Why Airline Safety Instructions Are Being Ignored

Flight attendants say a photo from a Southwest Airlines flight in which a passenger died proves people don’t listen to airline safety instructions.

The late George Carlin had a hilarious routine on airline safety instructions.

But for flight attendants, it’s not much of a laughing matter, especially after a photo taken aboard a Southwest Airlines jet that suffered an engine explosion surfaced.

The incident killed one passenger and injured several others.

The photo, posted by travel expert Bobby Laurie, showed passengers wearing deployed airbags in the cabin, but as Laurie, a former flight crew member pointed out, almost everyone in the photo is wearing the mask improperly:

The device, which resembles a cup-like yellow ring connected to a bag that dispenses oxygen, is supposed to be worn over the nose and mouth. But most of the people in the image are shown wearing the mask only over their mouths.

“We give explicit instructions about what to do when that mask drops,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told CBS News.

Yes. They’re correct.

Too many people simply do not listen to the airline safety instructions, what Carlin called “the safety lecture.”

Yes. That’s a serious problem.

But before we put all of the blame on the passengers, who obviously want to get where they’re going in one piece, we have to at least consider the atmosphere in most commercial airplanes these days.

People are packed in there like sardines because airlines want to go for as much airfare for flight as possible. That’s fine — certainly it’s their prerogative. But it also means there’s more noise and more frustration. Competing with that noise is an intercom system that isn’t the best quality you might find. Then you have a microphone that’s really either an old-style CB radio microphone or is more of a telephone operated as a loudspeaker. That’s not exactly what you’d call “broadcast quality” when you’re trying to communicate potentially life-saving information.

And with all due respect to flight crews everywhere, the fact is some flight crew members have thick accents, don’t speak clearly, and press the phone or microphone right up against their lips so that the best a listener might hope for is an annoying mumble.

I know that flight attendants fly frequently because they have to get from one airport to another to reach their own next flight. But they already know what those all-important instructions say. So it’s easier for them to not pay attention to what’s being said or the quality of the transmission.

As for the rest of us, I’ve never been on a single flight where the airline safety instructions were completely clear when broadcast over loudspeakers. The last time I flew, in fact, the speaker had such a thick accent that it was difficult to decipher what was being said to begin with.

Preproduced videos some airlines now play on monitors are a better alternative in terms of being able to hear what’s being said. But unfortunately, some people may not pay much attention to that even though it’s a lot easier to hear and understand.

Ultimately, we have to be responsible for our own safety when we fly. We have to make sure we’re prepared to do what we have to do during a crisis so we can get out of the plane safely.

But this is not just the fault of the passengers. The airlines could do some work themselves to make sure that line of communication is more clear than it currently is.

If it’s that important, we all need to do better.


  1. As an EMT, that was the FIRST thing I noticed: no one had those tiny masks on properly. It has to cover both mouth and nose to get anything out of them, plus they are not shaped well, so they don’t work well unless held on by one hand. Yes, it’s true what you say about those handheld CB radio-type handsets or worse the telephone piece, but if passengers actually paid attention instead of rolling their eyes, putting on their headphones and devices, they might actually hear the attendants.

Leave a Response

We'd love to hear from you, but remember all comments must be respectful. We reserve the right to remove comments that do not follow our comment guidelines. Click here to review our comment policy.

Your name, as provided, will display on the website with any comment you leave. Your email address and your browser’s IP address does not display publicly and we do not share or sell your email address or IP address to anyone.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.