Safety at 39,000 feet

I am writing this blog while cruising at 39,000 feet traveling for ASSE’s SeminarFest.

Sheer boredom has taken over. I’ve looked through SkyMall magazine and have become familiar with my responsibilities to safely evacuate my co-passengers since I am sitting in an emergency exit row.

With nothing else to do, I started to watch the flight attendants and noticed how methodical they were in their actions:

  • When collecting trash from passengers, the attendant always has one hand on a seat-back
  • When walking the aisles, their eyes always down at a passengers feet, never looking above the passengers chest
  • As they prepare drinks, they take a can out of the cooler, immediately close the cooler, pour the drink, open the cooler, place the half full can back in the cooler and close it again (there are never two galley doors open at the same time or a door open more than a second or two)

I decided to chat with Julie, a flight attendant with 21 years tenure, and investigate why the flight attendants do these things.

Keeping Balance

Hand on the seat? Julie says it’s to keep balance in the event of unplanned turbulence. When I asked if she learned this in training when she started 21 years ago, she laughed and said that in her early days, training only consisted of intercom directions, learning how to prepare passengers for take-off/landing, emergency evacuation procedures, and of course a crash course on mixing drinks.

Today’s training is focused more on crew and passenger safety. This training includes balance instructions based on proven techniques. And, this airline actually asks the attendants for feedback on creating safer work environments.

During our chat, Julie said something that really blew my mind. In her words, “we were asked to provide solutions for near misses that occurred relating to turbulence.”

Wow. Someone who isn’t a safety professional used the term “near miss!” (cue the record scratch in the background) I had to know more about how that term trickled down to Julie.

Julie told me she’s required to report near misses and can report any concerns directly to the safety department. She shared that the flight attendants often joke that when they get a memo (or what we at UL call an alert), they know that it must be from a near-miss report that corporate felt was important enough to distribute, because they don’t want something to happen that might result in a loss.

Strong Safety Culture

After speaking with Julie, it’s clear that safety concepts have been woven into the fabric of this airline. Each employee, regardless of their role, is just as involved in the safety process as the safety department.

The employees understand the reason for reporting near misses. And the airline takes those near misses and turns them into learning moments or corrective actions. This is a luxury only provided to organizations that buy in 100% to safety programs.

From the CEO to the baggage handler, all have equal importance in the realm of safety. This airline has “safety personnel” that wear the hats of pilots, ground crews, mechanics, flight attendants, baggage handlers and ticket agents.

Time to wrap up this blog. It’s is getting bumpy now. The flight attendants are beginning to go through their cabin check to make sure we are safe. And yes, as they are walking, they keep one hand on the back of a seat.

Safe travels.

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