This follows on from the question here on an incident wherein a passenger asked crew about an aberrant situation during a flight.

Gathering from the answers to the question, flight crew's priority is to handle the emergency, and part of that is keeping passengers cooperative and calm, whether by informing them of details or perhaps omitting them in the interest of maintaining decorum.

However, in the case of a potentially fatal emergency, wherein passenger death is probable, despite the interest to maintain calm, does the crew have a professionally mandated responsibility to inform passengers? There are obviously moral and ethical motivations for this, but these might be beyond the scope of the site and as such I am asking how these issues are dealt with.

By "professionally mandated responsibility," it can be by laws in the appropriate jurisdiction, regulations and internal policies by the airline, common practice, or guidelines set by an aviation body.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you define what a "professionally mandated responsibility" is? Are you talking about regulations? Moral obligations? Just "what is expected from a professional"? $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 28, 2018 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ If the passengers are likely to die, then the crew is likely to die as well, and there would be no means left for the airline to discipline or sanction the crew for failing in some "professionally mandated responsibility"; so its a moot question. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Sep 28, 2018 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Either laws, regulations set by the airline or considered common practice by the personnel. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2018 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ There are no laws (at least in the US) or regulations that say this must happen. The airline doesn't set laws or regulations but has SOP's which are not typically made public. That leaves "common practice" which may be hard to answer since those that tell the passengers "we are going to die, sorry", are usually not alive to testify that they did that. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 28, 2018 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ The general professional practice is to try to keep control of the aircraft for as long as you physically can, i.e. until impact or you lose consciousness or whatever. Taking time away from that to tell the passengers that they're about to die - which you may not know with absolute certainty anyway - seems like it would be unprofessional, in the sense that you're reducing their chances of survival by not focusing on flying the aircraft. Whether or not you should tell someone they're about to die as a general moral obligation seems like it belongs on philosophy.SE rather than here. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Sep 28, 2018 at 14:40

2 Answers 2


Would the act of informing passengers they may die be considered "professional" or "a responsibility of the crew"? No.

And if I may argue, it's the opposite: it is unprofessional for trained flight crew (either pilot or cabin crew) to behave this way.

The shortfalls of this action is obvious. Panic would instantly spread among the cabin. Many people would start behaving irrationally when they believe that death is imminent (hey, not everybody is strong psychologically). This could potentially turn a survivable situation into a deadly one.

In dangerous scenarios, anyone assisting needs to give assertive instructions. We don't tell people why they are doing it. We give very simple, but firm instructions such as "push!", "jump!". Fire fighters and other rescue workers also do it this way.

Telling people "uhhhh, I don't think we can make it" works against the goal of ensuring everyone has a best chance of survival, which is a professional responsibility of any crew member on a passenger flight.

Legally, there are no regulations, industry practices, or airline SOP that I'm aware of, that mandates informing passengers about the potentially fatal outcome of their flight.

Realistically, there aren't that many scenarios where this is possible. If it's a small problem such as high oil temperature or failed hydraulic pump, you won't even notice. If it's a stall or loss of control you'd be screaming already. If it's a inflight breakup you'd loss consciousness in less than 30 seconds. If it's a cabin fire you'd see cabin crew fighting it with fire extinguishers.

That leaves scenarios where the aircraft is stable in the air, but may break up upon landing. Examples would include landing gear malfunctions, flap malfunctions (causing very high landing speed) and total engine failure from high altitude. Historically, most of these incidents end up well. Spending the time to educate passengers emergency procedures (such as counting the number of rows to various exits; briefing how to open the emergency door) is more constructive then saying "On behalf of XXX Airlines, it is with sincere regret to inform you that our aircraft suffered a catastrophic failure and this may be the last moments of your life".

That said, I offer the following:

If you've been told to adopt the brace position, you may consider that it is in the opinion of the flight crew that severe injury and/or death is likely.

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    $\begingroup$ Many people would start behaving irrationally when they believe that death is imminent youtu.be/Z9QTMTlxnq0 $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Sep 28, 2018 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ I know of exactly one airliner accident where the crew knew well in advance that fatalities were likely: Varig 254 (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varig_Flight_254). Due to several navigation errors, the airplane became lost over the Amazon rainforest. The crew announced what was going on shortly before the crashed landing. There were 13 fatalities (all passengers) out of 54 occupants. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2018 at 22:07

If there is a catastrophiv failure duch as inflight break up of a wing or a structure and communication is possible..I would say "Brace and lets pray". Not saying anything and knowing death is inevitabpe is also cheating them of their last moments to say or do what they desire..if only to think of their loved ones!

  • $\begingroup$ This is very probably the moral thing to do, but the question asks about professional mandate. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    Oct 10, 2018 at 19:40

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