The Catastrophe Psychology: Saving Luggage, but Not Each Other

“In situations like these, the passengers experience two extreme emotions: fear of death, and uncertainty. They are just trying to survive, even when acting irrationally,” Rosita Kanapeckaite, the expert on aviation psychology, told Skycop about the deadly Aeroflot crash landing. Social networks and media are full of disturbing images showing survivors leaving the burning aircraft with their belongings, so it’s no surprise that some started blaming them. But Ms. Kanapeckaite, a psychologist and lecturer at the Antanas Gustaitis’ Aviation Institute of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, suggests looking deeper into human nature and the actions of the flight crew before making any snap judgments.

The People Weren’t Grabbing the Luggage – Their Instincts Were

More than forty people died after a Russian plane belonging to Aeroflot caught fire during a crash landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Sunday. The survivors were caught on cam leaving the burning aircraft with their belongings. The question arose: why were the passengers saving their luggage and thus obstructing emergency exits instead of helping each other?

Ms. Kanapeckaite has an answer. “Some were just copying the others. I believe that no one thought about their expensive sweater and that it should be saved. In extreme circumstances like these, our brain just works in a completely different way. Instincts tell you to fight, run or freeze. And if someone took a suitcase, others did the same. There was no time and resources to think differently,” says the aviation expert.

The psychologist suggests analysing the actions of the crew, not the passengers. “Finding the guilty ones is the way to cope with the tragedy, but it doesn’t change a thing. The survival instinct is in the base of human nature; even if we fly on a plane, we still retain the ancient understanding that flying is for birds. Times change, people travel more and more, but our nature stays the same. That’s why the crew must lead the way – they are trained to put aside all instincts.”

More and more people are saving their luggage. Why?

According to The New York Times, airplane passengers who insist on getting their belongings out of overhead bins in times of crisis have become a major concern for flight attendants, whose job is to evacuate planes quickly in times of trouble.

An American newspaper quotes Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, who says: “We have seen this issue of passengers trying to get their bags in an emergency over and over again in recent accidents.”

Ms. Kanapeckaite adds that air travel is a very different type of stress and that the fear of flying is one of the most common phobias. “It comes with the perception that you lose control of the situation. Also, some passengers experience claustrophobia, feeling stressed due to being in a tiny space with lots of strangers. That can cause anxiety and irrational actions,” notes psychology expert.

Training for accidents is not your job

There are a few tips that help to deal with unexpected situations. Wearing practical clothes and avoiding flammable materials like nylon and polyester can save your life. Also, if your instincts say run, do it with proper shoes. Heels, flip-flops, and stilettos are the worst choices.

The best thing you can do is to carefully listen to and follow the safety briefing. An instruction card is not the item to be offhandedly stacked in backrest in front of you.

“But the preparation for accidents is not the responsibility of passengers. Pilots and flight attendants must be properly trained on how to act as people will follow them. If you are flying twice a year for holidays, you won’t train yourself for extreme situations. You simply don’t expect them,” says Ms. Kanapeckaite.

Delayed, canceled or overbooked flights can also cause a lot of stress. But in cases like these, air passenger rights are protected by Regulation (EC) 261/2004. This Regulation provides common rights to claim compensation – and that‘s were Skycop steps in. Airlines are obliged to pay flight compensation up to €600 in the event of a delay, cancellation, and overbooking. All you have to do is to file a claim and Skycop will to the rest.

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