Thursday afternoon, US Airways flight 1549, an Airbus A320 with 150 passengers on board, took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Just a few minutes later, after an apparent double bird strike that disabled both of the plane’s engines, Captain Chesley Sallenberger III and his co-pilot executed a flawless emergency landing, ditching the plane in the frigid Hudson River between midtown Manhattan and New Jersey.
Second, let’s recognize the superb performance of the three flight attendants, who performed their primary function – protecting the safety of the passengers – and evacuated everyone quickly and safely.
Those five crew members demonstrated why airline employees need to be fairly compensated for their work: because they are entrusted with the lives of their passengers. 99.999% of the time, everything goes smoothly. But in that 0.001% of the time when there is an incident, their training and professionalism are critical.
(Consider also the case of Air France 358, which overshot the runway in Toronto in 2005 and burst into flames. The flight attendants evacuated all 297 in less than three minutes without any life-threatening injuries, even though the entire plane was destroyed by the subsequent fire.)
As a former airline employee, son of an airline employee, husband of a former airline employee, and friend of many, many people who have worked and continue to work in the air transport industry, please consider the following two points:
First, the rush in the U.S. airline industry to turn everything into a low-cost operation, cutting salaries, demanding much longer work hours with much less time to rest between employee shifts, may get passengers lower price tickets in the short term. But in the long term, this “rush to the bottom” puts the lives of passengers at risk.
Second, an important note for passengers: Even if you fly weekly, take the two minutes to stop talking and reading and pay attention to the safety demonstrations at the start of the flight. Count the number of rows to the two nearest emergency exits and reach under your seat to confirm the life vest is there.
Even if you are a seasoned traveler and don’t feel you need the review, paying attention to the demo sets an example for other flyers who may not be as familiar with the safety of the plane. In an emergency, this information will be critical to your survival.
I’m thankful everyone survived this crash with no major injuries.