Keep Our Families SafeFire Hazards on Airplanes
Warning: the airplane you are on may be a fire hazard.
Fires aboard airline flights are more common than you think. More than 1,000 smoke or fire incidents on airline flights were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1999, according to a study by the Air Line Pilots Association. Of those, 359 necessitated an unscheduled landing – nearly one per day.
The confusion and lack of training about how to deal with fires on airplanes in flight, to say nothing of the existence of flammable materials on airplanes, are serious threats to passenger safety.
One of the worst air disasters involving fire, Swissair flight 111, which crashed off of the coast of Nova Scotia killing all 229 people aboard, occurred because of a fire that ignited above the ceiling panels on the plane.
But nearly six years after the disaster, several proposed safety improvements to prevent accidents such as that involving Swissair 111 have not been mandated by law. Both U.S. and Canadian investigators are calling for improved airline training on how to fight a mid-air fire, the removal of flammable material and new rules requiring smoke detectors and automatic extinguishers throughout planes.
In response, the FAA offers the twisted logic that the insulation that remains in airplanes is not as flammable as that on the Swissair flight. But doesn’t that mean that there is still flammable material on planes?
Additionally, the FAA maintains that removing the flammable materials would cost hundreds of millions of dollars for little benefit.
Edmond Soliday, the former safety chief for United Airlines worries a great deal about in-flight fires, saying, “To me, that is the most dangerous event on an airplane.”
While the situation sounds rather serious, you should not cancel all of your airplane flights just yet. Most incidents turn out to me minor, such as false alarms or smoldering food left in an oven. Serious fires actually do not occur that often, and fatal accidents are even rarer.
But if you are wondering what specific actions you can take, let the actions of one Delta Airlines flight attendant serve as a guide.
After passengers on Delta flight 2030 smelled something resembling burning matches, seeing a haze settle into the cabin of the plane, and then seeing glowing flames through a vent beneath a passenger’s seat, flight attendants were ordered NOT to use the fire extinguisher.
One flight attendant, who didn’t hear the order, grabbed the extinguisher and put out the fire and the flight landed safely.