In recent news, the pilot of an aircraft that caught fire was chastising passengers for taking their luggage.

What are the major concerns behind his criticism?

I like to put this in context:

  1. All passengers and crew survived.
  2. There were no injuries.
  3. Crew reported that the evacuation was very orderly and efficient.

So what could be the reason for the pilot speaking out so critically? So critical, in fact, that he argues that overhead-compartment doors should lock between takeoff and landing. My guesses include:

  • another passenger cohort could have been less orderly, and pushing with luggage resulted in injuries or people becoming trapped.
  • sliding down inflatable exit slides with luggage could cause the slides to puncture and trap other passengers.
  • the inflatable exit slides are not rates to carry the weight of an adult + luggage (seems unlikely unless the adult is massively obese).

Would appreciate hearing a list that is not just educated guessing.

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    $\begingroup$ If you are standing up in front of me to get something from an overhead bin, you will not be standing up for long. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Sep 21, 2015 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ There were injuries in that evacuation, though I don't know if any of them were related to people taking luggage with them. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2015 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Simon indeed... I am flabbergasted that other passengers let those idiots take their luggage with them (well, that and I haven't read about the pax being prosecuted). $\endgroup$
    – Moriarty
    Sep 22, 2015 at 10:15
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    $\begingroup$ While the (second) last thing you want is passengers taking their luggage with them, the (very) last thing you want is for fighting then to take place as other passengers try to prevent it happening. $\endgroup$
    – user5505
    Sep 22, 2015 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ Gents, talk of times added to an evacuation is neither possible nor useful. The Manchester Airtours disaster is a case study. I forget the exact time but it went from survivable to deadly in about 20 seconds as the hull was breached by the fire and smoke poured in. If that evacuation had been 20 seconds quicker, more (all?) would have survived. In this particular case, deciding to vacate the runway was the main cause but the point stands. Adding ANY unneccesary time to an evacuation in case of fire is potentially deadly and delaying, even for seconds, to collect belongings is inexcusable. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Sep 23, 2015 at 13:30

6 Answers 6


As soon as there's a fire on board, the absolute top priority is getting everybody out as soon as possible. Aircraft are designed in such a way that, even after a crash landing (or other serious malfunction), the passengers will have a minute or two to evacuate before conditions in the cabin become toxic (fire, smoke, etc); this is done by using flame-retardant material and burn-through protection, but in an intense fire these won't protect the cabin for long, and once they fail no-one will be able to survive inside the aircraft for much longer than that. Smoke inhalation and oxygen deprivation kill just as effectively as being burned.

Therefore everyone has to be able to evacuate from the plane within 90 seconds, even assuming the plane is packed to the gills with passengers, and half the exits are inoperative. Given that the aircraft may be damaged after a rough/crash landing, some of the doors may be unusable (due to fire or smoke just outside them), it may be dark in the cabin, and people may be injured and/or panicking, it's vital that nothing slows down the evacuation. To get an idea of what a 90-second evacuation of a fully-loaded aircraft looks like, see the video of the A380 evacuation test - and these passengers were calm, uninjured, and prepared. If passengers take hand luggage with them this is slowed down:

  • The time it takes to get it out of the overhead bins (with everyone else crushing against you to get out).
  • Carrying the luggage down the aisle (without tripping, hurting yourself or anyone else - again, look at the A380 video, and imagine trying to do that with a suitcase). If you lose your luggage, everyone behind you will have to climb over it to get to the exit.
  • Maneuvering your suitcase around the corner to the door, not getting it stuck on the door frame, with people behind you literally shoving you out the door.
  • Plunging down a very steep slide the height of a two-storey building (or more, in case of the A380's upper deck) at high speed, with your suitcase flailing around. At best it whacks you on the head, at worst it punctures and deflates the slide, which given the crush of passengers behind you will probably lead a few people to plummet from the aircraft doors straight to the ground.
  • Assuming you've made it to the ground, there is someone else plunging down the slide right behind you. If your suitcase slows you down even a little, they will plow right into you, and soon you'll have a crush of people at the foot of the slide.

In this specific case, the fire was fortunately not serious enough to defeat the cabin fire protection before the last passengers had evacuated - but as @Andy said, there are unfortunately other examples where the passengers were not so lucky. To illustrate the risk of fire after landing: Air France Flight 358 ran off the runway at landing, and despite having little fuel on board, the resulting fire completely destroyed the aircraft; luckily, everyone evacuated in time. Once there's been a major malfunction, there is no way to tell how much time you have left to get out - fire can spread very very quickly - and so you have to get out as quickly as possible. Taking luggage with you endangers your life and that of your fellow passengers.

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    $\begingroup$ Holy cow! That evacuation test video was incredible! I'll have that in my mind next time I'm sitting in the back of the plane waiting for those lazy smucks near the front to get their luggage and exit so I can stretch my legs! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Sep 21, 2015 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Agreed, incredible! But (only?) one injury even under a near ideal test. I would hate to be that person... $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Sep 23, 2015 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ While impressive, the real times will be way longer if you account for stress, disabled people, not everyone being an athlete, obese passengers, etc. I would be very, very curious to see a test done with a proper statistical sample of people who fly (age, physical abilities, etc.). Even without the stress factor I am sure it would be less way optimistic. $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Sep 23, 2015 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ The evacuation tests are done with a reasonably representative population sample (x% over the age of 60, y% carrying pillows simulating infants etc). Obviously airplane manufacturers will give their test the maximum change of success and tend to pick more athletic candidates, but the airworthiness authorities monitor these tests closely to ensure they are representative. The point if not whether 78 seconds is a realistic evacuation time - the point is that an aircraft evacuation is very stressful and anything which causes delays could be dangerous. $\endgroup$
    – Lightsider
    Sep 23, 2015 at 10:53

Just one angle I would like to add to these excellent answers.

Passengers might be slow to get off because they want to retrieve their passports, driving licences, phones etc. This could well result in people at the back losing their lives as explained in the other answers on this post.

But consider this: if people are on the aircraft, the fire service can't properly attack the fire, because covering the aircraft with foam might SUFFOCATE the passengers still on board.

So if passengers are quick to get off, the fire service can then deal with the fire as quickly as possible, and it might well result in your driving licence being saved as well, rather than you die along with your driving licence.

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    $\begingroup$ Comment on the "automatically locking overhead bins": I doubt such a system will ever be installed. Systems which have to work after an airplane crash are brutally difficult to design, and tend to expensive and heavy. Airplane crashes are fantastically rare, so for most planes, the system will never be used, and the more an aircraft weighs, the more it costs to fly. $\endgroup$
    – Lightsider
    Sep 21, 2015 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ Items that valuable/useful are best kept in your pockets anyway along with cash/cards (and if you get bored easily a paperback/kindle). No retrieval needed then, nothing slowing you down. But on a more prosaic note even carry-on luggage isn't immune from theft/pickpockets at some airports (especially on arrival), and access to the lockers isn't guaranteed during the flight (assuming you like to read in turbulence). $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Sep 21, 2015 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ Besides what Lightsider said about designing such an auto-lock system, do you want to guess how many would be trying to open those very same overhead bins? My guess is that while the number might (for a very liberal definition of might) be smaller than one person per crash, that will still happen often enough to have to be accounted for. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 21, 2015 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ A belt pouch, money pouch (of the kind that many travellers already have) or even just putting the most important items in your pockets is probably a far more reasonable choice for everyone involved. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 21, 2015 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Lightsider, it could be locked-by-default, and check a "there's no emergency going on" signal before allowing it self to be opened. I agree that sociologically it would probably add more problems than solve, though. $\endgroup$
    – Ángel
    Sep 21, 2015 at 21:42

Remember the Manchester airport fire... a major fire on the ground which led to the loss of over fifty passengers, partly due to smoke inhalation.

These days a fire on board has to be taken very seriously. Just because you're on the ground doesn't mean you're safe!

So, in your request for a list, there can only be one item on that list... that slowing down the evacuation can result in very heavy losses. I'm sure every commercial pilot has been briefed on past fires and knows how quickly they can become disasters. The fact that no-one received fire related injuries on a particular occasion is irrelevant.


If I were in an airplane crash (and when I fly I generally have my young children with me), I wouldn't want people to think that it was OK to stop and take their luggage with them. First, not only does it slow the evacuation (the goal is get everyone out within 90 seconds), but it puts other people at risk if getting the luggage

  1. slows you and the people behind you from getting to the slides,

  2. could harm others if you open it and bags coming raining down,

  3. could cause an obstruction if it gets caught in the aisles under or in front of someone

  4. could damage the slides, and

  5. could cause an obstruction at the bottom of the slide as people are coming out of the plane.

Keep in mind that the BA flight in LV that caught fire wasn't full. In an emergency, on a completely full flight, on a larger airplane, do you really want people thinking "those other people on other flights took their luggage and everyone survived!" when you and your loved ones are trying to just get out and get to safety? The pilot of the BA flight has a right to also have strong words, as the flight crew is always the last to evacuate. Delaying an evacuation could prove particularly harmful to them as they can't get out until everyone else does.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see what this adds to the answers posted before it. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2015 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ It adds a passenger's opinion, giving priority to his family (lives), towards another passenger's opinion giving priority to his bag. And, crews are the ones under the highest risk of death for being the lasts to deplane. That's a psychologic insight about the crew severity of words on this case. Rules are clear, but to understand why they are so strict, you have to get in place of others. Core problem : in extreme situations, instincts takes precedence over reasoning which make you act selfish and only take care of the most valuable for you. Few people follows rules they don't understand. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2015 at 18:21

As highlighted by these two points of view (pros and cons), there is no clear answer.

In short, in case of evacuation, the aircraft must be empty of passengers in less than 90 seconds, not using all exits (because some may be obstructed by fire).

Given the fact that any luggage in an evacuation process may be lost anywhere from the seat to the tarmac, including the small escape hatches and the middle of the escape slides and cannot be retrieved until the end of the evacuation process, it may constitute a potential obstacle for the other passengers. An obstacle in such a critical phase may lead to at least injuries (broken leg while reaching the end of the escape slide), and in the worst case to passengers not able to evacuate in time.

Keep in mind that there are emergency services on the runway, and insurance if you lost luggage in the process. Therefor, the only thing you should think of is to evacuate to stay alive.

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    $\begingroup$ To me this is one of the very clear-cut cases where not all opinions are equally valid: As far as I'm concerned anyone who would defend stopping to retrieve your carry-on from the overhead bin after an incident requiring use of the evacuation slides (fire or otherwise) is a blithering idiot. This is the moral equivalent of waking up to discover your house is on fire and stopping to neatly fold your wardrobe so you can take it outside with you, and making everyone else in the house stand there and watch you fold your clothes. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Sep 21, 2015 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 so that would place your opinion squarely in the "con" category, with an "I am right, you are wrong" chaser? $\endgroup$
    – paul
    Sep 22, 2015 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @paul Yup. I bet if you go interview the cabin crew from this flight (or any commercial airline) you'll get very similar responses from them. You'll probably also get an earful about people sleeping through the safety briefing and then not knowing what to do... $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Sep 22, 2015 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ @paul the briefing is not about knowing what to do but about activating the memory. I'm not a neuro-specialist but I'm quite sure the brain works like a computer. If you remind something to someone (put this knowledge in cache), it is quite faster to access to this knowledge, espacially in case of emergency where time is critical. "I've seen it before" means you you it but you may takes tenth of seconds to access to this knowedge. "i've seen it less than an hour ago" means you may access your knowledge quite faster (less than ten seconds). The previous leg may be hours away $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Sep 22, 2015 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @paul The "traveling public" is not an expert body. Trained and certificated flight attendants, the NTSB, the Flight Safety Foundationm and Airbus have made their positions quite clear on this, and they are the experts. If you want to discuss this further you stop by chat & we can get into NTSB reports together. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Sep 22, 2015 at 15:01

EDIT : This answer doesn't answer OP's request for the reasons why... However, some people looking for an answer such as the one asked by OP already knows the rules, and agree with it only when there is a critical risk of death.

When you see that slide deploying, just assume one simple principle, even if you don't smell any fuel fume nor see any flame or smoke. Slides aren't deployed for fun. They are deployed because the situation is so critical that the evacuation cost is probably less than any other of the remaining outcome (injured people, deaths ?)

Rules are there for a reason !

There's only one thing that can put an end to the internet bashing over people (if that's the problem) who bring their stuff with them.

Because you can't educate 7 trillion different people the same way (>80% doesn't listen carefully to emergency guidelines) and make all of them suddenly understand their 20,000$ camera is not worth risking one single live (prepare to be sued and you'll spend at least 100,000$ if one died - simple math)

Cabin luggage :

  • less than 4Kg (8lbs)
  • under 0.40m x 0.20m x 0.30m (100in x 50in x 76in)
  • without any sharp component
  • and with a safe and strong handle.

Then, no problem, everyone can bring his stuff with him upon evac. Simple rule, no possible sueing. You have your (critical) medication, your passport, business documents, credit card or cash, etc.

This answer doesn't really addresses the asked question; however, the asked question is an open and endless debate (pros and con) and have precise answer from the airline industry (NO ! There is no possible compromise when it comes to safety concerns), while mitigated answers from passengers point of view.

As long as you're not in the industry, never experienced a fullpanic emergency situation and lucky enough to get out alive or unharmed, you can't measure the importance of safety rules. That happens everyday : you can repeat passing that red stop until the day you have an accident. In similar cases, the only thing that works in a certain extent is strengthening the rules by removing the problem at the source, instead of trying to fix a design flaw at a later stage : disallows those large luggages in cabin ! Not the most seducing solution, but working (if correctly applied)

Side note : I may blame the crew for their severity, but I won't because I understand. I may blame some passengers with their huge bags (putting those behind at rish because that plane full of fuel CAN explode) but I won't because I understand, they are in panic, or not knowing the rules and aren't aware of anything else than themselves (my point is everyone has his own limit when put in extreme situations - you can't expect from everyone to get 100% prepared for the 987 possible scenarios on each flight while thinking of others)

I'm just both happy noone were injured on this case - EDIT: Wrong ! there were injuries -, and sad the practice has taken a so wide and careless proportion. If that continues, statistically, one big bad thing will happen sometime in the future, for sure.

  • $\begingroup$ As highlighted by a comment below the question, there were injuries in this case. One big problem with luggages is the fact that they can be lost anywhere including in front of an escape hatch and thus slow down the evacuation, whatever there shape or size. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Sep 23, 2015 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ @ManuH. I do agree entirely, and I'm a frequent flyer and an aviation hobbyist :) And that's also why I don't believe in impossible solutions : Rules are there, but just a few follows them and that's how it is. People underestimate the risk of a small bag - we both agree just like 99% of us here on AviationEx - but that's how it is, you can't educate everyone. After 9.11, rules have changed, it's one way to find a solution. But we can't jump from a 20lbs cabin luggage to a no luggage cabin on all flights. If you can't educate everyone, you can reduce the risks instead. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2015 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ There at least one 40lbs cabin luggage per flight on an airline I know well believe it or not, and a few others around 30-35lbs. That airline is black listed in Europe. We still have 10-20lbs cabin luggage allowed even on european and american airlines. Give that to a panicked woman on high heels and we'll head to a disaster. My point is : most people won't care, how well you may argue or explain the rules - I came from several loooong interesting readings about the whole thing, taking each relevant argument from pros and cons (both are) The problem is not where we think it is. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2015 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with something you take as a fact: you can educate every passengers. Methods may be quite different from someone to someone else, but airlines passengers are a few proportion of all humanity, and the demonstration were the more effective on that population when introduced. Since, this population has changed, educational methods may change, but my point is that you can educate people, or at least try. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Sep 24, 2015 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for having faith in humanity, thumbs up, honestly. I don't that much, unfortunately (We both know about "impossible" passengers : smells, noises and other disturbances, phone calls, hand bags everywhere, language barrier, the boy that think he's the boss of the airplane, or knows everything about travelling, the one that took your seat, or is mad at everyone because he expected to be upgraded to first...) All that aren't a real problem at all, until something bad like discussed here happens. I was speechless watching the video; I expected much more "educated" people on that flight... $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2015 at 6:46

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