So many passengers pay little or no attention to the Flight Attendant safety briefing (or Safety Briefing cards) given prior to takeoff (commercial air carriers).

Question: Are there any data, studies, analyses, etc. that demonstrate that lack of attention to the pre-departure Safety briefing creates an increased risk for all of the occupants of the aircraft in case of an emergency?

I realize many passengers do pay attention but there appears to be a significant number who do not.

Aircraft emergency door opening procedures, location and operation of flotation devices (vests, rafts, slide/rafts, seat cushions)[different sometimes depending on where you are sitting], emergency floor lighting, use of passenger oxygen, etc. do have some variances between some aircraft types. Otherwise there would be no requirement to have different Safety Briefing cards (e.g., B737 vs A380) available to each passenger for review.

Read this Flight Safety Foundation document entitled Cabin Crews Must Capture Passengers’ Attention in Predeparture Safety Briefings. It amplifies the the issue in the question above and includes data, statistics, etc., illustrating why this is an important topic.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Do you think there is a verifiable "correct" answer to this question? I think all you will get is opinions centered around "most of them have probably heard it many times before"... $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2021 at 21:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The FAs are counting on the ones who do pay attention because when the spit hits the fan those passengers will be able to help the FA establish control of the crowd. I got an abbreviated FA course when I was flying RJs for a private operator, and it was an eye opener. The FA is basically a trained riot/crowd control cop working undercover as a steward. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Aug 1, 2021 at 21:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall That, or it probably belongs on Travel.SE anyway. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Aug 1, 2021 at 22:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good edit, provides more opportunity for tangible risk-based answers. $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2021 at 22:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I can’t give a fact-based answer, but I think it’s because people are lazy. They’re not thinking about how their complacency could cost their lives or the lives of others into the event of an incident. They would rather pay attention to their phones than the briefing that may save their life. They don’t realize that emergency procedures may differ from aircraft to aircraft. It’s because they’re lazy, selfish, and irresponsible. $\endgroup$
    – MD88Fan
    Aug 2, 2021 at 14:02

2 Answers 2


It is predictable not paying attention to the security briefing and not reading the emergency card or placards will lead to dramatic consequences one day. The reasons are known, but little is done.

Hudson ditching: Where luck hid lack of attention in briefings

If there was no drownings in the Hudson ditching on January 2009, it's not because the evacuation instructions were effective, it's due to an extraordinary amount of luck in front of unfavorable conditions. Something that might not repeat though:

US Airways 1549, A320 ditching in Hudson river

US Airways 1549, A320 ditching in Hudson river

Out of the 150 passengers, only 10 retrieved a live vest before evacuating. At least nine passengers unintentionally fell from the wings into the water, some without a life vest.

Causes for not paying attention

During the investigation, it was found the main reason for not donning a life vest before taking place in rafts, or on the wings of an aircraft bound to sink in the middle of a large river, was not paying attention to the briefing, and not reading the emergency card:

Passenger interviews indicated that about 70 percent of the passengers did not watch any of the preflight safety briefing. “The most frequently cited reason for [inattention] was that the passengers flew frequently and were familiar with the equipment on the airplane, making them complacent”.

In spite:

‘Life Vest Under Your Seat’ and ‘Bottom Cushion Usable for Flotation,’ printed on the [overhead] passenger service units (next to the reading light switches) above each row of seats,”

These two paragraphs mostly answers your question: In risk assessment, time is an enemy. The longer we are exposed to the same risk warnings or safety indications, the less we pay attention to them. This is quite natural, especially when the briefing is not very creative, e.g. reusing this sentence from @GdD's answer (an example, not an actual briefing):

"Welcome to XXX airlines, your safety is important to us ..."

Statements ending in "... is our priority", or "... is important to us", are also usual formulas to wrap a legal rule getting in the way into a voluntary action (like the sudden interest in "protecting" privacy in the aftermath of GDPR)

Consequences of unpreparedness

From the same report about Flight 1549:

Many passengers reported that their immediate concern after the water impact was to evacuate as quickly as possible, that they forgot about or were unaware that a life vest was under their seat, or that they did not want to delay their egress to get one. Other passengers stated that they wanted to retrieve their life vest but could not remember where it was stowed. In all, 101 life vests were left stowed under passenger seats.

These mistakes might well cancel passengers own chances to survive, this is pretty clear in Hudson ditching where passengers had luck on their side. Mistakes can also have consequences for other people. From SKYbrary:

Following a 2005 runway overrun occurrence at Toronto/Lester B. Pearson International Airport (A343, Toronto Canada, 2005), the TSB found that “many passengers took their carry-on baggage with them during the emergency evacuation of the aircraft, despite the fact that [flight attendants] repeatedly provided specific instructions to the contrary.

Increasing the time for the last passengers to leave the plane likely increases the time flight attendants and flight crew helping them are exposed to danger.

Safety briefing is a legal requirement in the first place

ICAO describes safety briefings in Doc 10086, and explain the motivation:

Survivability in an aircraft accident is dependent on multiple factors [...] Passengers’ survival rates are improved when they are informed about the correct use of equipment and the actions they should take in the event of an emergency situation.

ICAO standards address the need for passengers to receive safety information on board aircraft. Well-informed, knowledgeable passengers have a better chance of surviving a life-threatening situation on board an aircraft. Therefore, States should require operators to communicate specific, accurate information and instructions to passengers in a variety of methods to facilitate understanding. These methods include verbal briefings and visual safety information such as passenger safety briefing cards.

The safety briefing recommendation from ICAO is actually translated into a legal requirement at State level (R 965/2012 in EU, 14 CFR § 91.519 in US), whatever the size of the aircraft and regardless the flight is commercial or private. Any passenger must be explained prior to take off what to do in case of abnormal situation, in particular (R 965/2012):

Responsibilities of the commander: (7) ensure that all passengers are briefed on the location of emergency exits and the location and use of relevant safety and emergency equipment.

Whilst a requirement, the way it is fulfilled is not always very attractive.

Interest in the briefing

The form o the briefing changed over time, (e.g. when video briefings were introduced), but the content is still the same, except for personal electronic equipment use, so passengers are hearing the same message over and over and, except for first-time passengers, they know it's part of the legal requirements, interest has been lost since a long time.

This aspect can be reinforced by the lack of creativity of airlines, as highlighted in this SKYbrary article:

Operators frequently begin on-board safety briefings with “Regulations state that …” or “FAA requires …” or "Transport Canada requires …” or similar wording. But studies cited by Transport Canada indicate that the perceived importance of briefings is significantly lessened when introduced with a statement stressing regulatory obligation to comply, rather than safety accountability. Surveys also indicate that an apparent lack of endorsement by an operator, as well as a lack of individual crewmember responsibility, often has a contradictory or negative impact on the way passengers react to information provided to them.

Another element is aviation safety is trusted.

Aviation related risks are constantly depicted as insignificant

It's well known air travel is more safe than many other mean of travel, this is repeated over and over any time air travel safety is mentioned:

Comparison of transportation means safety

Comparison of transportation means safety. Source: IATA

The low risk level associated with aviation by frequent travelers doesn't play in favor of paying attention. There is a background impression of safety, and aviation is actually safe from a statistical standpoint:

Fatalities per trillion revenue passenger kilometers since 1970

Fatalities per trillion revenue passenger-kilometer since 1970, source: Wikipedia

In 50 years of mass commercial aviation, we moved from 3,000 fatalities per trillion passenger-km a year to about 50. A decrease by a factor of 60. The security briefing cannot have the same impact.

When briefings were introduced, passengers where often new passengers, and air travel add a lot of mystery and fears associated with. Today air travel is a mass transport, passengers are mostly recurrent passengers. In this context it's natural to start re-evaluating the possibility of being involved in an accident, and under-evaluating the importance of being ready to face it.

If for the crew this risk of unpreparedness is mitigated by procedures followed regardless of the individual perception of a risk, for passengers there is little to do.


'Welcome to XXX airlines, your safety is important to us, so please give this briefing your full attention. Please make sure your safety belt is securely fastened, you do this by inserting the flat end into the buckle like this , tighten the belt by pulling on the loose end like this and release it by pulling up the hinged lever on the buckle like this . You safety belt must be kept on when the captain has turned on the seat belt sign, although we also recommend you keep it on at all times even if the sign is off.

For your safety there are overwing exits here and here, and cabin exits here and here. If you are in an exit row you may be required to assist the cabin crew in opening the exits, please let the crew know if you are unable or unwilling to perform these duties. In the event of an evacuation slides will inflate, please remove high heeled shoes and leave all baggage and hand luggage behind. In the event of a water landing there is an inflatable life jacket under your seat. Place the jacket over your head, and tie it securely with a double bow. Wait until you are outside of the airplane to inflate your jacket.

In there is a loss of cabin pressure oxygen masks will drop down, take the mask closest to you, pulling it firmly to start the flow of oxygen. Put the cup over your nose and mouth and tighten the elastic straps by pulling like this. Oxygen will be flowing even if the bag does not inflate. Put your own make on before helping others.

Smoking is prohibited on this flight, this includes the lavatories which have smoke detectors. There is a fine of $??? for smoking in the lavatories.

Now please make sure your tray tables are stowed, your seat belts are securely fastened, and your seats are fully in the upright position. Thank you for flying XXX air.'

I haven't flown commercially in 2 years but I typed that from memory. Many people who fly often would be able to do the same.

Yes there's more like the closest exit may be behind you but really it's the same material over and over. There's not going to be anything new, and the briefing isn't going to tell you what you could have already observes. By the time you have sat down you should know where your closest exits are and have studied the mechanisms as you walked by.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Great answer! I was tempted to type something similar but didn't want so sound snarky. And as a former part time Caravan FO I used to give an abbreviated version of this regularly so I didn't think my comparison would be fair... $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2021 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ My original answer came out a bit snarky @MichaelHall , but I didn't like the sound of it so I edited as it wasn't my intention. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Aug 1, 2021 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ Yep. I usually use the time of the "boring" parts of the briefing to check for the specific parts: where are the three nearest emergency exits, in order of preference (in case some are blocked), which of those exits have slides or rafts, where is the life vest, which kinds of straps does it have (clips or knots), are there any passengers in my vicinity who look like they might need help in case of an emergency, are there any passengers in my vicinity who look like they might be able to provide help, etc. And if I sit in an exit row, I will have studied the pictograms long before the briefing $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2021 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ … even starts. In one case as I was sitting in an exit row, the flight attendant accidentally explained the exit to me in Norwegian, and even though I don't understand Norwegian, I understood her better than the Norwegian guy next to me, simply because I had studied the pictograms and the mechanism, and thus her gestures made way more sense to me than to my neighbor. $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2021 at 22:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You forgot about reinflating the life jacket by blowing into the tube, and about the use of electronic devices :) I suppose one also needs to stay current as a passenger... $\endgroup$
    – Sanchises
    Aug 2, 2021 at 8:22

You must log in to answer this question.