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Most people don't realize it, but a big percent of all aircraft accidents are survivable. There are measures you can take to tilt the odds in your favour. Having flown return flights every week for the past 2 years, it's always been interesting to see fellow travellers observe the pre-flight safety demos (the ipod/ipad/iphone brigade usually have better things to do!). Here are some steps the experts say might save your life in a crash:

Choose your airline - Your life is in their hands after all. Certain airlines have somewhat lacklustre safety records (Check them here AirSafe or here Crash Database). I’m not going to mention them here (Liability and all that!), but suffice to say the that airlines from the former Soviet Union, and many African countries should be flown ‘with caution’ and perhaps only if it’s the last aircraft out of town before that meteor strikes!

Wear cotton or wool - Do not wear clothes made of synthetic fibres, like nylon or polyester; they may melt into your skin in the event of a fire, natural fabrics; cottons, silks, wool, suede’s, and leathers do not burn as quickly as polyesters. For women, trousers provide protection in case of a slide evacuation. Tights melt to your skin; they are a definite no-no! Men should wear lace-up, not slip-on shoes, as the G-force will leave you shoeless. Remember your escape route may involve hot oil and debris. It is also advisable to dress according to the terrain you'll be flying over. If you're crossing the North Pole en-route to Japan, keep a warm jacket on your lap. There's nothing worse than a window blowing out and giving you hypothermia whilst the pilot wrestles the aircraft to the nearest airport!

Seat yourself as close to the tail as you can! - This is the portion of the plane with the highest survival rate. If you're seated in first class or the cockpit, then you've had it! This part of an aircraft is most likely the first thing to hit the ground. When you board the plane, count the number of seat rows to the nearest exit ahead of you and behind you. If smoke fills the cabin, you may have to feel your way to the exit. Just because your assigned seating is in row 23 does not mean you are 23 rows back from the economy class divider.  On many airlines, the first row in tourist class may start with row 10!  Don't assume anything, count it out and make a mental note. Obviously, a plane won't always hit the ground nose first, so always sitting at the back isn't going to guarantee your life. Statistics show that survivors of deadly crashes are more likely to be seated within five rows of an emergency exit.  

Take note of the floor lighting - Which side of the row is it on? Knowing this in a smoke- filled plane where everything is tossed and turned differently in a matter of seconds will help you get your bearings.  The floor lighting will be a constant, observe and remember.

Look for a second exit.  Your nearest exit may be blocked. Check out the occupants next to the exits as well. Do they look the type to panic? Will they be able to open the doors? Luckily most airlines now ‘coach’ people sitting next to exits, but be prepared to takeover.

Make sure your seat belt is fastened – It should be snug around your pelvic area, not your stomach.  After take off, you can get more comfortable, but, initially, make it low and tight!  Should G-forces happen, a burst bladder can kill you as quickly as anything else!

Pay attention to the flight attendant's safety briefings and instructions - So what if you know the stewardess' speech by heart?  Stay alert and listen.  Do not go to sleep until airborne - more than 80% of crashes occur during the first 3 minutes after take off, or in the last 8 minutes before landing. Stay awake during this period. Know how to open regular and emergency doors and windows. If flight attendants are incapacitated, you may have to do it. Research by the FAA on safety briefings has shown that the least-informed people are frequent flyers, as they assume they already know safety procedures and do not listen to the information given. I would also add the 'i-generation' to that group of people! They'll be too busy listening/watching their ipads to notice everyone else escaping the inferno!

Always leave your window shade open - During take-off and landings, leave it open so you can assess the outside conditions.

Know the location of life jackets and rafts - If you're travelling over water, know where the life jackets and life rafts are stowed, and how to release them. See if there really IS a life jacket under your seat and try to imagine how to put it on in the dark. Survivors say this is very hard to do!

Know how to get into the "brace" position - bending over with your head down and your hands grabbing your knees or ankles. And be alert for unusual motions that may signal trouble; getting into the brace position then may prevent severe injuries (Recently the FAA and the CAA have changed their instructions for the "crash position" from sticking you head between your knees to a different sitting position. This isn't so you're more likely to survive... no, this is so that there is more likelihood of your teeth surviving intact! They've found that with the traditional method, a lot of the crash victims had broken jawbones, so it was hard for them to make dental identification. Especially important if there’s a fire.)

Staying low in your seat helps to avoid the fireballs that may shoot through the cabin initially.

Overhead bins do not survive crashes well - That is why stewardesses politely suggest you never put heavy objects there but store them under your seat.  Think of the times that light turbulence causes these bins to fall open! A crash will do far worse!

Keep your feet flat - Feet should be flat on the floor so you can spring fast. Take off any high heels which will give you extra mobility when dashing for the doors. No point breaking your ankles as well. Try and refrain from wearing high heals on aircraft.

Don’t cross your legs - Do not cross ankles or legs as this may crush your hips.

Remove glasses – Indeed remove everything from your lap (remember G-forces!). Wine bottles, mobile phones and handbags can become lethal cabin missiles.

Keep a handkerchief handy - Put a handkerchief in your hand and tuck hands under your legs to prevent flailing and broken bones in a crash. Cover your mouth and nose immediately with the handkerchief or jacket you have in your hand from takeoff and move as quickly as possible to your known exits.  The toxic fumes filling the cabin are almost as deadly as the gallons of fuel you are sitting on!  Just a few breaths of smoky air can cause you to lose consciousness.

Stay low but do not crawl - Your greatest visibility will probably be at floor level, but do not crawl, just crouch low and stay on your feet.  You do not need the danger of sharp debris, trampling passengers, and toxic carpet fumes to deter your chance of survival.

Smoke and filter hoods - In recent years, smoke hoods have become a controversial topic in the airline industry. Some say airlines should provide these safety devices, the simplest of which are translucent bags fitted with filters that fit over your head. But the FAA has rejected the proposal, feeling that passengers would take longer to evacuate the plane if they pause to don the hoods. Filters in the hoods, which are made of fire-resistant material, clear toxins from the smoke, including deadly carbon monoxide. They also let you keep seeing and protect you from burning molten stuff falling in your head. Costing £40 and up, they are packaged in a pouch about the size of a paperback book. Buy one here

Just go!! In an emergency evacuation, don't pause to grab personal effects. Just go.

Stay with the plane - If you are ever stranded in the desert after your plane crashes (not that they do often), the most important thing is to STAY WITH THE PLANE! Mirrors are also handy for signalling. If you want to survive after a crash, your best bet is to stay in or near the plane (depending on the state of it) and wait for the emergency services to arrive. It's also essential to stay warm in these conditions, as it'll probably be sometime before anyone arrives. If you've crashed, then the chances of the aircraft catching fire are slim. Most good pilots will ditch most of the fuel if they know they have to crash land... Otherwise if it's an unexpected accident (mid-air collision etc...) then you'll probably burn....

For more research, please refer to the following - Find out about how arlines measure seat pitch, how they rate in terms of comfort and more importantly find out about their safety records! - The global passenger guide to airline product and service standards - lets you check each airline's quality rating online. Use their passenger forum sections to read customer feedback and opinions for over 400 airlines and 425 airports around the world. - The world's specialist site focussing on the "premium" airline seat market - for suppliers, airlines and passenger alike. Read customer reviews of airline seats, see the results of our Seat Surveys and Seat tests, check out the sleep comfort of seats, find out which airline offers lie-flat seats...

Proffessional Pilot's Rumour Network -  More for airline pilot's, but is of interest for discussions on safety issues etc. Not one for the faint-hearted perhaps. Near-misses are seemingly a common occurrence!! - The un-official site for all your airline best seat selection needs. They offer advice on the most desirable seats, as well as which seats to avoid at all cost. With SeatExpert, you will have the pick of the house. - Employs a powerful combination of detailed seat map graphics, in-depth remarks and observations, a color-coded system to help identify superior and substandard seats and icons to denote amenities such as laptop power and audio/video entertainment. This blend of features successfully conveys highly specific seat information such as extra legroom, limited recline, decreased width and obstructed movie screen viewing. All aspects and features of the site are displayed in a user-friendly interface and an easy-to-navigate format.

The Travel Insider - More airline reviews!


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