Coffee, Tea, or Save Your Life

I fly fairly frequently for business, mainly internationally, so I am interested in a lot of what goes on at the customer end of the airline world  For such a fucked up industry, it’s amazing how often front line people (who are mostly looking at their pensions getting trashed and their companies raping them via chapter 11) actually are helpful.  You just have to avoid the "screw you I know my rights" approach out of the gate—which is tough, because overall, the process causes most of us to feel more or less like herded animals.

050803_pearson_crash_gal[Photo: Toronto Star]

In the initial coverage of yesterday’s Air France crash in Toronto, I searched in vain for any credit for the cabin crew.  What was known pretty early, certainly before most copy hit the wire, was that the craft was emptied with minimum loss of life (none, as it turned out).  Anyone who flies these 300-series Airbuses knows how effective the evacuation has to be for this result.

As more data became available, it turned out that almost 300 passengers were emptied out in 1:30 minutes—most in fact were out in under 50 seconds, despite malfunctioning slides.  (I never have much faith in any of the ancillary "safety" equipment—my particular favorite is the "seat which can be used as a flotation device").  For sure the cockpit crew was busy trying to shut off fuel lines and engines—so who organized this nice little evacuation, did anyone think?  Bear in mind, also, that until sanity reigns, much of the customer-facing material in a passenger jet is highly toxic when it burns, and by god it burns fast.

Even an AP piece carried in the NY Times, written long enough after the event to summarize the statistics, with the headline "Canada Plane Crash Has Textbook Evacuation", can only manage to say, halfway down the piece,

The flight crew responded immediately, said Dominique Pajot, 54, a
businessman from Paris, who was sitting in first-class. ”They were
very quick to get up and open the doors and help people and calm

and a bit further down,

”Stewardesses started pushing everyone out,” said Diezyn, who said she jumped down a chute in the back of the plane.

In keeping with the traditional role models, the first part of the piece details the interchange of the pilots and tower on approach, including a seemingly self-contradictory point in the third graf about crediting the pilots:

For the 297 passengers and 12 crew, a harrowing landing in Toronto on
Tuesday would end in a textbook evacuation. Most were out in just 52
chilling seconds, and no one was killed. Some credited pilots who
fought the raging weather surrounding Pearson International Airport,
which was on ”red alert” status because of the electrical storm.

I have a huge deep regard for pilots, who keep me alive in a thin metal tube at 36,000 feet over the frigid North Atlantic, but really—"most were out in 52 seconds" (unbelievable!) but "some credited the pilots who fought the raging weather" when, excuse me, they had enough gas to circle the storms or go to Montreal.  It would have been more discreet to gloss over the probable pilot error—yet even so, so little acknowledgement for the attendents who apparently remained on the burning craft, pushing folks out the door!

In a later AP piece from today, we at least hear credit from the airport fire chief:

…Mike Figliola said three-quarters of the passengers
and crew managed to escape in the 52 seconds it took for emergency
crews to arrive. “The crew did a great job, they’re trained to get the
people off,” Figliola said.

And just following, a positive comment from the Air France chairman:

At Air France headquarters in Roissy, France, airline chairman
Jean-Cyril Spinetta also praised the flight crew. “I don’t know if we
should speak of a miracle … but above all the professionalism of the
crew,” Spinetta said.

Of course, the "flight crew" includes the pilots.  Fire Chief Figliola, who’s probably more of a working stiff, uses the word "crew", which actually refers more to the cabin crew (where the pilots are "officers").

Maybe my teenage lifeguard job gives me some extra empathy for flight attendants—you mainly have to spend hours doing bullshit or nothing, keeping an eye on things, and very occassionally you have to save someone’s ass.  My consolation is that I’m sure all the frequent fliers who read about this crash and its amazing outcome will immediately understand the kind of credit the cabin crew deserves.  On a bad day, I might have pulled one sputtering kid out of the deep water.  Yesterday ten cabin crew got 297 people, mostly within a minute of the accident, off a toxic firetrap that was about to explode.  Too bad we can’t figure out how to stop them getting screwed out of their pensions.


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