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The unsung heroes of air safety

Posted by: Tom Webb-Skinner 1 Aug 13 - 11:40AM  | Aerospace

Who goes on your list of 'Who makes air travel safe?'

You may start by thinking about the obvious safety professionals who think about the big, glaring issues of Health and Safety or you may think of Quality or Stress Engineers and the people inspecting the minute details that could cause more than minute problems. You may even start at the design stage and consider how the people putting pen to paper are considering issues of safety. Where would cabin crew come on that list?

Cabin crew reflect the most important part of air travel which is the fact that these planes are full of people! Yes, you have freight flights and safety is very important there too, but here we are talking about the most precious cargo of all; human lives.

Whether you had put cabin crew in your list or not, how far through did you think what they really do? Most of us (thankfully, because everyone involved in safety is doing a good job!) only see cabin crew tell us where the emergency exists are or how to fasten a life jacket but I was particularly struck by this quote by a flight attendant that was featured in an article about the Asiana crash:

"I don’t think of myself as a sex symbol or a servant. I think of myself as somebody who knows how to open the door of a 747 in the dark, upside down and in the water."
Let’s break that down. “I don’t think of myself as a sex symbol” – granted, a lot of people view cabin crew in this manner; they obviously make a point of looking good and are glamourised by a lot of people. “Or a servant.” – I know we can all sympathise with this, we’ve all sat on a flight with the guy making routine demands. But, above all that, who has really thought through what they’re really capable of? How much training they go through? What they are expected to do if really needed? “I think of myself as somebody who knows how to open the door of a 747 in the dark, upside down and in the water." Wow!

To leave the story of the Asiana flight on another ‘wow’ note, consider this quote:

“Cabin manager Lee Yoon-hye, apparently the last person to leave the burning plane, said crew members deflated the slides with axes to rescue their colleagues, one of whom seemed to be choking beneath the weight of a slide. Ms Lee herself worked to put out fires and usher passengers to safety despite a broken tailbone. She said she did not know how badly she was hurt until a doctor at a San Francisco hospital later treated her.”
Then there is even the odd crazy story about what they have to put up with, like this out of China recently following major air travel disruption:

“Hong Kong Airlines last year said it had an average of three incidents involving disruptive passengers every week and has introduced training in wing chun, a form of kung fu, for its cabin crew.” 

So next time you’re on board a flight, don’t forget to thank the very formidable team who are typically just serving you food and drinks but are always ready to provide an incredible standard of care to protect your safety.

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