Most People Can’t Remember Even The Most Basic Airline Safety Briefings – Can You?


Madison Dapcevich


Madison Dapcevich

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

Madison is a freelance science reporter and full-time fact-checker based in the wild Rocky Mountains of western Montana.

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker


When it comes to lifesaving airplane safety information, an “alarming” number of people aren’t able to remember even the most basic tidbits, according to a study published in The International Journal of Aerospace Psychology. Remember that photo showing nearly every person aboard Southwest Airline’s emergency landing airplane wearing their oxygen mask wrong? Yeah, case in point. 

Researchers were interested in seeing whether people were more likely to remember important safety information depending on how it was delivered. They divided a group of 162 university students into five groups: one with no briefing and four that received the legally required safety briefing through either audio, video, audio and live demo, or video plus live demo, accounting for people who fly more often than others. 


Overall, the results were bad: Native English speakers remembered 49 percent while non-Native English speakers recalled just 27 percent, regardless of how they received the safety information.

“These results highlight the limitations associated with the way many airlines presently deliver their preflight safety briefing,” wrote the authors.

IFLScience spoke with Jeff DeTemple, a pilot with nearly 30 years of commercial experience, who said people should always pay close attention because all planes are a bit different.

By far, participants were most familiar with the workings of oxygen masks. Most knew that their mask would appear in the case of an emergency and that they should only help others after having first secured their own. However, just over one-third knew how to secure their mask (place it over the mouth and nose with the strap around the head) or how to operate it (give it a tug to start the flow of oxygen). Even fewer knew how oxygen was distributed, which differs for crew and passengers. In the main cabin, oxygen is chemically created by a generator stored in each overhead compartment in case the aircraft fills with smoke. Pilots have a special pressurized system that stores oxygen in a tank near the cockpit.

Helen Bony/Shutterstock

Just over half of participants remembered where their life jacket was located, which, in most commercial flights, is under the seat bottom. Even less participants recalled the exact location of their life jacket – depending on what class, it could be directly under the seat or in a small compartment next to it (that is, if someone didn’t first steal it for a souvenir) – how to don a vest (see here), which accessories it comes with (often a whistle, flashlight, self-inflator, and a manual inflator), or when to inflate it (never in the aircraft).

Less than half of participants knew how to take the brace position in case of a rough landing, while just over three-quarters knew where to find the plane’s exits (rear and front of the aircraft and over the wings).

But nearly everyone (95 percent) knew that smoking is not allowed on any flight, under any circumstances. 



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