"Buon giorno! Welcome on Board"

Do Passenger Safety Briefings Have to be Boring?

    No, and after we land the first margarita will be on the Captain.

Interpreting Your CAA
Requirements for the
Passenger Safety Briefing
and the
Safety Features Card

     Bush pilots in general and floatplane pilots specifically have long conducted passenger briefings in a very informal manner indeed if at all. As a young pilot starting out in the northern bush communities of Canada I encouraged my passengers to use their seatbelts and extinguish cigarettes. Some passengers flatly refused, stating that as they were paying for the flight they would decide if they should buckle up or smoke on the aircraft. It was very tempting to let them do what they wanted as long as I had done my duties. Of course, at the time, there were no smoking restrictions so by right I could not enforce that one anyway, but I sure tried. Nonetheless, for all but the most unusual circumstances I would not fly until I heard the seat buckles clicking into place.
     One of the exceptions was the 400 lb plus School Board Official that we picked up out of Zebellos every month. The school board budget did not allow him to charter a Beaver, so we would pick him up on the northern sked route with whatever aircraft was required for that day. Since he could not possible fit our seat belts, taking up two seats in any aircraft we had, the best aircraft for him was the C185. It had the power to carry him, and we could safely let him fly with the false logic that he was so crammed in he would not go anywhere anyway.
     Otherwise, the reason for enforcing seat belt use was practical. We often flew in some horrendous weather and I did not want the passengers floating around the cockpit. That was why I mostly tied down the cabin cargo and baggage as well. I had seen the results of severe turbulence and knew how easily a small bag of sugar could be turned into a havoc wrecking missile. But, I was never shown how to conduct a safety briefing. At that time it was not an issue. It was easy to assume that emergency evacuations procedures are obvious to everyone.
     But I learned later in my career that what is obvious to some might not be obvious to all. A Bell 212 helicopter went down offshore in West Africa. In light rain and mist the captain flew into the sea. During the impact the blades ate into the cabin damaging one main door. The floats either ripped off or did not inflate and the helicopter turned turtle and started to sink. There were 12 passengers and two crewmembers on board.
     The co-pilot died in the accident and the Captain escaped, as did three other passengers from the cabin. The pre-investigation rumour we heard was that all the survivors were white and all the passengers who died were black. That in it self started some local troubles as if white and black had anything to do with it. The local African villagers and family of the victims threatened to kill the captain and the company had to smuggle him out of the area and eventually out of the country. What the accident investigation team found, however, was revealing.
     The rumour was partly true in that the Captain was white and he survived. The copilot was black and he died. And two of the three surviving passengers were white and all the passengers who died were black. But, the one anomaly was the one surviving black passenger. As they had all survived impact and the investigation showed that they had all drowned, the question remained as to why did some escape and others had not.
     What they discovered, however, was that all the surviving white passengers had been through emergency egress training, in other words they had been submersed underwater in the “dunk tank” when they had worked on the North Sea, and none of the passengers who died in the accident had been through any egress training. A pattern was emerging, but the lone surviving black passenger, who had not been through the submersion egress training, still stood out as the exception. That is until he was interviewed. When asked how he managed an underwater escape out of the dark and murky interior of a submerged helicopter he simple said, “I knew the white man would be getting out, so I grabbed his leg and hung on.”  The British survivor conferred that this man had almost killed them both but somehow he had managed to escape anyway.
     Knowledge is power. We have all heard that strong sounding, but rather vaguely interpreted statement before. The key to unlocking the power of knowledge, however, is in how you translate knowledge into action. What that means for a trained professional is how do you, as the captain of an aircraft; confer your knowledge to your passengers in a way that is both meaningful and useful to them, especially during an emergency? Not many of your passengers will have completed egress training nor will it be obvious to them where the emergency exits are located and which are the best ones to use in an emergency evacuation. That will be your responsibility as the captain and in most cases your job in a single pilot crew to present your knowledge to the uninitiated with a perfectly clear, succinct, and legal passenger safety briefing.
     The first issue I will bring up then is the fact that as the captain of the aircraft it will be your responsibility to insure the passenger briefing is done correctly. Even in a Twin Otter or a Dash-8, when you may have co-pilot or a cabin crew to conduct the briefing, the ultimate result is your responsibility. After a different helicopter accident where five passengers drowned, one survivor complained that the cabin attendant’s briefing was unclear and thus when the accident occurred she had no knowledge of how to escape. The captain was charged with, among other infractions, not conducting his duties.
     If you have always delegated the briefings before now is the time to start taking responsibilities. Doing a good passenger briefing is not easy. There is a fine line between being entertaining and being instructive. In fact, most CAA regulations prohibit embellishing your briefing. Mostly the regulations are to prevent slipping in commercial advertisements, like “Ladies and gentlemen, may I point out that after your long and arduous flight with Margaritaville Air Service you will be needing a drink. So after we land please head down to Tootsies Bar for a refresher and the first margarita will be on me!” For the most part it is advisable not to stray too far from the actual briefing.
     In Canada the wording in the CARS is precisely; “The safety message of the briefing may not be diluted by the inclusion of any service information or advertising that would affect the integrity of the safety briefing.” As long as you “discharge your duties,” as a lawyer passenger once remarked after I had done the required briefing in a very quick and formal manner, in a way that enhances the briefing you can feel free to adlib according to the requirements of your aircraft and your passengers.
     When I was conducting an Emergency Training Course on the Twin Otter, which included the importance of proper passenger briefings, a young captain asked me what is the best method to get the passenger’s attention. He found that often as he was giving the briefing the passengers would be busy doing their own thing and were really not listening to his prepared speech.
     Before I start any passenger briefing, however, I ensure they all have their seat belt done up properly.  You cannot get the attention of a passenger who is engrossed in working out the mysteries and mechanics of a seat belt buckle. Walk the aisles, (yes, beavers and otters have aisles) if you have to and help the passengers with the understanding of their seatbelts. Once you have that out of the way, I told him the next important step is to introduce yourself.
     “Welcome on board ladies and gentlemen, my name is John and I will be your Captain on this flight to Vanuatu.”
     Bringing the briefing to a personal level will help to establish a bond where the passengers will have a harder time ignoring you. Especially when you have established early that you are the authority figure on this aircraft. You have told them who the Captain is and the Captain is I.
     Being the pilot of a small aircraft does give you an additional advantage when commanding the attention of your passengers. You can use the advantage of your proximity. Even in a Twin Otter all of the passengers are your direct audience. They can all see you stationed in your captain’s seat, waiting patiently for their attention. Therefore, the presence you are conveying is that as the captain you will get the passengers attention or no one flies anywhere. Sometimes if I have a particularly talkative passenger who is not giving me their full attention I will sit patiently and quietly watch them until one of the other passengers puts that person right. I would rather delay my flight by a few minutes than fail to discharge my duties.
     In discharging my duties, however, I find that best method is to use humour and I demonstrated to the young pilot a method I used with easily distracted Italian tourists. “Buon giorno, Welcome on board, let me introduce myself.” “Mi chiamo Capitan’O John.” “I realize that is a funny name, but my Mama thought I was going to be a pilot for Air Italia.”
     Ok, I know that lead in is not funny at all, but it serves two purposes. First of all, it makes them look at me and once I acquire eye contact I will deliberately maintain it. Secondly, if any of the passengers could speak English they would feel obliged to laugh. Then I knew whom I could target for my briefing. I would then use the English speakers to translate for the non-English speakers, which would get everyone involved in the briefing with the results that everyone really knows what I am briefing them on.
     The young pilot then asked, “What do you do if none of the passengers speak English.”
     At that point I brought out the Safety Features Card. I handed the card to the pilot and asked him, “How many languages is this card printed for, and is it proper to use when we are carrying non-English speaking Italians?”
     In this case, the pilot counted two languages: English and Maldivian. He then added that the card should not be legal unless we also printed the procedures in Italian as well.
     That, of course, is not true. Good Safety Features Cards are printed in “all” languages, or at least in the universal language of pictorial images and diagrams that depict the safety features regardless of language. Thus, even if your passengers are non-English speaking your briefing in English will still be understandable as long as you used the Safety Features Card for reference. What I do is take the card in my hand and point to the features on the card and then point, or have the cabin crew point, to the actual features on the aircraft. The entire briefing requires a lot of hand waving, but most people, Italians in particular, respond to hand signals very well.
     Sometimes, I like to single out one passenger who I know I can joke with and use them to get everyone’s attention. That was a method my Grade 3 teacher used so efficiently. For example, if one passenger is slowing down the proceedings in getting their seatbelt done up, I can use that to my advantage by singling him or her out. I will usually say, “Before we are allowed to go anywhere, everybody must have their seat belts done up.”
     If the mechanically inept passenger is still struggling I will add, “Don’t worry, the only people who don’t have problems with that seat belt are 8 year olds.” That usually gets a laugh from the belted passengers.
     Then if he or she is still struggling, I will hit him with the punch line. “After you do get that seat belt done up, I would like to see the note from your mother saying that you have permission to leave the house today.”
     At the expense of this one passenger I always get the attention of everyone on board. The rest of the briefing will go very smoothly. I have to be very careful with this one, as I don’t really want to offend anyone. My favorite target is usually a mechanical or civil engineer. The usual response then would be, “If I had designed it the damn thing would have not been so difficult.”
     The basic idea is that you are the captain and you are the commanding authority on this flight. In “discharging your duties’” ensuring that you have covered all legally required items of the safety briefing is the main part of your duties, but also making sure that the items are understood is your responsibility as well. Therefore, I shall go over several of the items specifically.
     Most CAA passenger briefing requirements are straight forward, and although the regulations can often fill 5-6 pages of items, in reality, if organized properly, the briefing required for a bush operation will only take a few minutes. First of all, you do not have to cover all the items in the regulations. In other words, if your beaver does not have tray table and reclining seats, then you do not need to remind your passengers that “seat backs must be secured in the upright position and chair tables must be stowed,” although that is the one your passengers will remember best. But, you should tell your passengers where the “crash axe” is located if the regulations require you to do so.
     The most important parts of the briefing for any aircraft, but particularly for a floatplane, as far as statistic have shown, is the location of the life vests, the location of the emergency exits, and for passengers seated next to an exit, how that exit operates. If the aircraft submerges and especially if the aircraft goes inverted, as a floatplane most likely will, then the survival of everyone on the aircraft depends on finding the doors, getting the doors open, and then getting out with life vest in hand.
     Explaining the egress exits is the part I really elaborate on during my briefings. I will painstakingly point out all the exit locations, and specifically point out to each passenger which door will be their most likely exit “if we have to evacuate in a hurry.” Then I will ask each passenger seated next to an exit if they will take responsibility to open the door if I call for an evacuation or if an evacuation is evident.
     I do this by singling out these passengers by first asking their names. As I always introduce my self at the beginning of each briefing, then they will respond in kind. “Ken, can I ask you to be responsible to open this exit if I ask for an evacuation.” If they answer, “Yes”, as they always do, then I go on to explain the operation of that particular exit. Inevitably one of the passenger’s friends will laugh, and I will take the opportunity to ask them, “Why are you laughing? Do you know this fellow, is he really capable of being responsible?” Of course, the jokes will start and then everyone will laugh, but the end result is that “Ken” will pay particular attention to my following explanation.
     I will usually go through each exit in this manner, minus the “responsibility” jokes, from the front to the back. To conclude, however, I will point out the “main” emergency exit from which we would evacuate “in an orderly fashion.” In the Beaver, the Otter, the Caravan and the Twin Otter, that would be the port or pilot side rear door.
     If I were to evacuate the aircraft in an orderly fashion, then the pilot side door is the best place from which the captain can keep track of the operation and still maintain some control over the aircraft if that was necessary. One Caravan pilot holed his left float during a docking and did not notice it until he landed again at a new location. Only after loading extra passengers and taxing out did he notice a list. At first he decide to shut down and pump, but there was no way he could keep up with the water intake. He then decided to get airborne, as his next stop was a runway landing. Unfortunately, with a full load of 9 passengers, heavy on fuel, and with the extra water he was not able to get the aircraft on the step.
     His next move was to quickly run the aircraft up on the low tide exposed mud bank of the river, and flag over the boat that had brought his passengers. (In our operation the boat driver was instructed not to leave the area until the aircraft had safely taken off.) He originally thought of evacuating the passengers out the opposite side door to balance the weight, but knew he could not monitor the boat driver and the passengers while he was pumping the floats. So he opened the port side rear door.
     After stuffing the hole with a rag, he furiously pumped the left rear float compartment and evacuated the passengers back onto the boat. After getting the passengers off safely he pumped as much as he could and then took off. The pilot was able to get the aircraft safely back to base, and we dispatched another aircraft to pick up his stranded passengers.
     This all might have sounded simply enough, but between pumping the floats, guiding the boat into place, evacuating the passengers one at a time (as not to get too much weight in the back) and planning his departure from the mud bank, the pilot really had his hands full. In other words, he had made sure the passengers were evacuated in “an orderly fashion.”
     In another case, where a C206 on wheels hit power wires on takeoff and crashed into the river, the aircraft went inverted and sank. In this accident the pilot had no control of the evacuation and it was basically every man to himself. The pilot got out and survived, but the passengers all drowned. Although they managed to get out in time apparently they did not know how to swim. The witnesses on shore saw several men floundering on the surface and then they disappeared beneath the surface. None of them had taken their life vests. In a situation like this it would be very difficult to say whether or not a proper briefing would have saved their lives, but none of the passengers had been given briefings. It is sufficient to say, that a briefing might have saved their lives.
     Unlike the case of the Bell 212 in West Africa, the passengers did manage to get out, but they drowned nonetheless. Considering the passengers in the helicopter accident did get a proper briefing, how was it that they still did not know what to do? I think anyone who has ridden the major airlines recently can answer that question. These Nigerian passengers were given a video briefing in English. And, like many of the passengers on the major airlines, there is little guarantee that the passengers were actually listening to or understanding the briefing at all. I know when my family travels it is my pre-teen son who is the only one who takes the time to actually read the Safety Features Card or watch the Passenger Safety Briefing video.
     Video taped briefings are great time savers, but there is little incentive to watch and pay attention. Why I am bringing this up for a bush pilot operation where the pilot gives the briefing anyway is because of a point I want to make. A properly done passenger briefing can have a lasting effect. I remember several great briefings given by inspired flight attendants who really cared whether or not the passengers paid attention. I can’t remember which airline or which flight, but I will remember the briefings for the rest of my life. They were coordinated efforts between the hostess who read the briefing and the hostesses who did the actual demonstrations. It was like watching a choreographed song and dance routine from the Pointer Sisters, and we all laughed and paid attention and remembered.
     I am not saying you have to perform like the Back Street Boys, but write yourself up a routine and memorize it, making sure to cover all the legal points and all the individualized idiosyncrasies of your aircraft. And above all use humour. Also, like the flight hostesses you will be required to be demonstrative. In Canada the regulation reads:

The standard safety briefing shall consist of an oral briefing provided by a crew member (describing)

(x) the location, and use of life preservers, including how to remove from stowage/packaging and a demonstration of their location, method of donning and inflation, and when to inflate life preservers;

In ICAO the same regulation requires that the crewmember “demonstrate the method of the use of” life vests.
     Quite literally, that does not mean that you must take a life vest and don it and blow the thing up. What it means is that you be demonstrative. In other words, that you do the hand waving thing, and show how all what you are describing would be carried out.
     What I do is simply point to the location of the life vests, explain how to remove them and then use my hands to mime the actions of donning, securing, and inflating. Passengers remember these physical actions much better than simply an oral description. Try not to be too demonstrative doing the bit about “blowing up the life vest orally with the tube.” I actually had a lady complain that she thought the pilot was making moves toward her 16 year daughter. The pilot defended himself by saying he was certain she was at least 18.
     Another regulation that I find requires explanation is briefing the passengers on:

(vii) the location of any emergency equipment the passenger may have a need for in an emergency situation

If a particular stubborn passenger not giving me eye contact and I feel they are not listening, I will single them out and ask them this very question. “Why is it important for you, the passenger, to know where the fire extinguisher (or the first aid kit) is located on the aircraft?”
     The usual answer is, “In case there is a fire?”
     I will follow that up with, “Ok, why then would they put the fire extinguisher up beside me where you can’t easily reach it?
     The answer is because in most cases it is the pilot’s responsibility to use the extinguisher, but after a crash if the pilot is incapacitated then one of the passengers had better know where it is! Most passengers miss that point during the briefing.
     Here is another regulation that takes some explaining. A crew member, must brief the passengers on:

the location, purpose of, and advisability of reading the safety features card;

     Why should the passengers read the Safety Features Card, especially since you have just given them such a command performance? The answer is because, if you read the regulations on Safety Features Cards you will see that the card can carry different and specific information concerning the safety features of the aircraft, including the location of emergency exits that could be used, but are not considered normal emergency evacuation routes. In the amphib Caravan, we often have the rear air stairs door blocked with baggage and freight and so I will not usually include the door in my briefing on safest evacuation routes.
     There is also the case where the pilot becomes incapacitated and the passengers have access to a refresher in case they were not really paying attention when you did the original briefing. What bothers me is that at what point and from what cause does the pilot become incapacitated?? No one ever mentions that part.
     As a final point on oral briefings I will mention that, although under most circumstances passengers will not even think about smoking on the aircraft, in order to make your oral briefing completely legal you must say the words: NO SMOKING. The briefing is not legal or complete unless you say the magic words, so figure out a way to say it diplomatically and “discharge your duties.”

Individual Safety Briefings
     Individual safety briefings are not only for people with disabilities. As the Captain you have to decide who may require individual safety briefings for each passenger that may face circumstances that vary from the standard briefing. Specifically, for those who have different types of seatbelts, who sit beside emergency exits, who have their life vest in a different location, and those who have access to any type of emergency equipment or aircraft controls. For the most part I will include individual briefing into the main body of my overall briefing: “and for you sir, your life vest is located in the side door pocket.”
     Infants are my pet peeve as very few airlines make concessions for those less than 2 years of age. You have to have a cargo net over a 15k bag of sugar, but nothing to restrain a bouncing baby boy. The individual briefing consists of telling the guardian that in the case of an emergency landing where a brace position is required to lay the infant over their lap and lean forward and embrace the child with their body.
     My problem is that I feel the method is totally inadequate. I always feel guilty whenever I have to give this briefing because there really should be a guardian/infant type of seat belt available on all aircraft. I have never had a parent or guardian complain, however, as if they immediately accept the responsibility for taking their infant out flying in the first place. Tell that to a judge.
     One of my favorite individual safety briefings consists of briefing passengers who elect to sit in the front right seat of a single engine aircraft with dual controls. Did you know that you MUST brief “wannabe” pilots who sit beside you??
     Not according to Transport Canada, but according to the British CAA, and to ICAO, and according to good sense. If a passenger unintentionally interfered with the controls leading to an accident or incident, then even TC will ask you if you had briefed the passenger to keep his paws to himself. Just because something is not regulated does not mean you will not be held responsible.
     I make the briefing as pointed and purposeful as possible. In most cases, to fill the front seat I will start off by asking for volunteers. A real keener will approach you before you even get a chance to ask. If there is a pilot or wannabe they will either volunteer or be volunteered by their friends.
     “Hey captain, Chuck here is a pilot, he flew fighters in Korea, we think he should sit up front with you!”
     My response will be to immediately say, “If he is a pilot then he can damn well sit in the back, the last thing I want up here is another pilot.”
     The passengers always know I am joking and Chuck will chuckle to himself and climb up in the front. Once up front I give him or her the third degree.
     The British CAA has a guideline to be covered for any passenger who sits in the front right seat with dual controls.

     1) The passenger may not be overly large or overly small.
     2) The passenger may not have any disabilities or any diminished
(Being less than sober is a diminished capacity.)
     3) The passenger must accept responsibility to open the adjacent emergency
         door if the captain asks for an emergency evacuation.

     4) The passenger must be individually briefed on:
          a) How to open the adjacent emergency exit.
          b) How to use the seat belt.
          c) Where his life vest is located.
          d) Where the aircraft controls are and:
          e) That the passenger must not touch any of the aircraft controls under
               any circumstances.

     Under some regulations, the front seat passenger must also accept responsibility to “keep a vigilant lookout for conflicting air traffic and report to the captain when conflicting air traffic is located”
     Finally, if the passenger is wearing sunglasses you ask him or her to remove their shades, and look them squarely in the eye, and proclaim for all to hear: “British Civil Aviation regulations states that for you to sit in the front seat with the pilot that the pilot must look you in the eyes and decide whether or not you are ‘truly lucid!’”
     Just make sure that you are wearing your Ray Bans when you carry out this test in case the passengers attempt the reverse.

Article by John S Goulet

Canadian CARs on Passenger Safety Briefing can be found under Section 724.34 Briefing of Passengers.
American FAR’s covering Passenger Briefings are found under Part 91.519 Passenger briefing

Continue With:
How To Insure Your Safety Features Cards Are Both Legal and Effective.

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Last modified on March 05, 2006 .
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