The Ugly American: 12 Secrets to Surviving a Plane Wreck

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Don’t be that idiot sitting next to me on the plane who laughs during the safety demo, turns to me and says, “What’s the point? If this thing crashes we’re all dead anyway.” Really, if you’re so set on becoming a corpse, please do it out of my way—I don’t want to trip over your useless ass as I make it off the aircraft. Because I don’t buy into the nihilism that you can’t survive a plane crash. In fact, surviving the impact is easy, it’s escaping the burning fuselage that takes talent. The first thing you should do is pay attention to the damn safety demonstration, because it tells you how to get out alive. What follows are some of the more sensible tips to keep you breathing during in-flight disasters.

1. Don’t Drink

Hard, I know, but studies conducted by airlines in the aftermath of deadly evacuations show that the people who made up the human briquettes left behind were most likely the drunks.

2. Look Behind You

People tend to run forward in a panic, but often the difference between life and death is a simple glance over your shoulder to see that the nearest exit is behind you.

3. Leave Everything

True fact: “Leave everything!” is now a command that flight attendants are trained to shout during a crash because it has been proven that passengers die their idiot asses dead trying to gather their personal effects before fleeing the fire-engulfed cabin.

4. Count The Rows To Your Nearest Exit

You will probably have to feel your way out of a smoke filled cabin.

5. Crawl Out At Armrest Level

Smoke rises while noxious fumes sink, so the safest air to breath will be between the two.

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up

A deadly crash in New York during the nineties could have been circumvented if any of the numerous passengers onboard, who later admitted to noticing ice on the wings, had alerted the flight attendant that they noticed ice on the wings. One of them was an off-duty pilot, who should have known better.

7. Sit Near An Exit

The closer you are to an exit, the quicker you get off the plane, the less smoke you inhale, the more likely you live.

8. Keep Your Head Down

Upon impact, debris can fly through the cabin, debris that probably includes the decapitated heads of any passengers who didn’t keep their heads down.

9. Sit In The Front

Exits abound in the front of the plane. Not only do you have the left and right exits on either side of first class, but the cockpit has an additional exit, and the period following a plane wreck is one of the few times passengers are allowed to charge the cockpit.

10. Travel In Larger Jets

Planes such as the Boeing 777, 747 and Airbus have double aisles, as opposed to the 737 and 757, which are single-aisle aircrafts. Think about it: the point is to escape the burning fuselage. It’s easier to do that when there are two paths to freedom.

11. Put Up Your Tray Table

Don’t listen to the comedians who crack wise about the pettiness of the rule to put up your tray table, because the fact is this: during impact that lowered plastic tray may as well be a horizontal Guillotine aimed right at your gut. Personally, I think it’s rude of you to expect me to stumble over your bisected body parts as I’m trying to outrun the ball of fire coming down the fuselage.

12. Inflate Your Life Vest Only Upon Exit Of The Aircraft

If your plane is about to ditch in the water, hurry up and don your life vest (located in a pouch under your seat), but don’t inflate it yet. Here’s why: after impact the cabin will probably quickly fill with water. Your chances of swimming to the exit and out the door are a lot better if your prematurely inflated life vest isn’t causing you to bob up by the overhead bins with the rest of the dead rubber ducks.

Hollis Gillespie writes a weekly travel column for Paste. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, coming out in June. Follow her on Twitter.

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