of folks will hate this, but, the only way to fix this is to ban carry-on items on commercial flights. If all luggage was checked there would be no reason to stop for anything. When an airplane is on fire, time is of the essence. People have to move quickly and not be encumbered by bags, laptops, camera cases etc.

I could be persuaded to allow purses and briefcase size items. But I would remove the overhead bins altogether. Beyond those two items, I would ban it all.

I know people are clutching their chests at the prospect of having to go to baggage claim, but I just don’t see a better alternative.

With Asiana flight 214, we got lucky. We usually don’t get lucky in the world of airplane crashes.

%d bloggers like this: