International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards address the need for passengers to receive safety information while aboard aircraft. Operators should communicate specific, accurate information and instructions to passengers, in a variety of methods, to facilitate understanding. These methods include verbal briefings and visual safety information, such as passenger safety briefing cards. ICAO guidance on passenger safety briefings, safety briefing cards, information signs, markings and placards, and other related topics can be found in the Manual on Information and Instructions for Passenger Safety (Doc 10086). The Manual was developed by ICAO to provide guidance on provisions contained in Annex 6, Operation of Aircraft.
State regulators also provide information on what is required in passenger safety information briefings and cards. For example, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Advisory Circular (AC) 121-24D, Passenger Safety Information Briefing and Briefing Cards, provides information on what is required to be covered in oral briefings and on briefing cards based on what is required by U.S. federal law.
Passenger survival rates are improved when the passengers are informed about the correct use of safety equipment and the actions they should take in the event of an emergency situation. ICAO has stated that well-informed, knowledgeable passengers have a better chance of surviving a life-threatening situation that may occur on board an aircraft.
But, as numerous accident investigations have shown, emergency evacuations do not always go smoothly and often take several minutes from the time the aircraft stops until the last person has evacuated. According to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada, “Research has also demonstrated that in a heightened state of fear, individuals have difficulty in understanding and adhering to instructions given.” Among the issues that typically garner attention following an event and emergency evacuation is the tendency of many passengers to retrieve their carry-on baggage before evacuating the aircraft. Such actions, among other things, can block access to exits, cause congestion in the aisles and potentially damage escape slides.
For example, following a 2005 runway overrun occurrence at Toronto/Lester B. Pearson International Airport (A343, Toronto Canada, 2005), the TSB found that “many passengers took their carry-on baggage with them during the emergency evacuation of the aircraft, despite the fact that [flight attendants] repeatedly provided specific instructions to the contrary.
Operators frequently begin on-board safety briefings with “Regulations state that …” or “FAA requires …” or "Transport Canada requires …” or similar wording. But studies cited by Transport Canada indicate that the perceived importance of briefings is significantly lessened when introduced with a statement stressing regulatory obligation to comply, rather than safety accountability. Surveys also indicate that an apparent lack of endorsement by an operator, as well as a lack of individual crewmember responsibility, often has a contradictory or negative impact on the way passengers react to information provided to them.
The following observations and recommendations are contained in Transport Canada AC 700-012, Passenger Safety Briefings:
- Announcements should focus on safety accountability to enhance passenger awareness and participation in their own safety. Terminology used and direction given should emphasize the importance of listening to and observing safety briefings and announcements and the reasons for their active participation in safety.
- During an emergency evacuation, passengers are highly stressed and cabin noise level is high, so this is not an optimal time for understanding or adhering to critical safety information. TSB and TC recommend that pre-landing passenger safety briefings include instructions for passengers to leave their personal effects behind should an evacuation be required on landing.
- Pre-takeoff safety briefings and passenger preparation for emergency landing briefings should include instructions for passengers to leave carry-on baggage behind in an evacuation.
- Transport Canada, citing ICAO guidance in Doc 10086, makes similar points in Civil Aviation Safety Alert (CASA) No. 2018-04, and says that operators are strongly encouraged to voluntarily adopt ICAO guidance on information and instructions that should be provided to passengers in relation to managing carry-on baggage during an emergency evacuation.
In addition to the above points, ICAO recommends that clear illustrations are included in the safety features card emphasizing that carry-on baggage must not be taken in an emergency evacuation and that crewmembers are trained in human response during emergency situations and in how to encourage passengers to leave their carry-on baggage in the airplane.