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Marisa Garcia
November 26, 2016

Could you survive an airline emergency?

You'll probably never have to. The airline industry has reached historic levels of safety.

During 2015, the International Air Transport Association reported jet hull loss rate for its members of 0.22--which is the equivalent one accident for every 4.5 million flights.

But there are things you can do to be better prepared which will also make every flight more pleasant, while improving your odds in the highly unlikely event of an emergency.

1. Dress sensibly.

The best clothing to wear on a plane is made of breathable cotton, or wool blends. Wool has the advantage of being naturally flame retardant, that's why it's the preferred material blend for fabric-covered airline seats around the world.

Dress in comfortable clothes which help you move quickly, if you ever need to, but which also protect your skin from exposure to friction or flame.

Women should avoid skirts and stockings. Jeans and slacks are a far better choice.

You can run in heels all you want, but not from a plane. When those heels come off during an evacuation you'll be barefoot on hot tarmac. Loafers (or loafer-style tennis shoes) are your new air travel best friends. They versatile to dress up or down, make it easy to remove your shoes at security, and you can keep them on during an escape. Flip-flops are a no-go. You can't trust them to stay 'flip' when you're running.

Avoid wearing shorts when flying. Escape slide burn doesn't look good on anyone's thighs.

2. Prepare a run kit.

A run kit should only hold things which are a terrible hassle for you to replace if you lose them during an emergency: your wallet, passport, cash and credit cards, any medication, a printed list of emergency contact numbers, and perhaps a mobile phone.

The ideal run kit is a travel wallet in your jacket pocket, a small cross-body wallet bag, or a fanny pack. Make a habit of wearing your run kit throughout the flight. Never take it off. Because it is small and worn on your body—and it must be small—flight attendants are unlikely to ever ask you to remove it. (If they do, it's probably too big and interfering with the function of your seat-belt.)

Since your run kit already holds vital items, you can leave everything else behind during an evacuation. Seriously: Leave. It. All. Behind.

When the trained-to-be-polite flight attendants are shouting, it's time to get out. You have 90 seconds to evacuate an aircraft, if you're lucky, so don't waste a second grabbing your luggage. You don't want to be the passenger who kept others from getting out in time, or who broke the slide with their overstuffed roller bag on the way down.

3. Mind your gadgets.

Some of us travel with a lot of electronic devices, and when you're traveling for business it can feel like your laptop is something you cannot part with—but it is.

The best way to prepare is to backup your files and records to a separate hard-drive, or the cloud, or both, before you leave for the airport. You should assume that you'll lose your electronic devices at some point when you travel (no matter what happens on your plane) and be prepared for that.

You should also ensure your electronic devices are in good condition and using batteries and chargers approved by the manufacturer. You don't want your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to cause a fire onboard. Unfortunately, it happens and not just with Samsung phones.

4. Pay attention to the safety video.

Yes, they can be corny, but there's a reason airlines are jumping over themselves and a line of sharks to get you to pay attention to their safety videos. The instructions matter.

Even if you think know the instructions–and have heard them half a million times–each plane comes with new conditions. The location of exits will be different. The seat lay-out will be different. The people on the plane with you will be different.

Equally important is that you 'read' through that picture card in the seat pocket. It will have the most relevant information for the particular plane you’re flying.

And always keep your seat belt buckled (no matter what the light says) because there is a far greater chance that you'll encounter rough turbulence on a flight than a mechanical failure or other emergency.

5. Be aware of your surroundings.

You want to plan your highly unlikely escape in advance, while the flight attendants are giving you instructions. As flight attendants say, “note that the nearest exit may be behind you.”

Know what your exit options are as soon as you sit down, and count the number of seats between you and the nearest two exits. If you have to crawl in the dark, or below smoke, you'll know better how to gauge your distance to the exit door.

6. Ignore your annoying neighbors.

Don't cause an onboard incident by traveling with a short fuse. Your mind needs to be on relaxing and enjoying the flight as much as possible. Put on those headphones, enjoy the in-flight entertainment and block out the nonsense. Or bring your own entertainment, if you like.

The advantage of using the airline's entertainment system is that the captain and crew will interrupt the transmission, if there's something you really need to know. If you are enjoying your own entertainment, pause it whenever crew is speaking, and listen.

Maybe it is just the captain letting you know you have a nice view of the Rockies on the left hand side of the plane, but it might be something more important.

7. With great legroom comes great responsibility.

If you're the lucky passenger with the exit door seat, pay close attention to the exit door instructions and be prepared to carry out your duties. When you booked that roomier seat, you agreed to get everyone around you out of that plane safely. In an emergency, everyone will expect you to do just that.

8. One less drink will do.

Though for many enjoy a drink is part of the air travel experience, it's probably best not to partake when flying, or to drink very little.

Alcohol makes you bloated, dehydrated, possibly incapacitated, and generally not at your best. If you do drink, be sure you still have a clear head. You want to be sharp, if the never-will-happen happens.

9. Respect your flight attendants.

Think of flight attendants as emergency services personnel who serve you meals and drinks during their spare time. Flight attendants are trained to risk their lives to save yours, and they have. Next time a flight attendant says you can't have another snack, or another beer, or anything else you really think you need, just smile and accept that answer. They don't make the airline's catering and onboard services decisions.

10. Put your oxygen mask on yourself first, then help others, and only then take a selfie.

Social media is great—but it's not the best way to manage limited time during an aircraft emergency. Instead of rushing to share that oxygen mask pic, refresh your knowledge of your available exits, ensure you have your run pack securely on you, get your nerves in check, and listen to crew instructions.

Then—when nothing else happens—take that memorable pic and impress your friends.

11. The only thing you can't afford to lose is your life.

This is the only tip you really need. It requires no further explanation.

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