Why Must Flight Attendants Go Through Their Whole Safety Spiel Every Time?

Even when everyone already knows it and no one listens.

The rise of the humorous and/or celeb-packed video version has taken some of the sting of apathy out of the in-flight safety demonstration, but it remains a chore that must be tackled by flight attendants. Perhaps you've felt a twinge of empathy for your hard-working flight attendant forced to stand at the front of a plane full of disinterested passengers and go through the ritual of explaining how to fasten a seat belt and use a lifejacket "in the unlikely event of landing on water." If so, you might have wondered: Why do they bother going through the same speech every time. Hardly anyone pays attention and we've all heard it before, haven't we?

Well, even if you have heard the drill 300 times before, there may be just one fellow passenger on board who has never heard it — a 2003 survey (the most recent available) by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that 18 percent of Americans had never flown — that's why FAA regulations require the briefing to be delivered before takeoff.

Hachi Ko, a former air accident investigator, also added these thoughts to a post at Quora. "In a panic situation," he wrote, "passengers can fumble with their seatbelts. In a panic, passengers often push for the “button” that doesn’t exist, where it would be located in their car.

"This is one of those things that I see a lot in accident investigations… things that are so simple under ordinary circumstances become confusing and complicated when you’re disoriented and panicked. We make things as simple as we can without it being unsafe, but there is still plenty of confusion after a crash.

"The safety briefings are important and passengers should pay attention to the details. As simple as it seems, plenty of people still mess it up."

For a more chilling lesson on why safety briefings matter, look to the case of Ethiopian Airlines flight 961. The flight was hijacked en route between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Nairobi, Kenya and crashed into the Indian Ocean when it ran out of fuel. It is one of the few examples of a water landing in which people survived; however, many passengers died because they had inflated their lifejackets while inside the aircraft and so were trapped as it filled with water.

Still, if the short attention spans of airline passengers continues to impede the delivery of the safety briefing, airlines might want to look to this sassy Southwest employee for inspiration.

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