An advertisement on British Airways‘ Business Life magazine brought this flight safety awareness course to my attention – aimed at frequent flyers, like myself. In an emergency situation, how would I cope? How would I react?
I honestly hope I never know what it would be like, but I was extremely tempted to find out more about flight safety, even if in a simulated environment.
This course takes place at Cranebank, one of BA‘s training facilities outside London Heathrow, and is aimed in reality for BA‘s staff to train and is now open for members of the public on flight safety awareness courses. Each course can take up to 30-35 participants.
Our afternoon started with a lunch, where we got to know our fellow passengers and our crew – 3 BA flight trainers and a real first officer and a captain, which I personally thought it was a really nice touch. Between themselves (and if my math is correct), the team had over 100 years of flying experience and we knew we were in great hands.
We boarded the plane, and the “crew” started the usual safety demonstration. We all behaved normally – seat belts on, a little chatter as normal, and it just carried on. Some people paid attention to it, others not so much – personally, I am guilty as charged although I very consciously make an effort to listen to the safety announcements on board, especially if they are done by a person (I think it is very rude not to, and promise I do my best). Video.. not so much. Anyway…
We supposedly took off, and all of a sudden, there was a bit of smoke coming right from the left of my seat. My first instinct was, obviously, to take a photograph (I was a woman on a mission!). And I do recall mentioning it out loud – something along the lines of “Oh, there is some smoke!”. From there.. well disaster struck – the crew started to “confidently shout” at us: brace, brace, brace, there were some announcements from the captain, the lights went off, smoke filled the cabin and we were told to evacuate.
This sounds quite straightforward and simple – but it wasn’t and this is the point of the whole course. No matter how many times any of us had flown, we didn’t react the same way. Were we able to follow the crew’s instructions? Where were we supposed to go? Which was nearest exit? Plus we couldn’t see…
After this exercise, we went back on the plane to debrief – and it was amazing how we could hardly remember any of the events that had taken place just minutes before. The order of the announcements? What were we told to do? By whom? Lifejacket or no lifejacket? It was absolutely overwhelming.
Let’s talk about the brace position – this is what we were told to do repeatedly, and interesting, not all of us actually knew what we were supposed to do. I adopted my version of the bracing position (which wasn’t bad), and was also aware of what to do when travelling in a rear-facing seat (which is common in BA’s long haul cabins, in Club World). What I didn’t know was why was it so incredibly important.
The idea of the bracing position is to protect your head in case of an accident and in case the overhead lockers open. But there is a way to do it properly. If you cross your fingers and something falls on you, you break all your fingers and cannot use your hands to unfasten your seatbelt and move. As I am right-handed, that should be the hand I need to protect with my left one. The idea is that the good hand can always then help you work the seatbelt, should you need to evacuate.
Loose seatbelts? A no-no – and ensure that they are nicely on your waste or, in case of emergency, instead of protecting you, they can cut you. I can’t tell you what an eye-opening experience this was.
After some serious talking (I can’t stress how helpful and open the crew were – and assertive, and funny), it was time for some door opening – and that would mean, emergency door opening. We tested this on an old Boeing 737, under the assumption that if we could work that door (not the latest technology!), we can work any door on a flying airplane.
It wasn’t hard (once you master the “doors to manual” and what cross check actually means), but the door was soooooooo heavy.
From doors, we moved on to emergency doors – when to use them, why are they useful and why. Interestingly (which I never noticed), these only exist on short-haul planes and are designed to be for “self-use for passengers”. I know people like to choose these seats because usually they come with extra leg room – but also with extra responsibility. Opening the emergency exit is surprisingly easy, just a little push, but maneuvering it is not easy at all. At 40lbs (20kgs), you need to be able to move it. Are you?
It was impossible to take a photograph, as the descent took seconds.
We talked about more aspects of flight safety – which included the life-jackets (do check if your seat has one, please. It seems that many people actually quite like to steal them as they are great for the summer.. I am not joking), and there are also regional variations (e.g. USA-based airlines which fly mostly inland do not have to carry them, and you can use the bottom part of the seat as a flotation device, for example).
The course ended with a section on hotel safety, which I found most interesting.
The British Airways‘ Flight Safety Awareness course takes 4 hours and a bit, and I can’t tell you how quickly it went nor what an eye-opening experience it was. I am so glad I went on this course, and seriously cannot recommend it enough. If you are in the UK (or planning a visit), and want to find out more about these courses, visit British Airways Flight Training pages.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of British Airways on this course. Views and opinions are, as always my own. To find out more about this course, which costs £162 per person, visit BA’s website.