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On commercial flights, in part of the pre-flight safety demonstration, you're told in the event of a crash, not to inflate your life vest until you're outside the airplane — why is this?

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Step 8: if it gets dark, apply lipstick. – NothingsImpossible Mar 22 '14 at 15:08
Steps 1-9: Men shouldn't bother to survive at all. – Farhan Dec 16 '14 at 21:41
Step 7: hold your hands out, and get ready to win the gold for diving. – Jojodmo Oct 2 '15 at 2:16
up vote 35 down vote accepted

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 was the flight that resulted in this addition to the safety briefing.

After being hijacked, the plane eventually crash-landed in the ocean. Many passengers died because they inflated their life jackets in the cabin, causing them to be trapped inside by the rising water.

Mayday/Air Crash Investigation S03E13 (Ocean Landing) covered the incident. The relevant clip is here (from 23 seconds in):

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Yup! This is what I was gonna answer with! BAD IDEA! – KORD4me Mar 21 '14 at 3:47
Also, don't deploy the liferaft/slide until the door is open. Same reason. – JerryKur Aug 19 '14 at 23:18
Strangely I don't remember the flight attendant to actually stress that point when they demonstrated use of the life vests in the cases I've seen. – Jan Hudec Jul 21 '15 at 14:02
@JanHudec I recall them always saying "do not inflate your lifejacket until you're outside of the aircraft". – Danny Beckett Jul 21 '15 at 21:02

In addition to the risk of being trapped mentioned by Danny Beckett, the overwing exits are small. If you inflate your vest before exiting, you'll have a harder time getting out, and you're more likely to tear the vest.

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That's exactly the same reason. You're trapped because you can't fit through the doors with the vest inflated :) – jwenting Mar 21 '14 at 10:56
@jwenting: I'd say that Danny's answer suggests the buoyancy is what causes problems with getting out (certainly the screengrab shows this). It might be the same ultimate reason but from a different direction but it isn't something mentioned by Danny that I can see. – Chris Mar 21 '14 at 14:33
@jwenting No. The point in Danny's answer is that, as the plane fills with water, you may need to swim under it to get to the door. That's impossible (by design) when wearing a life jacket. – David Richerby Mar 21 '14 at 21:58

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