Air emergencies: Are airlines telling you what you need to know?
Marketplace looks at how airlines prepare passengers if something goes wrong
Your chance of surviving an airline emergency may be better than you think. But information that experts say could help you walk away unscathed is not included in many safety briefings, a CBC Marketplace investigation reveals.
According to data from the U.S.-based National Transportation Safety Board, more than 80 per cent of passengers involved in serious airline accidents survive. But knowing one safety tip — the brace position — could make the difference.
Marketplace investigated how airlines handle safety information and found that while the brace position is included in flight safety cards, many major Canadian airlines — including Air Canada and WestJet — don't instruct passengers on how to brace until an emergency is happening.
- Watch the Marketplace investigation, Are You Prepared? Friday at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on CBC-TV and online.
- Airline travel: 5 things you need to know about your flight rights
Marketplace spoke with several passengers of Air Canada Flight 624, which crash landed in Halifax in March 2015. They say they did not feel prepared when their plane went down.
Some also say it can be confusing and difficult to hear instructions given in the middle of the panic of a real emergency, and they did not know how to properly brace themselves for impact.
"I didn't hear the voice saying: 'Put your head down,' " says Deb Tamblyn of Halifax. "It would've been nice to have had a voice from somewhere."
"I don't know if it's the first or the second impact that I hit the screen," her husband Doug Tamblyn says. "I had an awful bump, ... broke a tooth here, and was knocked out."
'It will reduce deaths'
During an impact or rapid deceleration, your body can jerk and flail, causing you to hit other people or the seat in front of you. You can come into contact with loose objects flying around the cabin.
If you're injured, you may not be able to evacuate easily or safely.
The brace position stabilizes your body in the event of an accident. There are different versions of the brace position — in some you hold your ankles, in others you cross your arms over the seat in front of you. All are designed to reduce the likelihood of injury.
"The brace position will reduce severity of injuries, it will reduce deaths for those who adopt it. Those who don't adopt it are more likely to be severely injured or to die," says Dr. Jan Davies, a safety researcher at the University of Calgary.
"This is based on evidence, this is based on analyzing crashes and analyzing crash test dummy studies."
But do passengers know what to do?
"I don't think they're informed at all," says Davies.
Some airlines — including Virgin, Air Transat and British Airways — do include a demonstration of how to brace in their safety briefings.
Most only illustrate a recommended brace position in the safety card, which many passengers may ignore.
A 2000 study from the U.S.-based National Transportation Safety Board found that 68 per cent of passengers do not read the safety cards. A 2006 study from the Australian Transportation Safety Board found that 65 per cent don't read the card.
Davies also says it can be difficult to figure out the correct position from the illustrations.
She says that airlines should do a better job of explaining the brace position.
"I'd like to see something. I'd certainly like to see information in the pre-flight briefing and I'd like to see better information in the safety card," she says.
Air Canada was unable to speak to Marketplace, citing ongoing legal proceedings brought by some passengers of the Halifax crash and an ongoing Transportation Safety Board investigation about the incident.
In a statement, WestJet said: "Like many airlines around the world, WestJet demonstrates the brace position immediately after an emergency landing has been declared because it is the most critical and useful information to convey to our guests at the most relevant point in time."
The company also said it was not aware of evidence that including the brace position in the pre-flight safety briefing would improve passenger safety.
How to brace yourself
There are several ways to brace yourself in the case of an emergency. Some techniques recommend bending at the waist and holding on to your ankles.
Davies recommends reviewing the airline safety card every time you fly and practising the brace position before takeoff to see what position feels comfortable and secure.