On Monday on one of Ryanair’s flights from Bristol to Barcelona-Girona a sudden depressurization happened and oxygen masks were automatically dropped. Later passengers told the media that the oxygen masks had not worked. The airline refuses these claims and according to their first brief investigation process everything was fine with the masks. Finally the plane was diverted to Limoges in France and all passengers were disembarked safely.
This incident however drew our attention to the dilemma of how efficient those mandatory so called safety presentations are that remind us of a very untalented, stupid ballet of (hopefully) good-looking stewardesses. First let’s see what are the facts about oxygen masks and then let’s get back to our dilemma.
About the usage of oxygen masks
Misbelief: most people think that if oxygen masks drop, they should just breath the oxygen coming out from it and that the bag above the mask would be filled with air automatically.
Truth: once they drop, you have to grab the one nearest to you and pull it towards yourself with a sudden, strong pull. This pull turns on the flow of oxygen. But it is not like a vacuum-cleaner that oxygen is just flowing out of it. No. You have to put it on your face and breathe normally (if you can breath normally in such a situation). The vacuum of your breath will pull the oxygen out, while that small bag above the mask itself will get full once you blow the air out into that thing.
Efficiency of the safety presentation
Now that the usage of oxygen masks is clear, let’s get back to our dilemma. We have already written an article about how to survive an air crash. There are so many wrong ideas of an air crash. The safety demonstrations prepare us only for the usage of an oxygen mask (and apparently it is not efficient, either) and landing on water and using that emergency vest. Probably that is the least necessary thing for an air crash, because most planes that have to make an emergency landing on water, unfortunately break apart during landing. But even that instruction is not clear enough. I am almost sure that once it is needed, most of the people would pull that hanger and blow the vest up already inside the plane, although with a blown-up vest on the body, it is almost impossible to leave the plane through the emergency exits.
During safety demonstrations it is not mandatory to tell us about the emergency landing position, which might save your life, because if you manage not to break your legs, you can easier leave the plane in case of a fire and that might be very useful.
During safety demonstration they never tell us anything about smoke (for example that if you get down on your knees, there’s much less smoke down there and you have a bigger chance to get out of the plane) or emergency slides (that you should take off high-heel shoes and how to jump on it in order to defend your arms and legs) and so on.
Again I am asking IATA, ICAO and all other airline associations and forums: are you sure this is the right procedure? Shouldn’t you revise this regulation?
Update (30 august 2008): I talked to an engineer, who is working with Boeing 737-800s and he told me that checking oxygen masks is done regularly. Every plane type has a maintenance guide that gives exact instructions how frequently oxygen masks need to be checked. It is connected to flown hours, so this frequency differs in acse of each plane.