In 21 years as a flight attendant, Candace Kolander has noticed an interesting phenomenon: Right after any type of airplane accident — not that it happens very often, she's quick to point out — "the passengers tend to pay a lot more attention to me when I do my safety demo."
The attention doesn't last beyond a few days or weeks, but it's an understandable reaction, given how little attention people usually pay to the safety instructions that must, by law, be given before takeoff on every flight.
Kolander, who most recently flew for the now defunct Aloha Airlines, made her comments a few hours after a US Airways plane ended up in the Hudson River and everyone on board was safely pulled into boats. The plane was headed from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C., and the pilot was able to warn passengers to brace for impact.
The cause of Thursday's accident is under investigation but the plane may have been disabled by a collision with birds.
Alison Duquette, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, credited the pilots and three flight attendants for their "fast work" and added: "All I can say is that the emergency training done by the pilots and flight attendants and the emergency evacuation procedures seemed to have worked."
Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, which is a union, said the typical lack of interest among passengers in the safety demo is "frustrating," adding that when passengers pay attention they're more prepared on what to do.
Most passengers have probably heard the safety drill enough times to know that life vests should not be inflated inside the aircraft. They are bulky and could impair your ability to exit. Photos and video of Thursday's evacuation showed some passengers donning the yellow vests after they emerged from the aircraft; others appeared not be wearing them. When commuter ferries came to their rescue, some of the passengers were standing on the wing and others were in inflatable rafts.
Aviation life vests are designed to be easy to use. Although different brands are used on different aircraft, Kolander said they typically "slip over your head, you pull the straps down and clip them in front, then pull and they inflate."
Caldwell noted that flight attendants receive extensive training for planned and unplanned water landings and are tested yearly.
Christopher Elliott, ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine, noted that "no one ever pays attention to the instructions. I was just on a flight from Orlando to Toronto and no one even bothered to look up during the in-flight safety announcements. I think I was the only one who bothered to review the instructions in the seatback."
After Thursday's rescue, he said, "in the short term, a few passengers will perk up during the announcement. But long term, no."