Japan Airlines Prioritized Emergency Landing Training for Crews and Passengers

January 3, 2024 / 1 Comment

Japan Airlines flight attendants, lauded for accomplishing the safe evacuation of 367 passengers from a burning airliner on January 2nd were acting under a multi-year airline-wide safety enhancement program. This makes their work less of a miracle and instead provides evidence that saving lives is achievable when top management makes it a priority.

Five years ago, as JAL struggled with embarrassing but not catastrophic errors, it updated its safety program with what it called “bold reforms” including more specific information about emergency evacuations.  All its employees, not just flight and cabin crews undergo evacuation training and have since the end of 2016.

But it doesn’t stop there. Recognizing that passengers play an important role, JAL revamped its pre-flight safety video showing travelers realistic scenarios of things that could go wrong and clearly explaining how their actions can help or harm themselves and others.

Videos of the Flight 516 evacuation, indicate that travelers were paying attention. By and large, they were empty-handed. Compare that to videos of emergency landings elsewhere in the world, where passengers can be seen toting carry-on bags as they flee across the runway. Perhaps they weren’t paying attention to the flight attendants or perhaps the subject wasn’t even addressed.

Everyone seems distracted these days including the crew of a recent flight on which I was traveling.  I had to ring the call button as we taxiied to takeoff to notify a flight attendant that an overhead bin was gaping open. Looking around, or what aviation refers to as situational awareness, is in short supply.

Pete Frey, a recently retired Delta Air Lines captain who worked for years with his union’s safety committee sees it too.

“I teach my daughter, I make her pull out the safety card when we fly,” he told me. “I ask her, what kind of aircraft she’s on, where the exits are and how many there are, otherwise she would be looking at Instagram instead of paying attention to what’s happening around her.”

Smart dad.

JAL is probably an outlier in speaking frankly to its employees and its customers. It certainly was in 2008 when it started showing a three-minute inflight video to its passengers explaining the role of the airplane’s black boxes and what kinds of errors lead to air accidents. When I wrote that story for The New York Times, Akeo Misumi, director of the flight data monitoring office at JAL explained, “We want to be as open as we can and show our customers how we are improving safety in our everyday business activities.”

Flight 516, a short flight from Hokkaido to Tokyo was certainly an ordinary business activity on Tuesday until it wasn’t. Then, those measures kicked in with stunning effectiveness. Aviation is so safe because it learns from disasters. It can also learn from success, starting with this one.

Japanese Teach A Lesson in Air Safety and Apologies

Categories: Flying Lessons

One response to “Japan Airlines Prioritized Emergency Landing Training for Crews and Passengers”

  1. Rod Miller says:

    The low-cost airline I usually fly on just leaves it at Please leave your stuff aboard the aircraft. It’s a serious outfit (& doesn’t pay starvation wages) but it wouldn’t take much to improve on the safety briefing.

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